The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened Venezuela with economic sanctions if the government proceeds with a vote to elect a National Constituent Assembly, ANC, to rewrite the country’s Constitution.
Venezuela is not about to rewrite the U.S. Constitution or some other country’s constitution. That clarification is necessary because the Trump administration and other governments (Canada, Mexico, Colombia and others) seem to have collectively appointed themselves as members of the Supreme Court of Venezuela.
It should also be noted that Venezuelan opposition leaders have effectively been imposing economic sanctions on their own country for quite some time.
Since winning control over the National Assembly in 2015, Henry Ramos and Julio Borges (who have each served as presidents of the legislative body) have boasted about blocking Venezuela’s access to foreign loans. According to the opposition-aligned pollster Datanalisis, 55 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of that opposition tactic and only 31.7 percent approve.
As for the sanctions Trump has commissioned, 65 percent are opposed and only 26 percent are in favor. Unsurprisingly, people living through a major economic crisis tend not to be in favor of deliberately making it worse. All of this is taking the numbers of an opposition–aligned pollster at face value. Public hostility towards economic sanctions, whether imposed by Trump or by opposition leaders, is probably even more widespread than what Datanalisis has reported.
These figures are known to many corporate journalists in Venezuela, but good luck finding them mentioned, never mind appropriately highlighted. What you will very often find reported is a Datanalisis finding that 67 percent “disagree” with electing a ANC. I disagree myself. I think it was a bad idea.
It doesn’t follow that electing one is unconstitutional, much less grounds for foreign intervention. Datanalisis also reported that 39 percent think the opposition should participate in the ANC elections. Once again, good luck finding that figure mentioned in the media.
In 1999, Venezuelans voted in a referendum to elect a ANC. The method for electing the body was part of what voters approved. After the Constitution was drafted, it was then approved by voters in a referendum and therefore entered into law. In 2000, presidential and National Assembly elections were held under the new Constitution.
This extremely democratic process was constantly smeared in the international media over the years by claiming that former President Hugo Chavez “rewrote the constitution.” The 1999 Constitution was briefly annulled during the short-lived Pedro Carmona dictatorship, which was backed by the opposition’s core leadership of today (Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, Julio Borges, Henry Ramos and many others). That dictatorship was also backed by the U.S government and major international media, like the New York Times, who gushed over Carmona.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has alienated some Chavistas by not following the same process as in 1999 – specifically the initiating referendum where voters are asked to approve both the general idea of electing a ANC and the general method for electing one. In fact, the Constitution is very far from clear that an initiating referendum is required, or even a final referendum on the Constitution that is drafted.
However, Maduro has committed to holding a referendum on the constitution that is drafted by the ANC. This is extremely important and routinely ignored in media coverage about the nationwide process. Hopefully one of the proposed changes to Venezuela’s Constitution will be to make to make it crystal clear (as is article 444 of Ecuador’s Constitution) that an initiating referendum is required to convene a ANC, as well as a final referendum on what it drafts.
At any rate, the idea that foreign governments have the right to impose an interpretation of Venezuela’s Constitution is ludicrous. Presumably U.S. citizens would say the same if Venezuela ordered the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Citizens United.
Voting in the ANC will be voluntary and through secret ballot. The international press has sought to discredit the vote in a few ways. One is to claim that electoral sectors have been designed ensure the government a majority. Torino Capital, no fan of the government, did an analysis which concluded that the opposition could win control of the ANC with 58 percent of the votes.
The media also reported a figure of about 7 million participating in an informal plebiscite against the ANC, without noting that there are 20 million eligible voters in Venezuela, or mentioning that millions turned out for a dry run of the ANC.
As always, the media has hyped claims that public sector workers are being pressured to vote. The media has been vastly less interested in opposition threats to forcibly impede people from voting. During Chavismo’s worst defeat in December of 2015, 5.6 million people voted socialist. There are only 2.8 million public sector workers in Venezuela, roughly 20 percent of the workforce. Moreover, just taking by Datanalisis polls at face value, about 4 million voters approve of Maduro’s performance.
The mother of Orlando Figuera, a young man who died after being stabbed and burned alive by opposition protesters, was fired from her job as a domestic servant shortly after giving a TV interview in which she denounced the opposition. How widespread is this kind of discrimination in a country where millions work for employers who hate the government?
Don’t wait for the international media to investigate. They’ve had decade and a half to do it. They could care less.
The media has referred to the broad powers the ANC to dissolve other branches of government. That is true, but other branches are not automatically dissolved because a ANC is elected. Nor is it clear that its decisions to do so would stand if voters reject the Constitution in the referendum Maduro has committed to holding.
Maduro is also emphatically committed to holding presidential elections in 2018.
For the past fifteen years, the tactic of labelling Venezuela a “dictatorship” has been central to whitewashing a violent and undemocratic opposition leadership. Even during relatively calm years between 2004-2012, when the opposition was much more divided between those who wanted to oust the government by force and those who preferred an electoral path, hundreds of Chavista peasant activists were assassinated by gunmen strongly linked to wealthy landowners.
Whether it takes power through votes or through a coup, the possibility that the opposition will attempt large-scale massacres of Chavistas is very real, as is the possibility of armed resistance by grassroots Chavista activists and supportive elements of the military. International pressure on Venezuela’s opposition leaders (basically exposing what they are all about) is urgently required.
The U.S. empire consists of allied governments, like Canada, private media companies and prominent NGOs, which all share its delusion that it is entitled to decide which government is a “dictatorship” that “must go.” It is a truly formidable and lethal system of misinformation. Leftists should always do more to challenge the U.S. empire on Venezuela during the Chavista era, and to challenge imperialism in general.
We really need to step up now.