Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly: People’s power vs. counter-revolution

by Gloria La Riva
August 20, 2017
reprinted from Liberation News

As Venezuela’s new Constituent Assembly moves to assume legislative powers and restore stability after months of right-wing violence, U.S. officials are increasing their threats against Venezuela, including military action.

President Trump on August 10 declared the possibility of a “military option” and in Colombia three days later Vice President Pence warned, “President Trump’s made it very clear we will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship.”

That “dictatorship” is the swift and decisive campaign by President Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) and allies, to rally millions of people for a new constitution and radical process to move the Bolivarian revolution forward after months of impasse.

Since the 8-million-strong popular vote of July 30 that elected 545 progressive members of a new National Constituent Assembly (ANC), Maduro and the revolutionary forces are acting decisively to break a three-year stalemate created by the right wing-led National Assembly (AN).

President Maduro first called for a new constituent assembly on May Day this year, after months of escalating right-wing violence and economic sabotage.

U.S. officials condemned the ANC constitutional process as “dictatorial.”

But the 1999 Constitution, the first in Venezuela’s history that was ever approved in a popular referendum, has specific language for the convening of a Constituent Assembly, in Article 348:

“The initiative of calling for a National Constituent Assembly may be taken by the President of the Republic in the Cabinet of Ministers; from the National Assembly by a two-thirds vote of its members; from the Municipal Councils in open session, by a two-thirds vote of their members; or from 15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry.”

A step forward for the revolution

After May Day, in the run-up to the July 30 election, campaigning took place across the country and 6,120 candidates were nominated to run for the ANC. Of that number, 545 members were elected to the ANC.

Two days later, Trump declared Maduro a “dictator” and imposed sanctions on some 20-plus leaders, including the president.

Opposition parties boycotted the ANC election, refusing to run any candidates, leaving the new body almost entirely in the hands of progressives who support Maduro and the Bolivarian revolution: workers, youth, the indigenous, and grassroots organizations.

It has broad powers allowing it to propose amendments to the constitution that will be subject to referendum vote, and to oversee other government operations, including legislative.

On Friday, August 18, the AN again refused an invitation from the ANC to the National Assembly (AN) delegates to meet in a joint session and coordinate their work.

ANC president Delcy Rodríguez made clear the sitting National Assembly is not dissolved, but that it must work together with the ANC.

But with the AN refusal, the ANC issued a decree to “assume the powers to legislate on matters directly aimed at ensuring the preservation of peace, security, sovereignty, the socioeconomic and financial system, the means of the state and the rights of the Venezuelans.”

PSUV leader and ANC delegate Diosdado Cabello said AN president Henry Ramos Allup in 2015 had claimed that “they would finish President Maduro off in six months…” Cabello continued “The National Assembly was not elected to carry out a coup d’etat, but rather to work with all the public powers for the wellbeing of the people of Venezuela.”

The ANC has undertaken additional actions in August.

A Commission of the Truth, Justice and Peace has been established by the ANC to assure justice for the victims of the latest wave of terrorist violence waged in the streets that has left more than 125 people dead, and threatened the country’s stability. The commission also announced that persons who before would have been prosecuted under military trials due to the intransigence of the former, counter-revolutionary Attorney General will now be tried in civilian courts.

The ANC has also announced that upcoming gubernatorial elections will be moved from December to October this year, saying it must shorten the time space so the opposition does not have time to plot and sabotage the elections process.

Opposition splinters

The political parties of the counterrevolution that constitute the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), are fracturing over what position to take towards the upcoming regional elections, now called for October.

The far-right party Vente Venezuela, led by María Corina Machado, announced its breakaway from the MUD this week, instead boycotting the elections and calling for direct action to overthrow President Maduro.

She condemned other opposition figures like Ramos Allup and parties Cuentas Claras and Progreso for agreeing to run gubernatorial candidates.

The basis for Maduro’s decision

Since December 2015, with its electoral victory, the opposition-held National Assembly had tried to wield its legislative power to dismantle progressive laws made during the presidential years of revolutionary leader Hugo Chávez and Maduro.

But the pro-revolution Supreme Court annulled several reactionary AN edicts, ruling them in violation of the 1999 Constitution. And it found the National Assembly to be in contempt for refusing to unseat several legislators who were elected fraudulently.

In the meantime, the economic crisis had deepened due to skyrocketing inflation and depressed oil prices, along with economic warfare waged by monopolistic importers and U.S. corporations and government. The crisis has led to shortages of food, other basic necessities and widespread discontent. This was part of the reason for the shocking AN rightwing victory.

With the legislature in contempt and many of its leaders encouraging overt counterrevolution, U.S. imperialism worked intensively this year to stage several OAS full sessions with the intent of isolating Venezuela. But the U.S. was unsuccessful due to the lack of a 2/3rds majority. In the meantime, the U.S. media has pitched a fevered coverage, claiming Venezuela to be a failed state.

To restore governability to the country and to quell the violence, Maduro exercised the constitutional mechanism of the Constituent Assembly.

At this critical moment, some leftist activists in the United States have joined in the bourgeois condemnation of President Maduro and the Constituent Assembly, warning of the “loss of democracy” and the unfolding of a “dictatorship.”

This shameful capitulation ignores the fact that today there are only two choices for Venezuela.

Revolution or counterrevolution

At stake for the country is either the continued economic and political warfare by the Venezuelan capitalist class, greatly aided by U.S. imperialism, which if unabated will lead to irreversible destabilization and rightwing coup or U.S. intervention, or both. Either one would lead to the dismantling of the vital social programs that have aided millions of Venezuela’s poor as well as the institutions of people’s power that have given workers and oppressed people a say over their own future for the first time.

The other choice for the Venezuelan revolutionaries is to fight to break through the stalemate which has up to now enabled the right wing to gain in strength

Every act by the counterrevolutionary National Assembly in its 20 months of existence has been to try to dismantle progressive laws, whether it was to try to privatize the great oil reserves of Venezuela, or attempt to use the ruse of granting personal “homeownership” from the 1.3 million homes built for free in order to destroy the socialist character of the Bolivarian housing program, or threatening the ouster of some 13,000 Cuban doctors to eliminate free healthcare that millions have enjoyed.

That would be just their first steps. The rightwing plotters in the AN are the same ones who helped orchestrate the 2002 fascist-led coup that temporarily overthrew President Hugo Chávez. Far from defending democratic rights of the Venezuelans, they moved within hours to abolish the Parliament and the 1999 Constitution and declared martial law.

It was only the mass mobilization of the people by the thousands and the military loyal to Chávez who fought and were able to restore him to power, which enabled the survival of the Bolivarian revolution.

The outcome of the current struggle will impact all of Latin America and beyond. It is more necessary than ever that all revolutionary and progressive people stand with President Maduro, the PSUV and the Bolivarian Revolution against imperialism and domestic reaction.

At a mass rally of thousands after Trump’s threats, Maduro said defiantly, “No one intimidates, no one will defeat our people, our people that is determined to face the extremists, supremacists and racists of the United States and to defeat them with courage, with the strength that makes us proud to be Venezuelan, Latin American and Bolivarian!”