August 17, 2007

This constitution is brought to you by Jolt Cola

Quico says: I just gave Chávez's constitutional reform proposals a closer read and all I can say is I'm laughing my ass off. Not as a political analyst, mind you: as an editor. This thing is so deliriously, comically miswritten you have to go through it a couple of times before it fully hits you.

I'm not even talking about politics here, I'm talking about grammar. Take this bit from the new Article 18:
All citizens [...] shall enjoy and be entitled to the Right to the City, and that right should be understood as the equitable benefit that each inhabitant receives, conforming to the strategic role the city articulates, as much in the urban regional context as in the National System of Cities.
(I swear that isn't a tendentious translation. The original makes just as little sense:
Todos los ciudadanos y todas las ciudadanas [...] disfrutarán y serán titulares del Derecho a la Ciudad, y ese derecho debe entenderse como el beneficio equitativo que perciba, cada uno de los habitantes, conforme al rol estratégico que la ciudad articula, tanto en el contexto urbano regional como en el Sistema Nacional de Ciudades.)
Now, set aside for the moment the unbearable flightiness of a constitutional "Right to the City", look past the sheer cloudy vagueness of a formulation like "the strategic role the city articulates," and focus on the grammar. Is it just me, or is there a clause missing from this sentence!?

Seriously, read it again. It's not just me, is it?

More than ungrammatical, though, the text is by turns deliriously vague, weirdly redundant and bizarrely self-contradictory. Much of it is written in language that's just not lawyerly at all. I'm thinking of bits like the new article 141, the supposedly pivotal inclusion of the misiones into the fabric of the constitution:
The public administrations are organizational structures designed to serve as an instrument to public power, for the exercise of its function and the provision of services. The categories of public administrations are: the bureaucratic or traditional public administrations, which are the ones that attend to the structures foreseen and regulated in this constitution and the laws; and the misiones, constituted by organizations of various natures, created to attend to the satisfaction of the most keenly felt and urgent necesities of the population, whose provision calls out for the application of exceptional or, even, experimental systems, which shall be established by the executive branch through organizational and functional regulations.
Again, you have to read this one through a few times before the sheer lunacy of the text quite strike you. Take your time, chew on it a bit. Turns out the supposedly central misiones are "exceptional"! And, if I'm getting this right, what this article says is that the misiones have the constitutional role of fulfilling duties that are not foreseen by the constitution. Erm...ummmm...whaaa?!

But nevermind that. Look at the language. Closely, the way a lawyer would. The article tells us the misiones are "constituted by organizations of various natures [...] whose provision calls out for the application of exceptional or, even, exeperimental systems"!?

First question: what is the juridical purpose of specifying the misiones are constituted by organizations of various natures? It's a throwaway add-on: legally, it means nothing. It may be perfectly appropriate in a departmental memo, but it's bizarrely out of place in a constitutional text.

And then there's the thing that really caught my eye: that even (incluso). What kind of lawyer writes that way? "Sistemas excepcionales e, incluso, experimentales"?! This is supposed to be a constitution, dude, not an Aporrea post!

It's that "incluso" that gives the game away. An actual lawyer couldn't have written that. What's going on here? Who wrote this thing?

Soon enough, we get our answers. A few hours before his speech to the National Assembly, Chávez told reporters - and I swear I'm not making this up - that everyone was going to say he'd gone crazy because the proposal was full of "extremely innovative" provisions. And why is that? "Because I gave birth to this one in the wee hours of the night" ("porque esto lo he parido en la madrugada").

Suddenly, it all makes sense! The reason the text looks like it was written by a lunatic at three in the morning is that it was written by a lunatic at three in the morning!

It's no joke,'s not an exaggeration at all. I really think he wrote it - or at least big chunks of it - by himself. The guy literally pulled an all-nighter the night before it was due. In fact, he told us so!

And it shows. I mean, we've all been there. We all know what happens when you leave an assignment to the last minute, work through the night, and end up handing in a paper you didn't really have time to double check: it's a huge, steaming mess. Grammar mistakes slip through. Chunks of it are just redundant. Others make less and less sense the more you read them, like the borderline hallucinogenic new Article 16*, which will be remembered as a kind of monument to dadaist jurisprudence.

All the pieces fall into place. Now we know why the Constitutional Reform Committee had to work in secret: Chávez's plan all along was to rip up their draft and re-write it, by himself, in his pijamas, in some last-minute caffeine-fueled binge. What we have here is a constitution not just of Chávez and for Chávez but, very literally, by Chávez.

Be very afraid...

* I have neither the time nor the psychiatric stability to translate article 16 without causing permanent damage to my psyche, but for the Spanish speakers out there, here it is in all its bizarre glory:

Artículo 16:

El territorio nacional se conforma a los fines político-territoriales y de acuerdo con la nueva geometría del poder, por un Distrito Federal en el cual tendrá su sede la capital de la República, por los Estados, las Regiones Marítimas, los Territorios Federales, los Municipios Federales y los Distritos Insulares. La vigencia de los Territorios Federales y de los Municipios Federales quedará supeditada a la realización de un referéndum aprobatorio en la entidad respectiva.

Los Estados se organizan en Municipios.

La unidad política primaria de la organización territorial nacional será la ciudad, entendida esta como todo asentamiento poblacional dentro del Municipio, e integrada por áreas o extensiones geográficas denominadas Comunas. Las Comunas serán las células geo-humanas del territorio y estarán conformadas por las Comunidades, cada una de las cuales constituirá el núcleo espacial básico e indivisible del Estado Socialista Venezolano, donde los ciudadanos y las ciudadanas comunes tendrán el poder para construir su propia geografía y su propia historia.

A partir de la Comunidad y la Comuna, el Poder Popular desarrollará formas de agregación comunitaria Político-Territorial, las cuales serán reguladas en la Ley, y que constituyan formas de Autogobierno y cualquier otra expresión de Democracia Directa.

La Ciudad Comunal se constituye cuando en la totalidad de su perímetro, se hayan establecido las Comunidades organizadas, las Comunas y los Auto Gobiernos Comunales, estando sujeta su creación a un referéndum popular que convocará el Presidente de la República en Consejo de Ministros.

El Presidente de la República, en Consejo de Ministros, previo acuerdo aprobado por la mayoría simple de los diputados y diputadas de la Asamblea Nacional, podrá crear mediante decreto, Provincias Federales, Ciudades Federales y Distritos Funcionales, así como cualquier otra entidad que establezca la Ley.

Los Distritos Funcionales se crearán conforme a las características históricas, socio-económicas y culturales del espacio geográfico correspondiente, así como en base a las potencialidades económicas que, desde ellos, sea necesario desarrollar en beneficio del país.

La creación de un Distrito Funcional implica la elaboración y activación de una Misión Distrital con el respectivo Plan Estratégico-funcional a cargo del Gobierno Nacional, con la participación de los habitantes de dicho Distrito Funcional y en consulta permanente con sus habitantes.

El Distrito Funcional podrá ser conformado por uno o más Municipios o Lotes Territoriales de estos, sin perjuicio del Estado al cual pertenezcan.

La organización y funcionamiento de la Ciudad Federal se hará de conformidad con los que establezca la ley respectiva, e implica la activación de una Misión Local con su correspondiente plan estratégico de desarrollo.

En el Territorio Federal, el Municipio Federal y la Ciudad Federal, el Poder Nacional designará las autoridades respectivas, por un lapso máximo que establecerá la Ley y sujeto a mandatos revocables.

Las Provincias Federales se conformarán como unidades de agregación y coordinación de políticas territoriales, sociales y económicas a escala regional, siempre en función de los planes estratégicos nacionales y el enfoque estratégico internacional del Estado venezolano.

Las Provincias Federales se constituirán pudiendo agregar indistintamente Estados y Municipios, sin que estos sean menoscabados en las atribuciones que esta Constitución les confiere.

La Organización Político-Territorial de la República se regirá por una Ley Orgánica.

I'm sorry, but only Chávez could've written that.