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New National Assembly in Venezuela sets an ominous tone Printer friendly page Print This
By Paul Richard Harris and Arturo Rosales, Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic
Wednesday, Jan 6, 2016

January 5 was the day for swearing in the new National Assembly following the December 6, 2015 elections. That election produced the first majority for right-wing candidates in more than a decade. Previously, the Bolivarian Revolution - begun by Hugo Chávez and carried on by current president Nicolas Maduro - had enjoyed majority support from the Venezuelan people.

In the early days of the Bolivarian Revolution, tremendous strides were made to lift people out of poverty, to increase public housing, to share the wealth of Venezuela’s massive oil fields, to redistribute unused land from the hands of absentee landlords to campesinos who could work the land to earn a living.

Throughout the nearly 14 years since Chávez was first elected, opposition parties (that is, right-wing corporatists and oligarchs) have fumed against the Bolivarian government. They have incited riots and are directly responsible for killings of innocent citizens and police officers. For the most part, the people continued to side with the government - until the bottom fell out of the oil market. It then became a lot harder for the Chavistas to continue providing the extensive social services that had been introduced - you know, to benefit the people rather than the rich.

Eventually, the opposition (which was comprised of several splinter groups - none of whom liked each other much but all of whom had a common hatred for Bolivarianism) came together in a coalition. Even so, it failed to win election until December 2015.

But on the first day of this new Assembly, some ominous flares were sent up for all to see.

The opposition press, and media in hostile countries like the US, will almost certainly characterize what happened yesterday as ‘Leftists walk out of Assembly in a pout’ - or some such similar language. But let’s look at what really happened.

The newly selected president of the National Assembly (Henry Ramos Allup, a veteran right-wing Venezuelan politician) arrived for the swearing in ceremonies in a vehicle from the US embassy motorcade, along with various US diplomats. Not that we should take this as a sign that the new Assembly marches to Washington’s drum - oh no, that wouldn’t be right.

He then did a few interesting things that should make those who value the rule of law (Allup himself is a lawyer) sit up and take notice. Against all custom, the Assembly did not sing the national anthem when it was being installed. And Allup did not use the Constitution to swear in the new deputies. Indeed, whenever he mentioned the Constitution at all, it was referenced as the ‘Constitution of the Republic of Venezuela’ and he alluded to the laws of the Republic. This is, in fact, not the name of the Constitution or the country it governs.

Some will recall that many of these same new deputies were involved in a 2002 coup that (briefly) removed Hugo Chávez from the presidency. At that time, the rebels took the symbolic step of removing a portrait of Simón Bolivar from the chamber - and they did so again yesterday.

It seemed abundantly clear in the chamber that there was visceral hatred toward the Chavistas who had won election, or re-election.

And as Venezuela observers would surely have expected, the private media (that is, the right-wing media) were allowed into the chamber to cover the proceedings freely. They then did what must have been expected of them: They interviewed only the new right-wing deputies and broadcast only those interviews. It was as though no one else was in the chamber except these new deputies. It is easy to be reminded that this is similar to the actions taken during the aborted 2002 coup.

As a sign of disdain toward Venezuela, the new deputies invited ex-Colombian president Andrés Pastrana to witness the proceedings. He has always been a sworn enemy of Bolivarianism, and his presence alone should signal to everyone the direction the new government intends to go.

The opening session of the National Assembly is just that. Its only purpose is to install the new government. However, Allup permitted the head of the chamber’s deputies (Julio Borges, who unsuccessfully challenged Allup for the Assembly presidency) to present the planned short-term legislative program. This goes against the National Assembly’s own internal debating rules and regulations.

At that point, the Chavistas walked out in protest. This was not a pout, but rather a reaction to the majority party in the Assembly unilaterally ignoring the Assembly’s own protocols.

The new government has made clear its intent to remove Nicolas Maduro from the presidency within six months. This would require a recall referendum, and can only take place after Maduro has completed half of his term of office. It is highly likely the majority will also try to undo current laws, or pass new ones, requiring rulings from the Supreme Court on their constitutionality.

And there is also an expectation that the majority will attempt to alter the Constitution itself. Again, a referendum would be required.

As it stands now, the former ‘opposition’ has a simple majority - barely - in the National Assembly. But there are 10 seats still under review by the Supreme Court. If any of those challenges remove seats from the opposition, they will no longer have their majority. This won’t prevent them from trying to reduce the country to its former colonial status; but it would make it harder for them to do so.

If anything can be read into the numbers of Chavistas who have taken to the streets of various cities, the loss of the December election to the right-wing appears to have been a very loud wake-up call.

We got to this place for a variety of reasons. Certainly the drop in oil revenue made it harder to provide for the people which, naturally, led to grumbling. Then the opposition controlled businesses began a period of hording goods to create shortages in the shops - again leading to grumbling.

But probably the biggest reason for the situation today is that both Chávez and Maduro were too soft on the illegal activities of their opponents. They either pardoned their crimes or failed to exercise strong leadership.

The new Assembly begins its work today - January 6 - and many eyes will be watching.

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