Following yesterday’s extraordinary raft of new “decree-laws” published after the expiration of President Maduro’s Enabling Law powers, many in MUD are reaching for the launch codes to activate the nuclear option: the constituyente. In the opposition’s imagination, it’s our their ace in the hole. Want to fast-track the clean-up of state structures from PSUV encroachment? You know what you need to do.

Is this really a reasonable way to think of it, though?

Personally, when I think about the great constitutional reinventions in history, what comes to mind are processes that radically transformed how power is exercised in a particular society. New social contracts like the ones taken up by Post-Soviet Czech Republic or Poland;  postcolonial US or; post-monarchical France. But ever since Chavez (or Miquilena) proposed his National Constitutional Assembly as a silver bullet to solve the country’s problems, the constituyente has occupied a different kind of space in our political imagination.

Using a constituyente to solve short term political problems is like trying to unscrew a screw with a jackhammer. It’s just not the job the tool was designed for. It could, instead, turn into a colossal waste of political capital.

Let’s remember: MUD ran on a platform that emphasized solving Venezuelans’ problems, not one of political change. Why? Most likely because nothing else has really worked and, when you think about it, the MUD has bigger fish to fry at the moment.

Later today, they face an almighty mess the doors of the Asamblea Nacional with armed colectivos out to prevent new Diputados from swearing in. If by some miracle, or a deus ex tanqueta intervention of a surprisingly institutional Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, they manage to get sworn in, the new AN, and the MUD with it, will be blamed for the effects of economic adjustment.

In those circumstances, would calling a constituyente help? Maybe the place to look for answers is with a careful look at the latest of our 26 Constituent Assemblies, the only one within living memory. The 1999 Assembly merely allowed for a massive quitate-tú-pá-ponerme-yo, a wholesale changing of the guard that further strengthened the presidency and elevated some institutions we already had to constitutional level.

What it didn’t do was to undertake what a constituyente ought to do, that is, to fundamentally rethink the way power is exercised in our country. It also didn’t allow for much actual governing during the first couple of years. One of the reasons why Chavez’s popularity took such a big dip from his first electoral victories to the moment just prior to his implementation of Las Misiones.

The 6D election results only emphasize the point that, given the choice, Venezuelans will go for the pursuit of happiness over life and liberty any day of the week. It wasn’t until the economy had gone to hell that the MUD could consolidate an overwhelming majority capable of trumping any possible “home field advantage” that PSUV could muster. Empirically, Venezuelans are most definitely not value-based voters.

In fact, in the latest July/August 2015 Omnibus, Datanalisis asked respondents to name the country’s problems, corruption came in 6th with 3.2%, abuse of authority and political prisoners came in 9th with 2.2% and political violence and confrontation came in detrás de la ambulancia on 16th with only 0.7% of respondents.

The constituyente is a red herring, because no deliberative body will be in a position to solve those day-to-day problems that Venezuelans really care about. So what should the MUD’s strategic objective be at that point? Seizing power of the presidency. Together with the power of an overwhelming majority in parliament, it’s the executive branch that can really make the needed changes.

Hugo Chavez himself demonstrated the point by being able to paint a larger portion of Venezuela’s current political landscape during the parliamentary hegemonic period of 2005-2010 than in any other period of his reign as Comandante Supremo Intergalactico. So it’s clear that even though the battlefield appears to be moving to the Supreme Tribunal, the major prize remains the presidency. Whether it’s best to wait for the regime’s collapse, call a recall referendum (with all the emotional connotations it entails) or hope for all out civil strife is a whole other question.

Once you have the presidency and control of the National Assembly, you can begin to address the catastrophe chavismo has left behind. I’m pretty sure most opponents of this idea (who probably think it’s naïve to think that you could ever gain Chavista bureaucratic cooperation for anything) would be surprised to see how ideology follows power more than the other way around. Once you have enough power in your hands, ideological resistance fades and gives way to cooperation. Institutions after all, can and should be strengthened through their use; and at the end of the day institutional strengthening is measured by testing the importance of the actual person wielding the post, against the importance of the post itself. The latter should always win.

So, we’re back to our original contention, that the only real reason to call for a constituent mechanism is for long term transformation. What I mean by this is, a National Constituent Assembly should only be called to fundamentally change the way we see and use power; that’s how you stop the cycle of successive constitutions with no shelf life.

Constituent Assemblies are the nukes in our institutional arsenal: use them, they tend to fuck everything up, so normally they’re much more useful as a threat than as a tool.  I will take structure over chaos every time: chaos is the realm where darkness thrives, and I really do think we are beginning to see the light.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Good article. A Constitutional Convention is, notionally, a revolutionary step, which should be avoided unless the bureaucracy and state prove to be utterly immovable in the face of overwhelming popular suffering.

    The position reminds somewhat of that of the recent travails of Manuel Zelaya, who insisted on a constitutional convention in the face of a Supreme Court telling him it was unconstitutional.

    For him, the problem wasn’t the reasoning of the Supreme Court; it was the intervention of the Army to enforce its dictates.

  2. Also lets not forget the MUD obtained 67% of deputies with only 58% of the votes.
    If the electoral bases for the ANC are proportional we would lose the supermajority.

    It does not make to sense to trade a supermajority AN for a simple majority ANC.

  3. Man, what a completely misguided article. First off, the idea that a Constituyente should be thought of in the abstract is lunacy. Venezuela is in the throes of a complete constitutional crisis.

    On the one hand we have a parliament that represents a majority of Venezuelans, and on the other side you have institutions that will simply NOT budge, that will use every trick in the book to thwart, minimize, block any kind of reform that interferes with their kleptocracy.

    The question then becomes: how does this constitutional crisis get solved? What other alternative is there, besides a Constitutional Assembly, to resolve the massive conflict between a majority and a minority that wields all the power? If you don’t answer that question, the post is rubbish.

    Let’s face it, in Venezuela, constitutional crises are usually solved via the military. The question shouldn’t be “is a COnstitutional Assembly a good idea?” The question is “is a Constitutional Assembly a better option than a military coup or a civil war?”

    • Look, a constituyente is not a solution to the crisis. A constituyente is the juridical clothes you put on the solution to the crisis once there’s an elite consensus on a solution to the crisis.

      In 1999, that implicit consensus was there – it was so strong that the CSJ chose to commit suicide rather than challenge it.

      Today, that consensus is not there.

      Until you have that kind of elite consensus, the constituyente is just another football to be kicked around the political playing field.

      • Also, constituyente wasn’t even a legal thing when they invoked it on the 90s.

        But, something as meaningless as “being legal” has never been an issue for chavizmo.

      • There’s a reason why the acronym for this type of situation is MAD, you push that button in the economic/scarcity climate we’re dealing with now, and you risk blowing yourself up. During the year and half or so that it will take to push a constituyente through, you won’t guaranteeing that FANB will sway you way and you’ll allow for Chavismo to regroup while, most likely, blaming the MUD for doing nothing.

        • But that’s not enough reason to take the option away from the table. With the few weapons we have, the nuclear one should always be on the table. Hell, ask Kim Jong-Un, he’ll tell you all about it!

  4. Maduro’s last gambit was to take over the bcv. If the economy is what got people angry, I truly think its grounds for impeachment. I agree that using a constitutente in a hurry as a kind of de facto revocatorio is a dumb waste.

    People in the oppo STILL don’t realize how much power was acquired in 6d. A constituyente would be a fun thing to do 10 years from now, once some normalcy has been restored and cool heads have sat down to ponder the lessons of the Chavez era.

  5. BTW, a Recall Referendum? Do you honestly think that the TSJ will sit aside and let a Recall Referendum happen?

    • But this rebuts your own rebuttal. Do you honestly think that the TSJ will sit aside and let a Constitutional Convention happen?

      (Esa sentencia se escribe sola: con solo 109 de 167 diputados, la convocatoria de la AN no tiene los 2/3 requeridos y por eso es improcedente…)

      • Of course it doesn’t “rebut my rebuttal.” Alexander’s post is basically saying “let’s get the Constituyente off the table because it’s icky.” I think that’s preposterous – the Constituyente is one of several options we have on the table, the “nuclear option” if you will. In fact, it’s the *only* option that allows for the removal of the TSJ, something a Recall Referendum does not do (do you imagine, say, a President Leopoldo having to deal with the chavista TSJ?).

        Saying that the Constituyente should not even be considered is suicidal.

        • Juan, I’m most definitely not saying “take this off the table for good”. I’m saying: now is not the time to activate it because it would be a waste of political capital, time, and will for sure not help solve the problems people need solving. A nuclear option should be a tool of last resort, not the bat you use on your first time at the plate. In any event, its also not the utopic panacea some people think it is. Its not a magic wand you wave at a problem to make it disappear.

          • Sure, it’s no panacea, but the reality is that it is the only option that allows you to take care of a very serious institutional problem you have: corruption inside the TSJ and the Armed Forces. I dunno, call me jaded, but I think the chances that a new President could work with the institutions we currently have is slim to none.

            The debate is for some other time, but I definitely think it’s something we should seriously consider.

  6. chavizta base will have to someday swallow the watermelon that means accepting that the only way to start fixing their everyday problems goes through kicking their “beloved heroic revolutionary leaders” from power and trasnforming the country in the thing they hate the most: A place where fair work is rewarded.

  7. “Empirically, Venezuelans are most definitely not value-based voters.” Do not forget this.
    La crisis económica no solo continuará, se agravará día tras día. Eso abre cada vez más el escenario del colapso chavista.
    La AN debe comportarse institucionalmente y en favor de las mayorías.
    “Nunca interrumpas a tu enemigo mientras está cometiendo un error.” N. Bonaparte.

  8. A Constituent Assembly or even a revoking referendum take a lot of time the country no longer has and offer no guarantees of solution to this political crisis. This impasse between the regime and the opposition can only be solved by the intervention of the Armed forces, or by the outside intervention of the OAS and/or a Noriega type intervention by the US. I am not advocating intervention from the outside but this is certainly an option, if the Armed Forces persist in sitting on the fence, abandoning their obligation to support the constitution and the laws of the country.
    Maduro and Cabello and their gang of narcos, thieves and corrupt civilians and military must go. This is the end game.

    • People loose their heads so easily… If chavismo was a bully and you were both in 3rd grade, he’d be laughing at you all the way to the director’s office, and your classmates would be shaking their heads…

      • Don’t forget that you would anso be punished when you finally lose your cool and decide to stick a knife in your bully’s eye for being an asshole.

    • That’s another thing they’ll block until the bitter end, because one of the fundamental pillars of chavizmo is the lie that everybody that’s been imprisoned or accussed by them was a vile monstrous psychopatic villain that deserved all the shit that’s raining over them.

      Otherwise, the truth goes out: The galactic corpse was nothing more than a butcher that ordered to have slaughtered the people to hold into power on april 11.

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