[OPE] Venezuela is the most democratic country in Latin America

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Sun Feb 15 2009 - 09:36:16 EST

Latin America has a rich history of populist politics and caudillismo, and in fact Chavez is not alone in his bid for an extra term - Mr Uribe in neighbouring Colombia is backed by two-thirds of Colombian voters, but is legally not able to be re-elected for yet another term although manu would like him to stay on.

What are the facts in this case? Let's focus on them, and not on emotionalist dramatics about democratic feelings.

On August 15, 2007, Mr Chavez already called for an end to presidential term limits. But the result of the referendum on the constitutional reform proposal, on 2 December 2007, was not in Mr Chavez's favour, and the proposal was therefore legally dismissed.

According to Article 345 of the Constitution of Venezuela, if a reform proposal is defeated, it cannot be raised again, other than by the next government: specifically it says, "A revised constitutional reform initiative may not be submitted during the same constitutional term of office of the National Assembly."

Consequently, if Mr Chavez attempts again to change the constitution via a referendum or some other procedure, to make it possible for him to get an extra presidential term, he is substantially placing himself above the law of the land - a law which he himself helped to make. Perhaps Marxists do not care about that, but democrats do.

The only way in which such a renewed attempt at constitutional reform could merit the label "democratic", is if Chavez could somehow show that he definitely had a public mandate to do so, because a majority of the voting population in fact support him, or, because an "exceptional national situation" applied in terms of Venezuelan law.

Article 337 of the Constitution states for example: "The President of the Republic, at a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, shall have the power to decree states of exception. Expressly defined as such are circumstances of a social, economic, political, natural or ecological nature which seriously affect the security of the Nation, institutions and citizens, in the face of which the powers available to cope with such events are insufficient. In such case, the guarantees contained in this Constitution may be temporarily restricted, with the exception of those relating to the right to life, prohibition of incommunicative detention or torture, the right to due process, the right to information and other intangible human rights".

But such a renewed reform move could be taken to imply:

(1) that democracy exists only for the majority. It does not. The minority, although outvoted, nevertheless has democratic and civil rights. So if Mr Chavez changes the law to suit himself, even if he has majority backing, then basically he is saying that the rights of the majority have greater priority than the rights of the minority - effectively he treats the minority with contempt.

(2) that what a majority of the population currently thinks or feels, has priority over a constitutional principle intended as a longterm safeguard for consistent rule-making, and the protection of civil rights of all.

For these reasons, I am sympathetic to Paula's criticism.


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Received on Sun Feb 15 09:38:15 2009

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