Many politicians in Venezuela are bending over backwards trying to justify themselves for “defending” the 1999 Constitution against the upcoming constituyente. They come up with phony emotional arguments about how Maduro is betraying Chavez’s greatest legacy. These arguments end up sounding insincere and disingenuous. Firstly, because the disgruntled chavistas they are trying to pander to know that opposition politicians do not really think that Chávez left much of a positive legacy; and secondly, because, from an objective point of view, the 1999 Constitution is a crappy document that was approved under a process that destroyed anything resembling any existing democratic institution in Venezuela in 1999.

I must confess that I’ve never been a fan of either long constitutions or constitutional changes. Venezuela has had 26 constitutions, depending on how you count, and it is the closest thing in the western hemisphere to a failed state nowadays (one of the most enduring democracies in the world doesn’t even have a constitution). There doesn’t seem to be much of a relationship between constitutional change and democracy and development. Constitutional reforms in Latin America are usually excuses from autocratic regimes to suppress independent institutions and abolish term limits. But, even without taking into consideration the uselessness of constitutional changes for increasing democracy or expanding human rights, the 1999 Constitution and constituyente are not legacies, they were one hell of a con job from chavismo to grab and hold onto power.

In 1999 Venezuela did not need a new constitution; nevertheless, Hugo Chávez offered a constituyente as a panacea to the collapse of the political and economic model of the previous forty years of democracy (which was not part of the serviceable 1961 Constitution). Once he won and was sworn in using the “moribunda” 1961 Constitution, he proceeded, with the anointment of the Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) presided over by Cecilia Sosa, to call a referendum for the election of a Constitutional Assembly.

Has the inclusion of this nonsense in our Constitution done anything for human rights in Venezuela?

None of this was allowed by the 1961 Constitution which established its own mechanism for reform. Moreover, the Constitutional Assembly was elected under heavy malapportionment rules under which chavismo obtained 95% of the seats with 65% of the vote. More alarmingly, the Constitutional Assembly, again with the anointment of the guanábana-appointed CSJ, declared its powers were originary and “supraconstitutional” and proceeded to dissolve all existing branches of power and even appointed a temporary congress, dissolving the democratically elected one, and performed a razzia of judges and other public officials related to the old regime under the guise of a “judicial emergency.”

The effects of this unprecedented institutional devastation are still felt today Supreme Court justices chant government propaganda slogans during an official event, Tibisay Lucena uses an armband that symbolizes loyalty to Chávez and Socorro Hernández bizarrely talks of Maduro as our “father.” To put the cherry on top on this travesty, the constitution that was approved and published in the Official Gazette was inexplicably reprinted for “material errors” with text that is different from the one approved in the December 1999 referendum.

Maybe all of this would be easier to overlook if the product of the assembly had been any good, but the 1999 constitution is just bad. For starters, it’s clumsily and awkwardly written (unlike the 1961 one, which was revised by the renowned philologist Ángel Rosenblat). It’s presidentialist on steroids (under the 1961 Constitution, enabling laws could only be used to enact economic laws, a limitation removed in 1999), it allowed immediate reelection (under the 1961 Constitution Chávez would have only been able to govern until 2003!), it’s designed to produce malapportionment in the National Assembly by assigning the same number of deputies to each state and the Capital District, regardless of their population.

Even what’s considered its best aspect the numerous rights and guarantees it enshrines is a flaw in my view. I mean, environmental education is great, but does it need to be a constitutional right? Same for the issuing, reception and circulation of cultural information? Truthful information? The right of youths to be active subjects of our process of development? Has the inclusion of this nonsense in our Constitution done anything for human rights in Venezuela?

It’s about holding chavismo accountable to the tailor-made constitution they wrote. It’s about living under a government of laws, not of men.

It’s important to remember that Chávez himself repeatedly violated the 1999 Constitution (which he in fact he did not write or devise because he wasn’t precisely Andrés Bello) and even tried to reform it illegally in 2007 and it was only saved by the student movement that arose that year.

Right now, you are probably thinking that under this argument there is no point in defending the 1999 Constitution. But the protests are not about defending the bicha for its inexistent virtues. It’s about defending our right to live under the rule of law and not under a narco state. It’s about holding chavismo accountable to the tailor-made constitution they wrote. It’s about living under a government of laws, not of men. We are defending much more than a just very imperfect document. We defend the basic idea of Venezuela as a Republic.

The 2017 constituyente is not a betrayal of Chávez´s legacy. It’s the natural continuation of the assault on liberal democracy in Venezuela that Hugo Chávez started in 1999.

They are even using the same tactics (electoral malapportionment and the dissolution of existing independent branches of power), except that now, without Chávez’s popularity, the intention to destroy what’s left of democracy in the country is more patently desperate.

Opposing the 2017 constituyente is not defending Chavez’s legacy: it’s our last attempt to bury it.

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  1. THANK YOU! I keep not seeing the difference between what they claim is going to happen now and what started happening in 1999. (Other than the national sentiment.) (Good riddance!)

  2. “Opposing the 2017 constituyente is not defending Chavez’s legacy: it’s our last attempt to bury it.”

    Well said!

  3. Arenas (see above): “No fue de la chistera del Presidente Maduro entonces, de donde salió la proposición de Constituyente Comunal corporativa. La propuesta se emparenta perfectamente con el núcleo totalitario fundacional inherente al movimiento insurgente del 4 de febrero. Maduro no está traicionando el legado del máximo líder de la revolución bolivariana: lo está perfeccionando.”

    • Exactly!!! Now, that the opposition could exploit Chavez’s “legacy” to its own advantage? That is another subject…

  4. This post is so counterproductive!
    When Venezuela needs well intentioned chavistas to save the republic you tell them: our intention is to screw you!
    This is a dilettante exercise in navel gazing.

    • No, it’s an exercise in telling the truth, either chavistas help rebuild the country, or they’re gonna get buried in their dream orwellian nightmare too.

  5. What a great article!!! It is just so clear, articulate and well documented that it really gives a great perspective and puts everything into context (not easy to do with Venezuelan politics).

  6. It’s not that we’re interested in defending that smelly presidentialist corpse that’s the chavista constitution, our interest is that Maduro can’t be allowed to consolidate an orwellian dictatorship a la North Korea or Belarus where dissidents are executed by millions and the people is imprisoned forever in a colossal jail at the mercy of the cuban invading forces.

  7. Good article but I don’t think states get the same number of AN representatives as indicated. Zulia gets far more reps than Yaracuy for instance.

    • Yeah, the article is correct that there’s malapportionment but it doesn’t work that way. States get an ammount of seats that’s directly proportional to their population plus three. Same thing but less drastic.

      Still, it’s a very good article.

  8. One of the most teeth-grinding parts of the ’99 CRV is the way in which every possible post has both the masculine and femenine inflections. Reading this crap becomes tiresome.

    An example from Article 41 (another one that’s been violated by the TSJ): “Sólo los venezolanos y venezolanas por nacimiento y sin otra nacionalidad, podrán ejercer los cargos de Presidente o Presidenta de la República, Vicepresidente Ejecutivo o Vicepresidenta Ejecutiva, […], magistrados o magistradas del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, […], Procurador o Procuradora General de la República, Contralor o Contralora General de la República, Fiscal o Fiscala [sic] General de la República, Defensor o Defensora del Pueblo, Ministros o Ministras […]; Gobernadores o Gobernadoras y Alcaldes o Alcaldesas”.

    No wonder Maduro was talking about his “millones y millonas” on live TV…

    PS: believe it or not, “fiscala” appears in the DRAE. Look it up.

  9. Indeed, this is a wonderful article. Thanks for reminding us of how this travesty began!

    I had not realized there were differences between the text that was approved and what was then presented as the real McCoy.


    • Thanks Robert! I’ve had forgotten about the difference(so many things have happened since 1999!) but I was reminded of it recently.

  10. there is no perfect enough constitution that would survive chavismo, they don’t abide to any rule, they just bend, change, or ignore any rule that limit their power in any way. What never ceases to amaze me is how they were able to kidnapp almost every single institution to the point in which the people is completely powerless, even people who nominally hold a seemingly high office like a governor or the prosecutor is essencially powerless, I used to think that they would only move forward as long as they had a 50,01% majority, but they have proven that they don’t even need 25% of the country to dominate the rest. Is really the army so coward and corrupt that would simply turn a blind eye to the majority forever? do we really need a civil war to restore any semblance of democracy just because a handful of people simply refuse to go away?

  11. A comparison between in full of the 1999, 1961 and previous Constitutions would be a fascinating article… Knowing what came before 1961 is not known by many people. I believe before the 61 draft there was probably a more restrictive Constitution under the Dictatorship. It might be good to remind people of the former versions as it might alert them to these regressive changes that might come in a 2017 illegal Constitution that is going to be forced upon the people one way or another.


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