Venezuela: Chavez urges offensive to support reforms

Addressing thousands of members of the battalions of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), packed into the Poliedro Stadium in Caracas on August 25, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called for an "offensive" to guarantee the approval in the national referendum of his proposed constitutional reforms, which he says are necessary to guarantee the country's transition to socialism.

The proposed reforms, which affect less than 10% of the articles in the existing constitution, will be subject to discussion in the National Assembly (AN) and popular assemblies across the country, and after a final vote in the AN will be put to voters in a referendum.

"We are going to pulverise the opposition in the referendum", Chavez declared. He proposed that after the reforms are approved, the colour of the constitution be "converted from blue to red".

Chavez explained that although under the current constitution, the reforms could be voted on article by article in the referendum, he was calling for his proposal to be voted en bloc as it was an "integral proposal".

Chavez argued that the project of constitutional reform would provide "the fuel for the political and ideological debate in the battalions" of the PSUV.

Noting that almost 6 million people had registered to be members of the PSUV, Chavez said only approximately 1.5 million have participated in the socialist battalions. "We were sure that when we commenced the second stage of the process, all these people that registered were not going to participate, for logical reasons — there are people that work on Saturdays, others that have family commitments and others that don't have the sufficient level of commitment to be an activist. It's natural that this is so."

Chavez proposed the party be organised in "concentric circles" of full members and non-full members. Rather than implying a hierarcy, Chavez explained, the different levels of membership reflected different levels of time dedicated to the party, with different levels of rights and obligations. "Full members must have the time to carry out the political tasks of the party and convert themselves into disseminators and organisers, and they must be a revolutionary example."

Chavez called for "irreverence in discussion and loyalty in action" within the party. He also announced the creation of a Provisional Discipline Committee of the PSUV, headed by former vice-president Diosdado Cabello, and referred to the case of an aspiring PSUV member whose conduct he claimed was contrary to the formation of the new party.

According to unnamed sources quoted in the August 26 Diario VEA, AN deputy Francisco Ameliach, leader of the "PSUV bloc" in parliament, was called to report to the discipline committee. Ameliach had alluded to the possibility of resurrecting the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR — the largest pro-Chavez party that dissolved earlier this year to become part of the PSUV) for the elections of state governors in 2008 if the formation of the PSUV had not been completed.

Chavez also affirmed that unlike the MVR, all PSUV candidates to stand in elections would be democratically chosen by the party's ranks.

Venezuelan vice-president and coordinator of the National Promoters Commission of the PSUV, Jorge Rodriguez, said that the elections for spokespeople to the founding congress of the PSUV, which were postponed in August to prioritise discussion of the constitutional reforms, have been rescheduled for mid-September. Rodriguez explained that the founding congress was expected to be held in October, "so that by November we have completely formed the structure of the biggest party in the history of America".

Rodriguez also said that Chavez would be travelling throughout the country to facilitate "the process [of formation] of the assemblies and battalions and also in the discussion of the constitutional reform".

[Abridged from]