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Bolivia refuses to go down the Chavez road

By Aleksander Boyd

London 10.09.06 | One issue that has somewhat escaped the attention of LatAm opinion makers, political analysts and observers is a supra constitutional mechanism known as the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). Incumbents call for a referendum, whose aim is the formation of a NCA, that in practice dissolves all democratically elected powers and appoint new ones. Venezuela provides a perfect case study of how such mechanism came about and the pernicious effects that it has on democracy, and above all else, on the premise of independence of powers. Hugo Chavez was the first democratically elected leader to have used such a method to install his cronies in power and purportedly to "refound the State."

Having won an almost absolute majority in the NAC called for in 1999, Hugo Chavez's minions effectively did away with all elected officials and institutions, going as far as drafting and passing a new constitution that gave extraordinary powers to the head of the executive. Please do note that the previous constitution, approved in 1961 which was still in effect in 1999 when these events took place, did not have any provisions or other such statutory regulations permitting to form any supra constitutional entities. In fact it was a 'democratic' coup d'etat -probably a first anywhere in the world- for Chavez sought to armour plate his NCA by arguing that it was summoned by 'the will of the people.' Ergo Chavez, disregarding constitutional mandates existing at the time, completely revamped the State to suit his specific political agenda. Presidential re-election was introduced in the constitution, the presidential period was extended from 4 to 6 years, in sum on 22 December 1999 Chavez's NCA -a week before the new Constitution was enacted- decreed a 'transition regime' which ceased the functioning of Congress, legislative assemblies and all other public powers. Then, arguing that the new Constitution had yet to take effect (it had been approved already five days earlier in a referendum on 18/12/99) it created a National Legislative Committee, named the new members of the Supreme Court, the people's Defender, the Attorney General, the National Electoral Commission and the Comptroller. In none of these cases were the procedures established by the new Constitution followed.

That single act did away with the legitimacy of the Venezuelan State as it stands today for in unconstitutional fashion, the independence and democratic origin of powers were impinged. There was no public consultation on the subject whatsoever, the customary parliamentary debate and consensus needed to reach such transcendental decisions were totally obviated. Thus we saw how Chavez illegally abrogated the former constitution and bestowed upon himself extraordinary powers to govern Venezuela. That has proven to be his ultimate political masterstroke.

Emboldened by Venezuela's huge oil income, which Chavez commands unrestrictedly, he nowadays is exporting his try and tested method to weak democracies around the region, in particular to Andean countries. Ollanta Humala wanted a NCA, Chavez puppets in Ecuador -Roldos and Correa- want one, AMLO fancies another and Evo Morales is already half way to 'refounding' the Bolivian State.

In my recent trip to Sao Paulo I warned democrats from Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia about the perils they faced should this democratic aberration devised by Chavez and Castro hold sway. It seems difficult for citizens of those countries to envisage what the future may be under such conditions. As a Venezuelan who knows exactly where that road leads I can only continue warning them and hoping that the model will be rejected at all costs.

Reports out of Bolivia point at fierce resistance to the Morales-sanctioned Chavez travesty. In Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija and Pando provinces people are up in arms and should continue so until Morales' backs off. To do otherwise will simply mean a transfer of power to Caracas and Havana.

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