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Chavez new constituion: articles 328 and 329

By Aleksander Boyd

02.11.07 - Editor´s note: Sometime ago fellow blogger Daniel had the excellent idea of setting up a blog about Venezuela´s Constitutional Reform so that a group of bloggers could explain to the outside world why the Venezuelan constitutional reform is dangerous for Venezuelan democracy. What follows is my contribution to the discussion, although as I have explained elsewhere indefinite re-election, which is Chavez´s ultimate goal, is illegal as ruled twice by Venezuela´s Supreme Court.

Introduction: this commentary is by Alek Boyd (Vcrisis) who needs no introduction. I think it is timely that Alek sent me his contribution a few hours before the latest repressive actions exhibited by the Venezuelan "security" apparatus.

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Article 328 (1999): The National Armed Forces constitute an essentially professional institution, with no political orientation, organized by the State to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the Nation and ensure the integrity of its geographical space, through military defense, cooperation for the purpose of maintaining internal order and active participation in national development, in accordance with this Constitution and the law. In performing their functions, they are at the exclusive service of the Nation, and in no case at the service of any person or political partisanship. The pillars on which they are founded are discipline, obedience and subordination. The National Armed Forces consist of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the National Guard, which function in an integrated manner within the scope of their competence to fulfill their mission, with their own overall Social Security system, as established under the pertinent organic law.

Proposed Amendment:
Article 328: The National Armed Forces constitute an essentially patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist institution organized by the State to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the Nation; to preserve it from any internal or external attacks and ensure the integrity of its geographic area through the study, planning and execution of the Bolivarian military doctrine, the implementation of the principles of integral military defense and the war of popular resistance, the permanent participation in tasks akin to maintaining security of the citizenry, and the upkeep of the internal order as well as the active engagement in economic, social, scientific and technological development plans in accordance to this constitution and the law.

In the performance of its functions it will always be at the service of the Venezuelan people defending its sacred interests and under no circumstances will serve any oligarchies or imperial foreign powers.

Its fundamental pillars are this constitution and the law, as well as discipline, obedience and subordination.

Its historical pillars are in Bolivar's mandate: to free the nation, to take the sword to defend social guarantees and to deserve people's blessings.

The first and most important aspect that jumps from the proposed amendment is that the National Armed Forces will no longer be an apolitical body. Professionalism is replaced by “patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist” one supposes according to Hugo Chavez's understanding of these terms. A fact that has not gone unnoticed in recent military parades in Venezuela is the chant “fatherland, socialism or death” (Patria, socialismo o muerte). In fact president Chavez maintains that such premise has to become the backbone of Venezuela's soldiers.

This amendment plainly seeks to remove any traces of separation between Executive and military power, fusing the two and subordinating the latter, according to the new constitution's fundamental pillars, to the president, ergo Hugo Chavez effectively becomes the people. Such absolutist measure has no parallel in Venezuela's contemporary history though it is to be expected from a militaristic caudillo hell bent in ruling indefinitely.

The term “popular” seems misplaced within the context. However the introduction of an “anti-imperialist” reference within the constitutional framework serves the purpose of legalizing an otherwise rhetorical term, deprived of its meaning, commonly used by the president and his supporters, considering the leverage that the Cuban dictator has not only on Chavez but in matters of State in Venezuela.

The Boliviarian military doctrine remains as unknown as an intelligible definition of 'XXI century socialism.' However the term “war of popular resistance” has got an awfully similar ring to Cuba's “guerra de todo el pueblo.”

Article 329 (1999): The Army, Navy and Air Force have as their essential responsibility the planning, execution and control of military operations as required to ensure the defense of the Nation. The National Guard shall cooperate in the carrying out of these operations, and shall have as its basic responsibility that of conducting operations as required to maintain internal order within the country. The National Armed Forces shall carry out activities of administrative policing and criminal investigation activities as provided for by law.

Proposed Amendment
Article 329: The Bolivarian Armed Forces are formed by the different land, sea and air bodies, administratively organized in the following components: the Bolivarian Army, the Bolivarian Navy, the Bolivarian Air Force, The Bolivarian Territorial Guard and the Bolivarian Popular Militia, said components structured in combined units of assistance, training and joint operations, both at the tactical and strategic level in order to fulfil its mission.
The Bolivarian Armed Forces will be able to perform administrative police and penal investigation activities as mandated by law.

Provisional ordinance (from the National Assembly dispositions)

The National Guard will become an essentially military body that might be destined by its commander in chief to form land, sea and air units as part of other military components. With part of its human, technical and material resources police corps could also be formed. Its military definition will change to that of Territorial Guard.

Another provisional ordinance

The units and components of the military reserve will become units of the Bolivarian Popular Militia.

Commentary: “defense of the nation” is not reiterated in the proposed amendment to article 329. Rather it aims at restructuring the armed forces and introduces the militia, that president Chavez has been forming and arming, as just another branch of it. To date no legislation to regulate the militia has been drafted and no evidence has been presented as to the final destination of the many thousands of Kalashnikov riffles imported from Russia, thought to be in the hands of the militia. The common military hierarchical meritocratic structure will coexist alongside a poorly trained civilian component. Revolutionary fervor and absolute allegiance to Hugo Chavez appears to make up for military knowledge. The interesting aspect of it is that Bolivarian militias will perhaps keep orthodox military personnel / components in check in order to inform the maximum leader. Having no formal, professional or institutional structure militias could have direct access to the office of the presidency. Needless to say that there is no contemporary constitutional precedence of giving praetorian guards such status within Venezuela's armed forces. Again its resemblance with Cuba's structure is remarkable

It is to be noted that the Bolivarian militias, as part of the armed forces “will be able to perform administrative police and penal investigation activities as mandated by law.” It remains to be seen what laws will be drafted and passed to regulate such activities, in particular those of the militias and what balancing mechanisms will be put into place to make it accountable before the law. Taking into consideration current circumstances it is highly unlikely that victims of 'revolutionary laws and justice' will get any redress from Venezuela's totally subordinated to the Executive judiciary. The implications that it has for the common folk are manifold, however the most worrying element is that the militias could become a sort of constitutionally backed vigilante groups with plenty of discretionary and fire power and under the direct orders of the president, that could be unleashed on those often referred to as the enemies of the process; read the opposition, human rights NGOs, student movements, the Church, the media, etc.

This measure regarding the militias is already affecting the region, as reports from Venezuelan military presence arrive from odd places such as Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Furthermore the prospect of a confederation between Venezuela and Cuba is constantly announced by president Chavez and one is already seeing Cuban ‘doctors’ working alongside Venezuelan military / militia, as denounced in Bolivia . To date the representatives of the Venezuelan people –read Congressmen and Congresswomen- have not legislated and approved laws with regards to sending troops to foreign countries, for this is a measure that depends solely on the discretion of he in charge of conducting foreign affairs: i.e. the president. Thus the ‘enemies of the revolution’ need be countered regardless of whether they are in Caracas, Bogotá, Santa Cruz, Managua, Buenos Aires or Lima. As Hugo Chavez promised recently from Havana, he is prepared to turn Bolivia into a Vietnam should Morales opponents oust him.

Alek Boyd can be joined directly at his own site, Vcrisis.

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