Constitutional Worlds Apart
By Stephen Lendman
22 August, 2007
imperfect, no country anywhere is closer to a model democracy than Venezuela
under President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias. In contrast, none is a more
shameless failure than America, but it was true long before the age
of George W. Bush. The difference under his regime is that the mask
is off revealing a repressive state masquerading as a democratic republic.
This article compares the constitutional laws of each country and how
they're implemented. The result shows world's apart differences between
these two nominally democratic states - one that's real, impressive
and improving and the other that's mostly pretense and under George
Bush lawless, corrupted, in tatters, and morally depraved.
Law from the Beginning
Before they're old enough
to understand its meaning, young US children are taught to "pledge
allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic
for which it stands," and, by inference, its bedrock supreme constitutional
law of the land. At that early age, they likely haven't yet heard of
it, but soon will with plenty of misinformation about a document far
less glorious than it's made out to be.
This article draws on Ferdinand
Lundberg's powerfully important 1980 book, "Cracks in the Constitution,"
that's every bit as relevant today as then. In it, he deconstructs the
nation's foundational legal document, separating myth from reality about
what he called "the great totempole of American society."
He analyzed it, piece by piece, revealing its intentionally crafted
flaws. It's not at all the "Rock of Ages" it's cracked up
to be, but students at all levels don't learn that in classrooms from
teachers going along with the deception or who simply don't know the
truth about their subject matter.
The Constitution falls far
short of a "masterpiece of political architecture," but it's
even worse than that. It was the product of very ordinary scheming politicians
(not the Mt. Rushmore types they're portrayed as in history books) and
their friends crafting the law of the land to serve themselves while
leaving out the greater public that was nowhere in sight in 1787 Philadelphia.
Unlike the Venezuelan Constitution, discussed below, "The People"
were never consulted or even considered, and nothing in the end was
put to a vote beyond the state legislative bodies that had to ratify
it. In contrast to popular myth, the framers crafted a Constitution
that didn't constrain or fetter the federal government nor did they
create a government of limited powers.
They devised a government
of men, not laws, that was composed of self-serving devious officials
who lied, connived, used or abused the law at their whim, and pretty
much operated ad libitum to discharge their duties as they wished. In
that respect, things weren't much different then from now except the
times were simpler, the nation smaller, and the ambitions of those in
charge much less far-reaching than today.
The Constitution can easily
be read in 30 minutes or less and just as easily be misunderstood. The
opening Preamble contains its sole myth referring to "We the people
of the United States of America." The only people who mattered
were white male property owners. All others nowhere entered the picture,
then or mostly since, proving democracy operatively is little more than
a fantasy. But try explaining that to people today thinking otherwise
because that's all they were taught from the beginning to believe.
They were never told the
American revolution was nothing more than a minority of the colonists
seceding from the British empire planning essentially the same type
government repackaged under new management. Using high-minded language
in Article I, Section 8 of the supreme law of the land, the founders
and their successors ignored the minimum objective all governments are,
or should be, entrusted to do - "provide for....(the) general welfare"
of their people under a system of constitutional law serving everyone.
But that's not its only flaw build in by design.
Our revered document is called
"The Living Constitution," and Article VI, Section 2 defines
it as the supreme law of the land. In fact, it's loosely structured
for governments to do as they wish or not wish with the notion of a
"government of the people, by the people, for the people"
a nonstarter. "The People" don't govern either directly or
through representatives, in spite of commonly held myths. "The
People" are governed, like it or not, the way sitting governments
choose to do it. As a consequence, "The Living Constitution"
was a "huge flop" and still is.
Setting the Record
Straight on the Framers
Popular myth aside, the 55
delegates who met in Philadelphia from May to September, 1787 were very
ordinary self-serving, privileged, property-owning white men. They weren't
extraordinarily learned, profound in their thinking or in any way special.
Only 25 attended college (that was pretty rudimentary at the time),
and Washington never got beyond the fifth grade.
Lundberg described them as
a devious bunch of wheeler-dealers likely meeting in smoke-filled rooms
(literally or figuratively) cutting deals the way things work today.
He called them no "all-star political team" (except for George
Washington) compared to more distinguished figures who weren't there
like Jefferson, Adams (the most noted constitutional theorist of his
day), John Jay (the first Supreme Court Chief Justice), Thomas Paine,
Patrick Henry and others. Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who did attend,
were virtual unknowns at the time, yet ever since Madison has been mischaracterized
as the Constitution's father. In fact, he only played a modest role.
The delegates came to Philadelphia
in May, 1887, assembled, did their work, sent it to the states, and
left in a despondent mood. They disliked the final product, some could
barely tolerate it, yet 39 of the 55 attendees knowingly signed a document
they believed flawed while we today extoll it like it came down from
Mt. Sinai. The whole process we call a first-class historical event
was, in fact, an entirely routine uninspiring political caucus producing
no "prodigies of statecraft, no wonders of political (judgment),
no vaulting philosophies, no Promethean vistas." Contradicting
everything we've been "indoctrinated from ears to toes" to
believe, the notion that the Constitution is "a document of salvation....a
magic talisman," or a gift to the common man is pure fantasy.
The central achievement of
the convention, and a big one (until the Civil War changed things),
was the cobbling together of disparate and squabbling states into a
union. It held together, tenuously at best, for over seven decades but
not actually until Appomattox "at bayonet point." The convention
succeeded in gaining formal approval for what the leading power figures
wanted and then got it rammed through the state ratification process
to become the law of the land.
After much wheeling and dealing,
they achieved mightily but not without considerable effort. Enough states
balked to thwart the whole process and had to be won over with concessions
like legitimizing slavery for southern interests and more. Then consider
the Bill of Rights, why they were added, for whom, and why adopting
them made the difference. It came down to no Bill of Rights, no Constitution,
but they weren't for "The People" who were out of sight and
first 10 Amendments were first rejected twice, then only added to assure
enough state delegates voted to ratify the final document with them
included. Many in smaller states were displeased enough to want a second
convention that might have derailed the whole process had it happened.
To prevent it, concessions were made including adding the Bill of Rights
because they addressed key state delegate concerns like the following:
-- prohibitions against quartering
troops in their property,
-- unreasonable searches
and seizures there as well,
-- the right to have state
-- the right of people to
bear arms, but not as the 2nd Amendment today is interpreted,
-- the rights of free speech,
the press, religion, assembly and petition, all to serve monied and
propertied interests alone - not "The People,"
-- due process of law with
speedy public trials for the privileged, and
-- various other provisions
worked out through compromise to become our acclaimed Bill of Rights.
Two additional amendments were proposed but rejected by the majority.
They would have banned monopolies and standing armies, matters of great
future import that might have made a huge difference thereafter. We'll
never know for sure.
In the end and in spite of
its defects, the framers felt it was the best they could do at the time
and kept their fingers crossed it would work to their advantage. None
of them suggested or wanted "a sheltered haven....for the innumerable
heavily laden, bedraggled, scrofulous and oppressed of the earth."
On the contrary, they intended to keep them that way meaning things
weren't much different then than now, and the founders weren't the noble
characters they're made out to be.
There were no populists or
civil libertarians among them with men like Washington and Jefferson
(who was abroad and didn't attend) being slave-owners. In fact, they
were little more than crass opportunists who willfully acted against
the will of "The People" they ignored and disdained. In spite
of it, they're practically deified and ranked with the Apostles, and
one of them (Washington) sits in the most prominent spot atop Mt. Rushmore.
The constitutional convention
ended September 17, 1787 "in an atmosphere verging on glumness."
Of the 55 attending delegates, 39 signed as a pro forma exercise before
sending it to the states with power to accept or reject it. Again, "The
People" were nowhere in sight in Philadelphia or at the state level
where the real tussle began before the founders could declare victory.
What Was Achieved
and What Wasn't
Contrary to popular myth,
the new government wasn't constrained by constitutional checks and balances
of the three branches created within it. In fact, then and since, sitting
governments have acted expediently, with or without popular approval,
and within or outside the law. In this respect, our system functions
no differently than most others operating as we do. It's accomplished
through "the narrowest possible interpretations of the Constitution,"
but it's free to go "further afield under broader or fanciful official
interpretations." History records many examples under noted Presidents
like Lincoln, T. and F. Roosevelt and Wilson along with less distinguished
ones like Reagan, Clinton, Nixon, GHW Bush and his bad seed son, the
worst ever of a bad lot.
Key to understanding the
American system is that "government is completely autonomous, detached,
(and) in a realm of its own" with its "main interest (being)
economic (for the privileged) at all times." Constitutional shackles
and constraining barriers are pure fantasy. Regardless of law, custom
or anything else, sitting US governments have always been freelancing
and able to operate as they please. They've also consistently been unresponsive
to the public interest, uncaring and disinterested in the will and needs
of the majority, and generally able to get around or remake the law
to suit their purpose. George W. Bush is only the latest and most extreme
example of a tradition begun under Washington, who when elected unanimously
(by virtual coronation) was one of the two richest men in the country.
The Legislative Branch
The Constitution then and
since confers unlimited powers on the government constituted under its
three branches of the Congress, Executive and Judiciary. Article I (with
seven in all plus 27 Amendments) deals with the legislative branch.
Section 8, Sub-section 18 states Congress has power "to make all
laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution
the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution....or
in any department or officer thereof." It's for government then
to decide what's "necessary" and "proper" meaning
the sky's the limit under the concept of sovereignty.
The Executive and Judiciary
branches are dealt with below with the three branches comprising a labyrinthine
system the framers devised under the Roman notion of "divide and
rule" as follows:
-- a powerful (and at times
omnipotent) chief executive at the top,
-- a bicameral legislature
with a single member in the upper chamber able to subvert all others
in it through the power of the filibuster (meaning pirate in Spanish),
-- a committee system controlled
mostly by seniority or a political powerbroker,
-- delay and circumlocution
deliberately built into the system,
-- a separate judiciary able
to overrule the Congress and Executive, but too often is a partner,
not an adversary,
-- staggered elections to
assure continuity by preventing too many officials being voted out together,
-- a two-party system with
multiple constituencies, especially vulnerable to corruption and the
influence of big (corporate) money that runs everything today making
the whole system farcical, dishonest and a democracy only in the minds
of the deceived and delusional.
Article III of the Constitution
establishes the Supreme Court saying only: "The judicial power
shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as
the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." Congress
is explicitly empowered to regulate the Court, but, in fact, the opposite
often happens or, at times, it cuts both ways. The function of Congress
is to make laws with the Court in place to interpret them and decide
their constitutionality if challenged and it decides to adjudicate.
As for the common notion
of "judicial review," it's nowhere mentioned in the Constitution
nor did the framers authorize it. Nonetheless, courts use it to judge
the constitutionality of laws in place and public sector body actions.
They derive their power to do it by deduction from two separate parts
of the Constitution: Article VI, Section 2 saying the Constitution,
laws and treaties are the supreme law of the land and judges are bound
by them; then in Article III, Section 1 saying judicial power applies
to all cases, implying judicial review is allowed. Under this interpretation
of the law, appointed judges, in theory, "have a power unprecedented
in history - to annul acts of the Congress and President."
With or without this power,
Lundberg makes a powerful case overall that the constitutional story
comes down to a question of money and money arrangement - who gets it,
how, why, when, where, what for, and under what conditions. Also addressed
is who the law leaves out. The story has nothing whatever to do with
guaranteeing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (Jefferson's
Orwellian language meaning property); establishing justice; upholding
the rule of law equitably for everyone; promoting the general welfare;
or securing the blessings of freedom for "The People" unconsidered,
unimportant and ignored by the three branches of government serving
monied and property interests only, of which they are a part.
The Executive Branch
Lundberg's theme is clear
and unequivocal. Under US constitutional law, the President is the most
powerful political official on earth, bar none under any other system
of government. "The office he holds is inherently imperial,"
regardless of the occupant or how he governs, and the Constitution confers
this on him. Unlike the British model, with the executive as a collectivity,
the US system "is absolutely unique, and dangerously vulnerable"
with one man in charge fully able to exploit his position. "The
American President (stands) midway between a collective executive and
an absolute dictator (and in times of war like now) becomes, in fact,
quite constitutionally, a full-fledged dictator." Disturbingly,
the public hasn't a clue about what's going on.
A single sentence, easily
passed over or misunderstood, constitutes the essence of presidential
power. It effectively grants the Executive a near-limitless source,
only constrained to the degree he chooses. It's from Article II, Section
1 reading: "The executive power shall be vested in a President
of the United States of America. Article II, Section 3 then almost nonchalantly
adds: "The President shall take care that the laws be faithfully
executed" without saying Presidents are virtually empowered to
make laws as well as execute them even though nothing in the Constitution
specifically permits this practice. More on that below.
To understand how the US
government works, it's essential to know what executive power is, in
fact, knowing it's concentrated in the hands of one man for good or
ill. Also crucial is how Presidents are elected - "literally (by)
electoral (unelected by the public) dummies" in an Electoral College.
The scheme is a long-acknowledged constitutional anomaly as these state
bodies are able to subvert the popular vote, never meet or consult like
the College of Cardinals electing a Pope, and, in effect, reduce and
corrupt the process into a shameless farce.
Once elected, it only gets
worse because the power of the presidency is awesome and frightening.
The nation's chief executive:
-- is commander-in-chief
of the military functioning as a virtual dictator in times of war; although
Article I, Section 8 grants only Congress that right, the President,
in fact, can do it any time he wishes "without consulting anyone"
and, of course, has done it many times;
-- can grant commutations
or pardons except in cases of impeachment;
-- can make treaties that
become the law of the land, with the advice and consent of two-thirds
of the Senate (not ratification as commonly believed); can also terminate
treaties with a mere announcement as George Bush did renouncing the
important ABM Treaty with the former Soviet Union; in addition, and
with no constitutional sanction, he can rule by decree through executive
agreements with foreign governments that in some cases are momentous
ones like those made at Yalta and Potsdam near the end of WW II. While
short of treaties, they then become the law of the land.
-- can appoint administration
officials, diplomats, federal judges with Senate approval, that's usually
routine, or can fill any vacancy through (Senate) recess appointments;
can also discharge any appointed executive official other than judges
and statutory administrative officials;
-- can veto congressional
legislation, and history shows through the book's publication they're
sustained 96% of the time;
-- while Congress alone has
appropriating authority, only the President has the power to release
funds for spending by the executive branch or not release them;
-- Presidents also have a
huge bureaucracy at their disposal, including powerful officials like
the Secretaries of Defense, State, Treasury, and Homeland Security and
the Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department;
-- Presidents also command
center stage any time they wish. They can request and get national prime
time television for any purpose with guaranteed extensive post-appearance
coverage promoting his message with nary a disagreement with it on any
-- throughout history, going
back to George Washington, Presidents have issued Executive Orders (EOs)
although the Constitution "nowhere implicitly or explicitly gives
a President (the) power (to make) new law" by issuing "one-man,
often far-reaching" EOs. However, Presidents have so much power
they can do as they wish, only constrained by their own discretion.
-- George Bush also usurped
"Unitary Executive" power to brazenly and openly declare what
this section highlights - that the law is what he says it is. He proved
it in six and a half years of subverting congressional legislation through
a record-breaking number of unconstitutional "signing statements."
- They rewrote over 1132 law provisions through 147 separate "statements,"
more than all previous Presidents combined. Through this practice, George
Bush expanded presidential power well beyond the usual practices recounted
-- Presidents are, in fact,
empowered to do almost anything not expressively forbidden in the Constitution,
and very little is; more importantly, with a little ingenuity and lots
of creative chutzpah, the President "can make almost any (constitutional)
text mean whatever (he) wants it to mean" so, in fact, his authority
is practically absolute or plenary. And the Supreme Court supports this
notion as an "inherent power of sovereignty." If the US has
sovereignty, it has all powers therein, and the President, as the sole
executive, can exercise them freely without constitutional authorization
In effect, "the President....is
virtually a sovereign in his own person." Compared to the power
of the President, Congress is mostly "a paper tiger, easily soothed
or repulsed." The courts, as well, can be gotten around with a
little creative exercise of presidential power, and in the case of George
Bush, at times just ignoring their decisions when they disagree with
his. As Lundberg put it: "One should never under-estimate the power
of the President....nor over-estimate that of the Supreme Court. The
supposed system of equitable checks and balances does not exist, in
fact, (because Congress and the courts don't effectively use their constitutional
authority)....the separation in the Constitution between legislative
and the executive is wholly artificial."
Further, it's pure myth that
the government is constrained by limited powers. Quite the opposite
is true "which at the point of execution (resides in) one man,"
the President. In addition, "Until the American electorate creates
effective political parties (which it never has done), Congress....will
always be pretty much under (Presidents') thumb(s)." Under the
"American constitutional system (the President) is very much a
de facto king," and under George Bush a corrupted, devious, criminal
and dangerous one.
As for impeaching and convicting
a President for malfeasance, Article II, Section 4 states it can only
be for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Based on the historical record, it's near-impossible to do with no President
ever having been removed from office this way, and only two were impeached,
both unjustly. John Adams, the most distinguished constitutional theorist
of his day, said it would take a national convulsion to remove a President
by impeachment, which is not to say it won't ever happen and very likely
one day will with no time better than the present to prove it.
In sum from the above, the
US system of constitutional law is full of flaws and faults. "The
People" were deliberately and willfully left out of the process
proving the Constitution doesn't recognize democracy in America in spite
of the commonly held view it does. In addition, the President, at his
own discretion, can usurp dictatorial powers and end republican government
by a stroke of his pen. That should awaken everyone to the clear and
present danger that any time, for any reason, the President of the United
States can declare a state of emergency, suspend the law of the land
and rule by decree.
How does America's system
of government contrast with rule under the 1999 Constitution of the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela? Hugo Chavez was first elected president
in December, 1998 and took office in February, 1999. He then held a
national referendum so his people could decide whether to convene a
National Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution to embody
his visionary agenda. It passed overwhelmingly followed three months
later by elections to the National Assembly to which members of Chavez's
MVR party and those allied with it won 95% of the seats. They then drafted
the revolutionary Constitucion de la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela.
It was put to a nationwide vote in December, 1999 and overwhelmingly
approved changing everything for the Venezuelan people.
It established a model humanistic
participatory social democracy, unimaginable in the US, providing real
(not imagined) checks and balances in the nation's five branches of
government. They comprise the executive, legislative and judicial ones
plus two others. One is the independent national electoral council that
regulates and handles state and civil society organization electoral
procedures to assure they conform to the law requiring free, fair and
open elections. The other is a citizen or public power branch functioning
as a unique institution. It lets ordinary people serve as ombudsmen
to assure the other government branches comply with constitutionally-mandated
requirements. This branch includes the attorney general, the defender
of the people, and the comptroller general.
The Legislative Branch
Venezuela is governed under
a unicameral legislative system called the National Assembly. It's composed
of 167 members (compared to 535 in the two US Houses) elected to serve
for five years and allowed to run two more times. It differs from the
bicameral system in the US but is broadly similar to governments like
in the UK. Although it's bicameral, it's governed solely by publicly
elected members of the House of Commons that includes the Prime Minister
and his cabinet as members of Parliament. The upper House of Lords is
merely token and advisory, there by tradition like the Queen, with no
power to overrule the lower House that runs everything.
The Office of the President
The President is elected
with a plurality of universally guaranteed suffrage. Article 56 of the
Bolivarian Constitution states: "All persons have the right to
be registered free of charge with the Civil Registry Office after birth,
and to obtain public documents constituting evidence of the biological
identity, in accordance with law." In addition, all Venezuelans
are enfranchised to vote under one national standard and are encouraged
to do it under a model democratic system with the vast majority in it
In contrast, the US system
is quite different. Precise voting rights qualifications are for the
states to decide with no constitutionally mandated suffrage standard
applying across the board for everyone. The result is many US citizens
are denied their franchise right. They're unable to participate in the
electoral process for a variety of reasons no democratic state should
tolerate, but America built it into the system by design.
The Judicial System
Under Article 2 in The Bolivarian
Constitution, the judicial system shares equal importance to the law
of the land. But it wasn't always that way earlier when the Venezuelan
judiciary had an odious reputation before Chavez was elected. It had
a long history of corruption, a disturbing record of being beholden
to political benefactors, and a tradition of failing to provide an adequate
system of justice for most Venezuelans. Chavez vowed to change things
and undertook a major restructuring effort after taking office. He put
this government branch under the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and made
it independent of the others. The law now requires those serving be
elected by a two-thirds legislative majority (not the previous simple
one), and tighter requirements are in place regarding eligible candidates
along with public hearings to vet them.
In addition, to root out
long-standing corrupt practices, Chavez created a Judicial Restructuring
Commission to review existing judgeships and replace those not fit to
serve. Henceforth, all sitting judges with eight or more corruption
charges pending are disqualified. It effectively eliminated 80% of those
on the bench in short order and showed the extent of malfeasance in
the national judicial culture. It also suggested the huge amount throughout
the government from generations of institutionalized privilege. Those
in power were licensed to steal the country blind and enrich themselves
and foreign investors at the expense of the vast majority.
Reform in all areas of government
is still a work in progress, including in the judiciary needing much
of it. The process hasn't been perfect because of the enormity of the
task. By the end of 2000, about 70% of sitting judges in the so-called
capital region of Caracas, Miranda and Vargas states were replaced by
provisional ones with charges of old judges removed for equally beholden
new ones. It may be true and points to how hard the going is to change
the long-standing culture of privilege and institute real democratic
reforms throughout the government.
Nonetheless, the Constitution
established Chavez's vision for a foundation and legal framework for
revolutionary structural change. He's been working since to transform
the nation incrementally into a model participatory social democracy
serving all Venezuelans instead of for the privileged few alone the
way it traditionally was in the past and how US framers designed American
constitutional law. The differences between the two nations couldn't
be more stark.
The spirit of the Venezuelan
Bolivarian Constitution is stated straightaway in its Preamble:...."to
establish a democratic, participatory and self-reliant, multiethnic
and multicultural society in a just, federal and decentralized State
that embodies the values of freedom, independence, peace, solidarity,
the common good, the nation's territorial integrity, comity and the
rule of law for this and future generations;"
It further "guarantees
the right to life, work, learning, education, social justice and equality,
without discrimination or subordination of any kind; promotes peaceful
cooperation among nations and further strengthens Latin American integration
in accordance with the principle of nonintervention and national self-determination
of the people, the universal and indivisible guarantee of human rights,
the democratization of imitational society, nuclear disarmament, ecological
balance and environmental resources as the common and inalienable heritage
This language would be unimaginable
in the US Constitution, and, unlike our federal law, they're more than
words. This is Hugo Chavez's commitment to all Venezuelans ordained
under nine Title headings, 350 Articles, and 18 Temporary Provisions.
It's a first class democratic document, little known in the West, that
greatly outclasses and shames what US framers' enacted for themselves
and privileged friends alone. Democracy was nowhere in sight then nor
has it shown up since. In Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, it's resplendent,
glorious, still imperfect and a work in progress, but heading in the
right direction with newly proposed changes discussed below.
The contrast with America
today couldn't be greater. The nation under George Bush is ruled by
Patriot and Military Commissions Act justice under an institutionalized
imperial system of militarized savage capitalism empowering the rich
to exploit all others. A state of permanent war exists; civil liberties
are disappearing and human rights are a nonstarter; dissent is a crime;
social decay is growing; a culture of secrecy and growing fear prevail;
torture is practically sanctified; injustice is tolerated; the dominant
media function as virtual national thought-control police gatekeepers;
and the law is what a boy-emperor president says it is. Aside from the
privileged it serves, democracy in America is only in the minds of the
bewildered and last of the true-believers who sooner or later will discover
Consider Venezuela's Bolivarian
spirit in contrast. The people freely and openly choose their leaders
in honest, independently monitored elections. They're unemcumbered by
a farcical electoral college voting scheme (for Presidents) and a system
of rigged electronic voting machine and other electoral engineered fraud
corrupting the entire process sub rosa. They also have unimaginable
benefits like free quality health and dental care (mandated in Articles
83 - 85) as a "fundamental social right and....responsibility of
the state....to guarantee....to improve the quality of life and common
welfare." It's administered through a national public health system
proscribed from being privatized. That's how health delivery in America
gets corrupted for profit. The result is 47 million and counting are
uninsured, many millions more have too little coverage, and the cost
of care is unaffordable for all but the well-off or those on Medicare,
Medicaid (if qualify) or under disappearing company-paid plans.
The Constitution also enacted
the principle of participatory democracy from the grassroots for everyone.
It's mandated in Articles 166 and 192 establishing citizen assemblies
as a constitutional right for ordinary people to be empowered to participate
in governing along with their elected officials. Constitutionally guaranteed
rights also ban discrimination; promote gender equity; and insure free
speech; a free press; free, fair, and open elections; equal rights for
indigenous people (assured a minimum three National Assembly legislative
seats); and mandates government make quality free education available
for all to the highest levels, as well as housing and an improved social
security pension system for seniors, and much more.
Hugo Chavez brought permanent
change, and most Venezuelans won't tolerate returning to the ugly past.
Why should they? They never got these essential social services before.
Under a leader who cares, they do now, and their lives improved enormously.
Constitutionally Guaranteed Rights
The Bolivarian Constitution
is a glorious document, fundamentally different in spirit and letter
from its US counterpart it shames by comparison. Before Chavez took
office in February, 1999, Venezuela only paid lip service to civil liberties,
human rights and needs. They're now mandated by law. It encompasses
an impressive array of basic rights and essential services like government-paid
health care, education, housing, employment and human dignity enforced
and funded by a caring government as the law requires.
Article 58 in the Constitution
also guarantees the right to "timely, true, and impartial"
information "without censorship, in accordance with the principles
of this constitution." The opposite is true in America where major
media are state propaganda instruments for the privileged.
Articles 71 - 74 establish
four types of popular national referenda never imagined or held in America
outside the local or state level where they're often non-binding. The
US is one of only five major democracies never to have permitted this
type citizen participation. In Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, the practice
is mandated by law and institutionalized to give people at the grass
roots a say in running their government. Four types of referenda are
--consultative - for a popular,
non-binding vote on "national transcendent" issues like trade
-- recall - applied to all
elected officials up to the President;
-- approving - a binding
vote to approve laws, constitutional amendments, and treaties relating
to national sovereignty; and
-- rescinding - to rescind
or change existing laws.
Referenda can be initiated
by the National Assembly, the President, or by petition from 10 - 20%
of registered voters, with different procedural requirements applying
Social, family, cultural,
educational and economic rights are guaranteed under Chapters V - VII
with the government backing them financially.
Indigenous Native Peoples'
rights are covered in Chapter VIII. Even environmental rights are addressed
with Article 127 stating "It is the right and duty of each generation
to protect and maintain the environment for its own benefit and that
of the world of the future....The State shall protect the environment,
biological and genetic diversity, ecological processes....and other
areas of ecological importance." Try imagining any US federal law
with teeth containing this type language let alone the Constitution
that includes nothing in its Articles or Amendments.
Citizen Power gets considerable
attention under Articles 273 - 291. It's exercised by "the Republican
Ethics Council, consisting of the People Defender, the General Prosecutor
and the General Comptroller of the Republic....Citizen Power is independent
and its organs enjoy operating, financial and administrative autonomy."
Citizen Power organs are legally charged with "preventing, investigating
and punishing actions that undermine public ethics and administrative
morals, to assure lawful sound management of public property....(to
help) create citizenship, together with solidarity, freedom, democracy,
social responsibility, work" and more.
covers much more as well under each of its nine Titles from:
-- stating its fundamental
Bolivarian principles in Title I, to
-- National Security in Title
-- Protection of the Constitution
in Title VIII to assure its continuity in the event of "acts of
force" or unlawful repeal with each citizen having a duty to reinstate
it if that need arises; and finally
-- Constitutional Reforms
in Title IX in the form of amendments, other reforms to revise or replace
any of its provisions, and the National Constituent Assembly with power
"resting with the people of Venezuela." They're empowered
to call an Assembly to transform the State, create a new "juridical
order" and draft a new Constitution to be submitted to a national
referendum for the people to accept or reject. That's how democracy
is supposed to work. In Venezuela it does. In the US, it doesn't, never
did, and was never conceived or intended to from the nation's founding
to the present.
This happens because Americans
know painfully little about their law of the land hidden from them in
plain view. They're taught misinformation about it and the framers who
drafted it. Few ever read it beyond a quoted line or two and even fewer
ever think about it. In contrast, in Venezuela, the Bolivarian Constitution
is sold in pocket-sized form almost everywhere. People buy, read and
study it. Why? Because it's a vital unifying part of their lives codifying
core democratic values and principles Venezuelan people cherish and
wish to keep.
In July, President Chavez
announced he'd be sending the National Assembly a proposal of suggested
constitutional reforms to debate and consider. He stressed Venezuelans
would then get to vote on them in a national referendum so that "the
majority will decide if they approve....constitutional reform."
Chavez submitted his proposal
in an August 15 address to the National Assembly that will debate and
rule on them in three extraordinary sessions over the next 60 to 90
days. Included are amendments to 33 of the Constitution's 350 articles
to "complete the death of the old, hegemonic oligarchy and the
old, exploitative capitalist system, and complete the birth of the new
state." Chavez stressed the need to update the 1999 Constitution
because it's "ambiguous (and) a product of that moment. The world
(today) is very different from (then). (Reforms now are) essential for
continuing the process of revolutionary transition." They include:
-- extending presidential
terms from six to seven years;
-- unlimited reelections
(that countries like England, France, Germany and others now allow);
Chavez wants the reelection option to be "the sovereign decision
of the constituent people of Venezuela;"
-- guaranteeing the right
to work and establishing policies to develop and generate productive
-- creation of a Social Stability
Fund for "non-dependent" or self-employed workers so they
have the same rights as other workers including pensions, paid vacations
and prenatal and postnatal leave entitlements;
-- reducing the workday to
six hours so businesses would have to employ more workers and hold unemployment
-- ending the autonomy of
Venezuela's Central Bank;
-- recognition of different
kinds of property defined as social, collective, mixed and private;
-- redefining the role of
the military so henceforth "The Bolivarian Armed Forces (will)
constitute an essential patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist body
organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty
of the nation...;" and
-- guaranteeing state control
over the nation's oil industry to prevent any future privatization of
this vital resource;
Chavez also wants other changes
to strengthen the nation's participatory democracy at the grassroots.
He stresses "one of the central ideas is my proposal to open, at
the constitutional level, the roads to accelerate the transfer of power
to the people" in an "Explosion of Communal (or popular) Power."
It's already there in more than 26,000 democratically functioning grassroots
communal councils. They're government-sanctioned, funded, operating
throughout the country, and may double in number and be strengthened
further under proposed constitutional changes.
Chavez wants "Popular
(people) Power" to be a "State Power" along with the
Legislature, Executive, Judicial, Citizen and Electoral ones and considers
this constitutional change the most important one of all. If it happens,
various sovereign powers and duties now handled at the federal, state
and municipal levels will be transfered to local communal, worker, campesino,
student and other councils. This will strengthen Venezuela's bedrock
participatory democracy making it even more unique and impressive than
it already is.
In America, it's unimaginable
a President or other government officials would recommend "People
Power" become our fourth government branch, co-equal with the others,
with citizens empowered to vote in national referenda on crucial proposed
changes in law.
Chavez also proposed a "new
geometry of power" by amending article 16 that now states "the
territory of the nation is divided into those of the States, the Capital
District, federal dependencies and federal territories. The territory
is organized into Municipalities." Chavez wants this amended so
popular referenda can create "federal districts" in specific
areas to serve as states. He called this idea "profoundly revolutionary
(and needed) to remove the old oligarchic, exploiter hegemony, the old
society, and (quoting Gramsci weaken the former) historic block. If
we don't change the (old) superstructure (it) will defeat us."
Chavez also stressed this
new structure is needed to be in place when "Venezuela (grows to)
40 - 50 million people." His plan includes "restructur(ing)
Caracas" into a Federal District with more local autonomy, as it
was at an earlier time.
These proposals and other
initiatives are part of his overall socialism for the 21st century plan
that's also very business-friendly. Chavez opposes savage capitalism,
not private enterprise, and under his stewardship domestic and foreign
businesses have thrived. They're a dominant force powering the economy
to accelerated growth since 2003 with latest Central Bank 2nd quarter,
2007 figures coming in at 8.9%. With oil prices high and world economies
prospering, this trend is likely to continue. That's good news for business
and households sharing in the benefits through greater purchasing power.
Chavez wants his new United
Socialist Party (PSUV) to drive the revolutionary process and continue
his agenda of reform for all Venezuelans. He wants everyone to enjoy
the benefits, not just a privileged few like in the past and in the
US today. Under his leadership, their future is bright while in America
poverty is growing, the middle class is dying, and the darkness of tyranny
threatens everyone under George Bush with his agenda likely continuing
under a new president in 2009.
Governance differences exist
between these two nations because their constitutional laws are mirror
opposite, and America has no one like Hugo Chavez. He's a rare leader
who cares and backs his rhetoric with progressive people-friendly policies.
In the US, there's George Bush, and that pretty much explains the problem.
Knowing that, which leader would you choose and under which system of
government would you prefer to live?
lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
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