Venezuela’s Constitutent Assembly: Another Delaying Tactic?

Venezuela’s Constitutent Assembly: Another Delaying Tactic?

(Photo by the Government of Venezuela)

The question is not if there was a fraud but if the constitutent assembly will have real power.


By Joshua Tartakovsky, 7 August 2017


On Sunday, August 6, 2017, an attempt at a coup took place in the Paramacay military base in Valencia, the third largest city in Venezuela, capital of Carabobo State and home to major industries and manufacturing companies. The city lies about 170 km to the west of Caracas.


While the Guardian reported that a large number of citizens in the streets of Valencia supported the coup, the fact that the coup was repressed rapidly, even if it is still unclear who was behind it (disguised civilians or soldiers), and that there were not subsequent resurrections in other military bases, means at the very least that the coup enjoyed very limited support.  The majority of the military, including the top brass, without whom a successful coup is impossible coup as historian Danny Orbach explained, support the Maduro government.


Whether the Venezuelan military supports the government due to hand-outs and briberies, or whether due to its loyalty to the constitution of the country, are important but for now irrelevant questions. For now, it is safe to say that until top generals attempt to carry out a coup, a scenario which had not taken place yet, coups are likely to be repressed fairly rapidly and lack popular support.


That the opposition will likely attempt to carry out a military coup is a danger I pointed out in April 2, 2016. However, the opposition has still been unsuccessful in recruiting a general for its cause, a major short-coming, but one that may change as the economic and political situation in the country deteriorates.  The opposition would gain a significant victory in destabilizing the government further if the next coup attempt takes place in Caracas or in the surrounding region.


The background to the coup has been the recent elections of July 30 2017 to the newly declared Constitutent Assembly.


Maduro announced his idea of enabling popular vote to the assembly in May 1, 2017. There were several reasons for his decision. One has been the fact that ruling PSUV lost a majority in the National Assembly in December 2016 (it has later been rendered void by the Supreme Court after failing to hold new elections for four of its members from the southwest state of Amazonas following fraud allegations).  Another has been the fact that many Venezuelans have felt ignored by the government and by a corrupt bureaucracy, and felt removed from power. To what degree the new assembly will be given power to exercise obliging decisions remains to be seen. For now, it has already removed the chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega whose bank accounts were frozen by the Supreme Court and who faced criminal charges. Ortega used to be loyal to Chavez but she blocked Maduro’s attempt to mine in the Arco Minero and has turned against the government.  She recently called for investigations regarding fraud in the elections to the constitutent assembly. Delcy Rodríguez, Venezuela’s former female charismatic foreign minister is head of the new constitutent assembly. Western feminists did not bother to congratulate Venezuela for this major turning point.

The opposition, the United States and EU, as well some western polling agencies, claimed that the elections to the assembly were invalid. Voting in the elections, which took place in official voting booths, required both the finger print of the voter, an electronic vote by the voter, the automatic printing of the ballot and finally the voter placing the ballot in the box after confirming that this was indeed his or her vote, Ricardo Vaz explains. Reportedly 8 million people participated, which is about 41% of the electorate. All citizens will free to run and vote. Even business people were encouraged by the government to vote, Jorge Martin bitterly claims.


As of now, it is difficult to know for certain if fraud was carried out or not. The reported percentage of participation in the Venezuelan constituent assembly vote (41%) roughly matches the percentage of citizens who vote in the United States presidential elections (slightly below 45%). Both in Venezuela and in the United States there have been claims of fraud, while in the US, President Trump argued that 3 million illegal migrants were allowed to vote.


The 16 July 2017 ‘consultation’ vote, organized by the opposition against the prospect of a constituent assembly, in which 7.6 million people reportedly participated, was not rejected by the US and EU, although it did not have the strict voting regulations such as the imperative for finger prints, carried out by the Venezuelan state, and although it did not take place in formal voting booths.


New York Torino Capital estimated that only 3.6 million people voted for the consitutent assembly after conducting exit polls. However, it surveyed just 110 polling booths out of 12,000, and therefore is not a representative sample.


Will the constitutent assembly have any power, and what problems will it solve exactly?


Will it have the power to stop the high inflation and the wild speculation, the bizarre foreign currency exchange rates, the wild sale of price-controlled goods in the black market, and the rampant theft from the public’s treasury? Will it have the power to bring the economy back to health? To put an end to corrupt practices in the military and government?

Will it have the power to nationalize industries, put an end to rampant crime, and transform the economy from a capitalist one to a socialist one? Will it have the power to move beyond its intense oil-dependency, invest in local industries and move into self-reliance?

Will the constitutent assembly go along with Maduro’s plan to privatize the state oil giant PDVSA, and mine in Arco Minero?

All this assuming, of course, that the constitutent assembly will be able to agree on anything. So far, ‘power to the people,’ has meant empowerment for local ownership of enterprise on the one hand and the emergence of a communal state in rural areas, but tremendous abuses of power and corruption on the other hand. In such scenarios, the evildoers tend to outweigh the good-doers.  And while the left has been infatuated with Chavez’ ‘democratic-socialism’ the truth is Chavez was adored by the masses for his strong character and personal charisma.

Maduro has been incompetent and has practiced lukewarm practices from both capitalist and socialist perspectives. 120 people were killed so far in clashes with government forces in violence instigated mostly by the opposition. My own experience of visiting Venezuela two years ago made me realize how weak he is in enforcing law and order against crime and corruption, perhaps due to his desperate desire to appeal to the ignorant among the poor masses, perhaps due to the support of government and military officials who are making a fortune in the black market,  even while tremendous gains in public housing, health and education. In fact, the harsh reality of rampant lawlessness made me lost my faith in humanism, in the idea that people will act wisely only if given free goods. By allowing a thriving black market to operate, Maduro rendered the formal economy irrelevant.


Maduro has been trying to please everyone, both the pro-business circles and the chavistas. He was elected democratically by the public, but the public also defeated his party in December 2016. Is the new constituent assembly a delaying technique or will real actions come forth? Will Maduro give the constitutent assembly real power?


Attempts to topple the government will surely intensify and accelerate. Mercusor’s expuslion of Venezuela was largely symbolic, CNN reported as trade and free-movement will continue. However, if sanctions would force Venezuela to become self-reliant and productive, that would only be a good thing. Venezuela is an incredibly rich in natural resources and can manage on its own, although this flies against conventional thinking and lies outside the common comfort zone. True, such a move would require several years of tough adjustment in the training of a new work force, education and investment in industries. However, China,  Russia and India can provide expertise in the interim period.


The presidential elections will take place next year.  If two million chavistas abstain as they did in December, the opposition can defeat Maduro. Will it wait patiently until next year, knowing full well that the economy will continue to collapse anyway, either due to Maduro’s indecisiveness or for his allowing crime and corruption to flourish behind the facade of 21st century socialism?

Perhaps it will become clear who enjoys a majority only if the constitutent assembly tackles on the opposition head-on.