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MAJOR STEP IN BOLIVARIAN DEMOCRACY By Larry Wasslen

posted 9 Nov 2017, 08:31 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 9 Nov 2017, 08:58 ]

Born of working-class family in 1952 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Larry Wasslen’s mother worked in a sewing factory and was very active in the union and was active against the Vietnam War. Larry studied nursing, graduating in 1973 then worked in the Pure North in Churchill, Manitoba.

After training in tropical diseases he went to work in Colombia where he had first contact with Revolutionary forces of the Communist Party of Colombia. Returning to Canada (with Colombian wife) he worked in several hospitals and deepened his Revolutionary studies.

Larry worked in intensive care of surgery "open heart surgery" and then with premature babies in "Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery" in the Ottawa Children's Hospital (CHEO).

There, he formed the first union in the hospital fighting for equal salaries with other hospitals in the region. As a Revolutionary he is the organizer of the Communist Party of Canada in Ottawa, active in movements of Peace, solidarity with Latin America (Cuba / Venezuela)

He is now retired from his job.

On July 30, 2017 over 8 million Venezuelans went to the polls to elect a national constituent assembly Asamblea Nacional Constituyente (ANC). The working class of Venezuela overwhelmingly supported the government’s effort to find a mechanism to break the constitutional impasse, overcome capitalist economic crisis gripping the country and halt the cycle of fascist violence that was responsible for at least 124 deaths and millions in property damage.

Peace or violence, democracy or repression, submission or independence these were the issues facing the Bolivarian Revolution. President Maduro put these questions to the people calling on them to take sovereignty into their own hands and make decisions. He called for the 2017-ANC.

On July 18, 2017 the Trump regime threatened “strong and swift economic sanctions” against Venezuela should the Maduro government proceed with the ANC. After the vote on July 30 Emperor Trump threatened military intervention. The Canadian government has been a virtual echo chamber for whatever noise has come from the Trump regime in Washington. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada has “serious concerns” about the process and stated that the ANC was “contrary to Venezuela’s constitution.” Mainstream media outlets from the CBC to the Washington Post have relentlessly repeated these accusations and warned that the ANC is just another step towards dictatorship.

Seriously lacking in the capitalist press is a thoughtful discussion of what led to the 2017-ANC, the actual struggles that have taken place in Venezuela over the past two decades, the Bolivarian constitution, and the aims and objectives of the 2017 ANC.

HISTORY OF THE FOURTH REPUBLIC 

Hugo Chavez swept into power in the December 1998 election winning 56.2% of the popular vote with the explicit objective of building a new Venezuela out of the shambles of the Fourth Republic, a time during which more than 11,000 political disappearances occurred.

The Oligarchic Fourth Republic of Venezuela emerged out of the Puntofijo Pact and was in effect from 1958-1998. The Puntofijo agreement was signed by Accion Democratic (AD), a social democratic party that belongs to the Second International; Comite de Organizacion Politica Electoral Independiente, a Social Christian Party and member of the Christian Democratic International (COPEI), and the Union Republicana Democratica (URD). This agreement allowed the capitalist ruling class to control all levels of power while sharing the presidency between the AD and COPEI. From 1959 to 1999 the AD elected 6 presidents and COPEI, elected 2 presidents.

The Fourth Republic has been characterized by the ruling class and their corporate press as a democratic paradise, governed by representative capitalist democracy. Venezuela Analysis described it as “State Repression and Neoliberal Misrule”.

Either way the Venezuelan economy was highly dependent on oil revenues, corruption and repression. When oil prices dropped in 1986, Venezuela’s foreign debt exploded and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stepped in with austerity demands which drastically increased already staggering poverty. “The poorest people bore the brunt of the economic freefall; the situation was so critical that people in Caracas’ slums would eat dog food – Purina – to sustain themselves. Salaries deteriorated and poverty increased.” 50.4% of the population lived below the poverty line in 1998 (pobreza relativa) while 12% barely survived in absolute destitution (pobreza critica).

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When Carlos Andres Pėrez reneged on his election promises to oppose neoliberal policies and accepted another round of IMF cutbacks including “increasing oil prices, privatization of state-owned companies, elimination of import taxes, and a free-market in interest rates” massive protests began. On February 27, 1989 these protests were met with extreme violence which became known as the Caracazo.

While “official figures” put the death toll at 300 other estimates suggest that up to 3,000 people were murdered by the police and military forces. The Caracazo marks the beginning of the end of the Fourth Republic and paved the way for the Bolivarian Revolution.

On February 4, 1992 Commandant Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias and the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement – 200 (MBR-200) attempted a military coup d’etat which proved unsuccessful. Although several large cities were taken Chávez was unable to capture Caracas. He went on nation-wide television to state that efforts
to change Venezuela had failed “for now.” The MBR-200 attempted a second coup in November 1992 which was also unsuccessful.

Carlos Andres Perez and the AD/COPEI puntofijismo system were completely discredited allowing former president Rafael Caldera, one of the founding members of COPEI, to create a new political party, National Convergence, and win the 1993 elections with 30.5% of the vote. One of Caldera’s election promises was to liberate Hugo Chávez which he did in 1994.

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias and the 1999-ANC 

The MBR-200 created the Fifth Republic Movement, a Socialist party that would support Hugo Chávez in the 1998 presidential elections. Chávez promised to end corruption, poverty, and the puntofijismo political system. He pledged to organize a referendum on the creation of a National Constituent Assembly with the hope of creating the Fifth or Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. He won the election with 56.2% of the popular vote on December 6, 1998.

Chávez became president February 2, 1999 and his first act was a decree to order a referendum regarding a National Constituent Assembly (1999-ANC). The first vote was held on April 25, 1999. Two important questions were put to the people: Should there be a National Constituent Assembly? 92% of those who voted answered Yes. Should it follow the mechanisms proposed by the president? 86% of those who voted answered Yes.

The second vote to elect delegates for the 1999-ANC took place on July 25, 1999. 131 deputies were elected to the National Constituent Assembly. 120 deputies, 92% of the delegates, were members of the coalition known as the Patriotic Axis (Polo Patriótico) which supported President Chávez. The new document, the 26th constitution in the history of Venezuela, known as the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, was submitted to the people on December 15, 1999 and approved by 72% of the electorate. This was the first time in 200 years that the people of Venezuela had been able to vote to approve or reject their constitution.
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The 1999 Bolivarian Constitution invoked the “example of our Liberator Simon Bolivar” and called for the “reshaping the Republic to establish democratic, participatory and self-reliant, multiethnic and multicultural society” that “embodies the values of freedom, independence, peace, solidarity, the common good”.

Independence, liberty and sovereignty are constant themes of the document. Human, civil and political rights are well defined in Chapter 1 through 4. The Bolivarian Constitution clearly establishes the mechanism for constitutional reform in Articles 342 through 350. Articles 347, 348, and 349 clearly elaborate the National Constituent Assembly. Article 348 states that “the initiative for calling a National Constituent Assembly may emanate from the President of the Republic sitting with the Cabinet Ministers; from the National Assembly, by two-thirds votes of its members; from the Municipal Councils in open session, by a two-thirds vote of their members; and from 15% of the voters registered with the civil and Electoral Registry.” Participatory democracy is enshrined in the document.

The Bolivarian Government set to work on its other priorities reducing poverty, investing in education, health care and public housing. Poverty rates declined substantially. Education became accessible as enrollment in secondary education climbed from 49% to 72% by 2010. The government invested $22 billion in public housing for the most vulnerable citizens of Venezuela.

The ruling class did not accept the election of Hugo Chávez, much less the Bolivarian Constitution. Minor demonstration began almost immediately in some of the more affluent barrios of Caracas. Economic sabotage, strikes, a military coup d’etat (2002) and recall referendum (2004) all failed to overthrow the democratically elected Hugo Chávez.

The electoral success of the ‘dictatorial’ Bolivarian Revolution is impressive. Of the 21 elections the revolutionary forces have won 19 including Presidential elections: 1998 Chavez won 56.2% of the popular vote; 2000: 59.8%; 2006: 62.8%; 2012: 55.1%; President Maduro won the 2013 election with 50.6% of the popular vote after the death of Hugo Chavez. The Polo Patriótico led by the PSUV has won three of the four National Assembly elections since 1999. President Chávez narrowly lost a referendum regarding constitutional reform in 2007 and President Maduro lost the 2015 National

FASCIST VIOLENCE AND THE THREAT OF IMPERIALIST INTERVENTION 

In the 2015 National Assembly elections the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) won 109 of the 164 deputies. There was video evidence of electoral fraud and vote buying on the part of the opposition in southwestern Amazonas state and the Venezuelan Supreme court suspended temporarily the deputies and launched an official investigation. Henry Ramos Allup, the president of the National Assembly, ignored the ruling and swore in the members leading the Court to nullify all actions taken by the legislative body.

The two priorities of the legislative body were to immediately remove democratically elected President Maduro from office and release several violent criminals, responsible for 43 deaths, from prison. Freddy Guevara, a member of the far-right Voluntad Popular, stated “we have to accelerate the exit of this government as soon as possible.”

In February 2016 the illegal National Assembly passed a controversial amnesty law to free several criminals involved in the 2014 violence including Leopoldo Eduardo López Mendoza, founder of Primero Justicia, in clear violation of the Bolivarian Constitution. The legislative body made no effort to address the capitalist economic crisis that has been affecting the population.

Unable to overthrow the elected government by constitutional maneuvers the opposition changed tactics to fascist violence and foreign intervention. The street violence known as ‘guarimbas’, cost the lives of more than 120 persons with 1200 people injured between April and July of 2017.

Foreign financed street violence caused millions of dollars damage to public and private property in Caracas. Some people of colour became victims because they “appeared to be Chavistas”. They were doused with gasoline and set alight. Members of the Security Forces were attacked with Molotov cocktails and small arms fire. On the international stage the USA used the Organization of American States (OAS) as a forum to facilitate direct intervention in Venezuelan affairs. Secretary General Luis Amagro attempted to invoke the ‘Democratic Charter’ against Venezuela. The move failed when the Permanent Council of the OAS issued a statement in support of dialogue. 

2017-ANC 

Image result for VENEZUELA CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLYVenezuela needed to find a way through the constitutional impasse. It needed to respond to the capitalist economic crisis, the fascist violence and the direct threats of foreign intervention. President Nicolas Maduro turned to Article 348 of the Bolivarian Constitution and called upon the people of Venezuela to take power into their own hands.

On May 1, 2017 President Maduro issued Decree 2830. He wrote “I deem it an unavoidable historical duty to call for a National Constituent Assembly, based upon the constituent popular process, a legacy of Commander Hugo Chávez, and the pioneering and founding Constitution of 1999, so that our people, in the capacity of Original Constituent Power, expresses its iron will and the highest guarantee of defense of the sacred rights and social achievements attained”. Far from being a dictator President Maduro turned to the people of Venezuela placing all the power into their hands.

Maduro suggested 9 programmatic objectives:

Peace: “The constituent process is a great call for a nation-wide dialogue to contain the escalation of political violence”

Economy: “The perfection of the national economic system moving towards a Venezuelan Power by conceiving the new post-petroleum, mixed, productive, diversified and integrating economic model”

Missions: “To enshrine the Missions and Grand Socialist Missions in the Constitution”

Judicial System: “The broadening of the responsibilities of the Judicial System to eradicate criminal impunity, particularly regarding crimes committed against the people”

Democracy: “To enshrine in the Constitution the new forms of participatory and protagonist democracy through the recognition of the new subjects of the People’s Power, such as the Communes, Communal Councils, and the Workers Councils”

Sovereignty: “The defense of sovereignty and integrity of the nation and the protection against foreign interventionism” and “the promotion of the consolidation of a multi-polar and multi-centric world that ensures respect for law and international security.’

Multicultural character of the Homeland: “enabling us to recognize each other as Venezuelans in our ethnical and cultural diversity” “inoculating us from social and racial hatred that is today incubated in a minority of society.”

Youth: “enshrine the rights of youth…free and conscious use of information technologies, the right to a dignified and creativity-liberating job

Biodiversity: “the sovereign rights to protect our biodiversity and the development of an ecological culture in our society.”

Curiously the opposition had demanded a constituent assembly to try and oust President Maduro but when the call went out for its convocation the MUD boycotted the election.

The make- up of the 2017-ANC is extremely interesting. 364 seats were designated for the geographic regions of Venezuela including at least one seat per municipality and two more seats for each state capital. 8 seats were guaranteed for indigenous peoples to be elected according to their traditions. 173 seats were allocated to sectoral groups including workers groups (79), peasants (8), fishers (8), students (24), pensioners (28), disabled (5), communal council members (24), and business people (5). Clearly the working class is heavily favoured within the 545 seat 2017-ANC.

More than 6,000 candidates ran for the various seats on the ANC.

Despite significant efforts to prevent people from voting, including physical attacks on those trying to cast their ballot, more than 8 million people participated. The election of the 2017-ANC has enabled the government to take the initiative in the ongoing class struggle in Venezuela. Among the most important advances include bring an immediate halt to the street violence, the dismissal of Luisa Ortega from her position as Attorney General for ‘grave misconduct” including lying about her approval of Supreme Court Justices, calls for revamping the economy, and new anti-hate legislation.

The 2017-ANC is an important tool for the working classes of Venezuela. It is a major step forward in the struggle for national independence and sovereignty, against violence and war. It opens the door to more political and economic democracy. It will allow the government to address many of the problems facing the country including the capitalist economic crisis. The class struggle in Venezuela is far from over. The privileged classes will not accept the democratically elected ANC just as they have never accepted the democratically elected Presidents Chávez and Maduro. The struggle continues.
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