Venezuela: Opposition rejects constitution referendum

Venezuelan opposition groups are planning to use "all means possible to stop the constitutional reform referendum", scheduled to take place on December 2, reported the October 25 Ultimas Noiticias. Describing the proposed constitutional reforms as a "constitutional coup", a coalition of opposition parties — some of which participated in the short-lived military coup against the government of socialist President Hugo Chavez in 2002 — have called for a massive protest on November 3, demanding that the National Electoral Council (CNE) suspend the constitutional reform referendum.

The demonstration is timed to coincide with the foundation of the Bank of the South (Bancosur), which will be launched in Caracas by seven participating nations on the same day.

The opposition coalition includes Alianza Bravo Pueblo (Brave People's Alliance), Accion Democratica (Democratic Action), Bandera Roja (Red Flag), Alianza Popular (Popular Alliance) and the Comando Nacional de la Resistencia (National Resistance Commando). The groups argue that the key question for the opposition is not whether to participate in the referendum or to abstain, but rather to mobilise against the reforms.

Opposition student groups, which demonstrated against the reforms on October 23, have planned another protest at the CNE on October 26 calling for the referendum to be postponed.

However, Antonio Ledezma, of Alianza Bravo Pueblo, indicated that the position of the parties in the coalition formed for the November 3 protest is for the CNE not to postpone but to cancel the referendum. Ledezma argued that if the CNE "continues organising the referendum it would be an incitement to the people".

According to Hermann Escarra from the Comando Nacional de la Resistencia, who called for a "rebellion" in Venezuela shortly after the constitutional reforms were first proposed on August 15, "there is no electoral exit".

Escarra argues that the CNE and the electoral system in Venezuela are "fraudulent". However, successive Venezuelan elections, including the 2006 presidential elections, have been ratified as free and fair by international observers including the Organization of American States and the European Union.

According to the results of a poll by the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD) published in El Diario de Yaracuy on October 15, 50.6% of Venezuelans think the reforms are necessary, while 36% think they are not.

So far the Venezuelan opposition has been divided over what strategy to adopt in the face of the constitutional reform referendum, with some sectors calling for a "No" vote, and others calling for abstention.

The two opposition parties that received the highest votes in the 2006 presidential elections, coming second and third after Chavez — Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Time) and Primero Justicia (Justice First) — as well as the Christian-democratic party COPEI have not yet come on board the November 3 protest call.

Julio Borges, the national coordinator of Primero Justicia argued that it was "not convenient" to call for abstention in the referendum. Borges argued that the construction of a "political centre" and the opposition's participation in the referendum was necessary "to curb the constitutional reform that President Chavez aims to implement".

According to anonymous student sources cited in Diario VEA on October 25, more radical sectors of the opposition are planning acts to destabilise the country in the lead-up to the referendum, including possibly sabotage of the metro system in Caracas.

National Assembly deputy Dario Vivas announced that the campaign in support of the reforms organised by the Zamora Command (named after Venezuelan independence fighter Ezequiel Zamora), will be launched on November 4, with a massive national mobilisation calling for a "Yes" vote in the referendum.

"We are initiating our electoral campaign with much strength to diffuse [information] and to approve the constitutional project" and "to guarantee that the people determine their opinion in relation to the project", Vivas said.
He said that the demonstration in support of the reform was also "in response to the destabilising plan", of opposition sectors "that seek to impede by any means the democratic approval by the Venezuelan people of this constitution".

The reforms to the constitution will recognise the social "missions" — community projects that provide for Venezuela's poor in areas like health and education — as part of the country's state. They also include a series of other measures, such as a reduction in the working day to six hours, measures make it easier for the government nationalise companies and giving workers in the informal sector the right to social security. If adopted, the reforms would also enshrine the role of institutions of "popular power", which Chavez has said would constitute the "the basic nucleus of the socialist state". Chavez was re-elected in the December 2006 on an explicit platform of building "socialism for the 21st Century".

[Reprinted from Kiraz Janicke is a staff writer for and a member of Green Left Weekly's Caracas bureau.]