26 July 2017 - 10:56 AM
What Is a Revolutionary Constitution? From Venezuela and Beyond
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After four months of political turmoil propelled by the right-wing opposition, Venezuela has embarked on an ambitious opportunity to foster dialogue, unity and revolution with its July 30 National Constituent Assembly, ANC.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds a copy of Venezuela

Venezuela's Constituent Assembly

President Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver from humble working-class roots, announced the campaign on May 1, mentioning that it will unify and empower diverse sectors of Venezuelan society while strengthening the Bolivarian Revolution.

Over 6,000 candidates are campaigning for 545 seats representing territories and sectors in the ANC. The campaign began on July 9 and will run until July 27. Three days later, 545 members will be chosen in direct and secret elections that will determine who will sit on the board that will draft new constitutional text. That text will then be put to popular, democratic vote.

This process is entirely organized, monitored and decided upon by citizens. 

Contrary to mainstream media's depiction of the Bolivarian Revolution’s call for the ANC as a Chavista “power grab,” this constitutional measure is by no means a political aberration concocted from the dark corners of tyranny.

Subject not only to internal attacks from the opposition, which have since claimed over 100 lives, Washington has made its stance clear: if Venezuela proceeds with the ANC, a new round of sanctions are sure to follow.

A quick play on devil's advocate compels us to ask: is the United States, a country on track to eliminate healthcare for over 30 million people, in any position to “help” Venezuela serve its people?

As a working-class Venezuelan woman recently recalled during an interview, “help” from Washington is not welcome in Caracas or anywhere else in Venezuela. She explained that “wherever the United States goes, half becomes a graveyard, and the other half a madhouse.”

This process, which has been detested by Washington and its opposition foot soldiers, is undoubtedly more radical that any government-backed initiative held in the United States. Moreover, it builds upon similar revolutionary efforts attempted in other Latin American countries, like Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Constitutional Stagnation in the United States 

A painting depicting the signing of the U.S. Constitution. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

No matter how eloquent their words convey devotion to God, freedom, liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness, history teaches us that the U.S. elites who drafted and ratified their constitution represented oppressive sectors. 

Not only were most of them owners of enslaved Africans. They also favored Manifest Destiny, which led to centuries of genocidal warfare waged against Indigenous peoples in order to steal their land and resources.

When the U.S. Constitution declared that enslaved Black people would be considered three-fifths of a human being, James Madison, nicknamed the “Father of the Constitution,” defended the clause.

Lip service to democracy was paid in full by Madison and his colleagues. In recognition of such legal charades, comedian and activist Dick Gregory joked that the United States is “no different than someone fuming of foul, nauseating odors.” Instead of bathing, Gregory said, that person simply dresses in clean clothes and carries on with life. 

Though lip service about progress carries on, the pivotal document that is intended to promote U.S. “democracy” has hardly been changed. 

Is it unfathomable to imagine a constituent assembly being held in the “land of the free?” Why shouldn't U.S. citizens across the board be given the chance to determine what type of creed they prefer to live by?

Not even former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign, deemed a “political revolution” ready to alter the U.S. political landscape, proposed such a revolutionary measure.

Mexico’s 1917 Constitution

Emiliano Zapata joined by supporters of the Mexican Revolution. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, who drafted the Plan de Ayala in 1911, laid the groundwork for sweeping land reforms articulated in the Constitution.

Zapata called for property taken from the people by “landlords or bosses” to be returned to the citizens who have the titles to that property. He also demanded that revolutionary tribunals be held after revolutionary victory to determine who the land belongs to.

Furthermore, Zapata proclaimed that one third of property belonging to domestic monopolies should be taken and redistributed to villages and individuals without land.

Once lauded by people around the world for its progressive foundation, future governments imposed revisions to the Constitution that brought land redistribution, a prime aspect of the nation's constitution, to a grinding halt. 

Subsequently, domestic landowner rights were fortified. The debilitating rewrites would metastasize as U.S. corporate interests and their behemoth lobby machine took aim at securing all the advantages they could in drafting the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

Notwithstanding previous government administrations that fell short of adhering to Mexico's 1917 Constitution, we can cite several revolutionary measures based in the original version.

Article 3, for example, which outlined a free, secular education for all. Article 27, which was based on land reform favoring campesinos. And Article 123, which consolidated the rights of workers, a majority class that lent full support to Mexican revolutionaries.

Cuba’s 1976 Constitution

Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara with supporters of the Cuban Revolution. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The present-day Cuban Constitution was ratified via public referendum in 1976, a little over 17 years after the triumph of the Revolution. 

Amendments were added in 1978, 1992 and 2002. However, the bulwark of the nation's creed is vetted, not in ideological specificity, but espoused in its preamble. It’s not even certain, as human rights and Pan-African activist Randall Robinson once contemplated, that Cuba would become communist had it not been for immediate attacks by United States shortly after the triumph of the Revolution.

Before divulging a single word about its political schema, Cuba's Constitution summons the memory of the “heirs and continuators of the creative work and traditions of combativity, firmness, heroism, and sacrifice, fostered by our ancestors.” 

The passage continues by describing their ancestors as being:

- the (Indigenous people) who preferred extermination to submission.
- the African slaves who rebelled against their masters.
- those who awoke the national consciousness and the ardent Cuban desire for an independent homeland and liberty.
- the patriots who in 1868 launched the wars of independence against Spanish colonialism and those who in the last drive of 1895 brought them to the victory of 1898, usurped by the military intervention and occupation of Yankee imperialism.
- the workers, peasants, students and intellectuals who struggled for over fifty years against imperialist domination, political corruption, the absence of people’s rights and liberties, unemployment and exploitation by capitalists and landowners.

This historical imprint forms the mettle by which Cubans have stood throughout their struggle for independence, which was finally consolidated in 1959. Ever since, the Cuban state has allied itself with people around the world who have made tremendous sacrifices to stop oppression.

With that in mind, participants of Cuba’s 1976 constitutional referendum opted to take matters into their own hands, delivering an unequivocal constitutional preamble which solidifies oppressed peoples who overcame massacres, subjugation and enslavement as the protagonists of the nation’s destiny. Not the other way around.

Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution 

Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa with supporters of the Citizens' Revolution. | Photo: Andes

In 2007, shortly after being elected to office, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa called for a referendum to hold an ANC. The move, coming on the heels of rampant political and economic turmoil where one in ten Ecuadoreans fled the country, was aimed at bringing greater stability.

After the referendum passed and the ANC was held later that year, Ecuador's brand new Constitution, the twentieth in its storied history, was ratified in 2008. It includes an entire chapter, the first to address environmental matters in any national constitution, titled “The Rights of Nature.”

Framed around the Indigenous Quechua concept Sumak Kawsay — a call for harmonious living with oneself, her/his community and nature — the Ecuadorean Constitution legally prioritizes nature over private property claims. In doing so, Articles 10 and 71-74 acknowledge that ecosystems have the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. 

It also states that the government is obligated to implement legal countermeasures when those rights are infringed upon.

Other progressive content articulated in Ecuador’s Constitution includes: a ban on water privatization; redistribution of large and defunct landholdings; the right to free, quality education up to university level; equal rights for same-sex couples; equal pay for women; and remunerations for unpaid domestic workers.

It also puts a cap on neoliberal measures applied by previous administrations, the main reason Ecuador had become one of the poorest and least-developed countries in the region.

“People must prevail over capital,” Correa said in 2014. 

He also affirmed that politics is about whose interest governments serve: “Elites or the majority? Capital or humankind? The market or society? Policies and programs depend on who holds the balance of power.”

Bolivia’s 2009 Constitution 

Bolivian President Evo Morales with members of his Movement for Socialism party. | Photo: Reuters

Bolivia's Constitution was adopted in 2009. Its ANC was summoned by President Evo Morales, the country's first Indigenous president, two years prior.

The nation's most important legal document granted increased power to its Indigenous majority and rolled back half a millennium of colonialism, discrimination and humiliation, as The Guardian put it.

“Here begins the new Bolivia,” Morales said after launching the Constitution.

“Here we begin to reach true equality.” 

He added that the charter was devised to “decolonize” Bolivia as it extols Indigenous cultures and values previously undermined by Spanish colonialism.

Similar to Mexico's 1917 Constitution, and all truly progressive constitutions, agrarian reform is a fundamental aspect enshrined in Bolivia's main legal doctrine.

It also includes an affirmative action program, which allocates a designated number of congressional seats for minority Indigenous groups.

Such moves spurned U.S.-backed separatist attempts among regions where whites, albeit a minority in the Indigenous nation, dominate in certain regions.

Since the ratification of the new constitution, Bolivia has been deemed a multiethnic and pluricultural nation, something that it is and has always been since time immemorial.

Venezuela at a Crossroads 

A sign in Caracas reads "Constituent for Peace" ahead of the National Constituent Assembly. | Photo: Plataforma Popular Constituyente

Speaking in Caracas last weekend, former Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez reiterated that as soon as the ANC is installed, positive decisions will be taken to bring peace to the country.

“Let's call all those comrades to vote, because the (ANC) is for everyone, and we have the right to a diversified, productive economic model, for the future of younger generations, for justice to be done,” she said.

Government opponents, organized primarily around the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, have chosen to boycott the process despite having called for an ANC a year prior. Now, a majority of Venezuelans are preparing to cast their ballots on July 30.

Responding to opposition objections, Rodriguez and Maduro stated that the real plan behind the boycott and accompanying protests is to instigate widespread chaos, which would further destabilize the country and allow foreign intervention to topple the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The upcoming ANC presents Venezuela with an opportunity, one that even its staunchest detractors peddling the “democracy” card can't claim. And if it can't proceed “without tutelage or imposition,” as Maria Lourdes Urbaneja, Venezuela's Ambassador to Mexico maintained, one must ask: why can't the United States just leave Venezuela alone?

More importantly, however, are the voices of citizens, like Maria Pineda, a 70-year old Colombian-Venezuelan who lives in Venezuela and will cast her ballot in the ANC.

“I'll continue fighting for this country,” Pineda said, Brasil de Fato reported.

“If I must surrender my little life that remains, I'd give it up for this country, to leave something for those who'll come after me.”

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