March 2, 2004

Compare and contrast

In 1999, President Chavez called a referendum to determine if the Venezuelan people wanted a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. President Chavez did not have the constitutional or legal authority to call a referendum under the 1961 constitution, which was in force at the time. However, he argued that the sovereignty resides in the people, and therefore the act of voting at the referendum retroactively legitimates the legality of calling a referendum, even if no such legal authority technically exists at the time the referendum is actually called. It is on the basis of this radical pro-referendum, people-power centered vision of political life that the chavista political process was initially launched.

Fast forward five years. A constituent assembly has been called and a new constitution has been approved by referendum. A new article in that new constitution expressly allows recall referenda against all elected officials, provided sufficient signatures are gathered. The opposition, under a set of highly restrictive rules and elaborate security procedures imposed by the elections' authorities gather their signatures. 90% of election observers who witness say the process functioned well, 10% say reasonably well. The opposition then turn in these signatures, with hundreds of thousands to spare. What does CNE do? On the basis of rules that had not been made clear during the process, it decides to disqualify or question over a million of the signatures, further delaying a referendum that ought to take place no later than May 16th, and most likely stopping it altogether.

What happened to all that sovereignty-belongs-to-the-people rhetoric, all the beautiful people-power promises Chavez made that got him elected? How can the elections' authority now deny, on a burlesque of technicalities, the right of the holders of sovereignty to make their voices heard in accordance to the constitution? What kind of sick game is this?

It pains me to write it, but today is the day Francisco Toro ceased being a comeflor.