Changing Venezuela by Taking Power; The Policies of the Chávez Government

Dear Friends,

Greg Wilpert, editor of the independent solidarity news source Venezuela, is a sociologist (Ph.D. Brandeis University), freelance journalist, and a former US Fulbright Scholar in Venezuela.

Greg Wilpert has published a new book-- Changing Venezuela by Taking Power; The Policies of the Chávez Government, in which he argues that the Chávez government has instituted one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, but warns that they have yet to overcome the dangerous specters of the country’s past: its culture of patronage and clientelism, its corruption, and its support for personality cults—all of them fuelled by the attention and interference of a succession of US administrations.

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Venezuelan Legislature Approves 30 Articles for Constitutional Reform
Author: Gregory Wilpert

Caracas, October 22, 2007 ( - In marathon sessions, often lasting until nearly midnight, Venezuela's National Assembly has approved 30 out of 60 constitutional articles targeted for modification. The most recent changes, which will be submitted to a nationwide referendum on December 2nd, include one of the most controversial articles, which would extend the president's term from six to seven years and would allow him to be reelected an indefinite number of times.

Last August 15th, President Chavez presented a proposal to modify 33 articles of Venezuela's constitution, with the argument that these changes are necessary to bring about 21st century socialism in Venezuela. The president's proposal was then discussed in forums throughout Venezuela during the month of September and the first half of October.

Then, beginning last on October 15, [2006], the National Assembly (AN) initiated its third and final discussion of the reform proposal, recommending the addition of 25 more articles to be reformed and making a wide variety of changes to the president's original text. In the course of the discussions two more articles were added, so that the total number of articles to be modified reached 60 as of Friday last week.

Until now, the AN has approved nearly all the changes proposed by its constitutional reform commission without changes.

Aside from the change to the presidential term (article 230), the AN also approved of changes that would provide communal councils with 5% of the nation's budget (art. 167). Also, the change to article 184 more clearly defines the functioning of communal councils.

Articles that had already been approved earlier last week include
* The prohibition against discrimination based on health or sexual orientation (art. 21),

* The lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16 (art. 64),

* A requirement for gender parity in candidatures for public office (art. 67),

* The toughening of requirements for initiating popular referenda (art. 71-74),

* The right to not having one's primary residency expropriated (art. 82),

* The creation of a social security fund for the self-employed (art. 87),
* The reduction of the workweek from 44 to 36 hours per week (art. 90),

* The protection of Afro-Venezuelan culture, in addition to indigenous and European culture (art. 100),

Stronger self-management rights for university students (art. 109),

* And new forms of social and collective property (art. 115).

The AN plans to continue its article-by-article discussion of the constitutional reform until the end of October, at which point a national referendum will be organized to vote on the reform.

Other articles to be discussed and voted upon in the course of this week include
* An expansion of the president's powers (art. 236),
to allow him to revise political boundaries of municipalities and to name second vice-presidents, among other things.

* Other changes would include a prohibition against privatizing subsidiaries of the country's state oil company PDVSA (art. 303), the removal of central bank independence (art. 318),

* The transformation of the country's military reserve force into a "popular militia" (art. 320)

*And the strengthening of the president's state of emergency powers (art. 347).

One of the Chavez government's coalition partners, the social democratic party Podemos, has objected to the AN's inclusion of new articles besides the ones first proposed by the President, arguing that these articles have not had time to be discussed in public, since they were added only shortly before the third and final discussion. It has taken its objection to the country's Supreme Court with the argument that the move is unconstitutional.