August 17, 2007

Cuna de Bolívar y Reina del Guaraira Repano Chronicles

Quico says: So I cracked pretty early on and read Chávez's constitutional reform proposal. My initial assessment stands: what we're looking at here is seven year presidential terms, infinite re-election, and a bunch of bla bla bla.

As you'd expect, the thing is written in chavismo's trademark style: a wooly, hopelessly imprecise but ever so trendy administrative gobbledygook I like to think of as Bureaucratic Chavistese.

You can always spot Bureaucratic Chavistese by its liberal use of the hyphen to join together disparate abstractions: for chavismo, every plan is strategic-functional, every entity is politico-territorial, every cell has to be geo-human. Compounds like these exude technocratic savoir-faire, they leave you with the unmistakable sense that whomever wrote them must be terribly sophisticated. Of course, they're essentially content-free, but who cares? They sound swish...

Stylistics aside, there's not that much to say - which won't prevent me from saying it at length, bien sur. With the possible exception of the (very vaguely worded) proposals for new forms of territorial organization, there's almost nothing else in the proposal that actually requires a constitutional change. The social policy stuff you can do with a law, a lot of the rest of it (like gutting FIEM, establishing a chavista militia and regulating pay-TV) is stuff they're already doing, and the remainder the state has no administrative capacity to enforce.

The second of those categories - the post-hoc constitutionalization of stuff the government is already doing - speaks volumes about chavismo's attitude towards the Soft Constitution. I mean, if you propose to change the constitution to allow something you're already doing, doesn't that amount to admitting that what you're doing now is unconstitutional? If it isn't, why would you need to change the constitution to allow it? And if it is, how come you're doing it? And how come none of the oversight institutions is stopping you?

To put it differently, supposing the reform proposal were defeated at referendum, do you really think the government would stop regulating pay-TV? Start funding FIEM? Disband the Guardia Territorial? Of course they wouldn't...but in that case, what exactly is the point of asking us to vote on it?

And then some of the reforms are just plain cursi: does the Constitution really need to specify that Caracas will be referred to as the "Birthplace of Bolívar and Queen of Guaraira Repano"?!!?!

(Guaraira Repano is, btw, the indigenous name for that big mountain on my banner.)

There's so much that's infuriating about this last one, it's hard to know where to start: the dime-store indigenism, the grandiloquence, the hubris of trying to dictate to people how they will refer to the place where they've always lived, the absurdity of giving constitutional standing to the equivalent of the city's license plate motto, and the infuriating dissimulation involved in trying to cover up Chávez's attempt to stay in power for life through this kind of minutiae.

Of course, it's also chavismo's Nth little contribution to that age old Venezuelan dysfunction, the chasm between the world of Official Papers and the real world, between legal dictate and actual practice. Because I will eat my hat if, in 2027, caraqueños are going around calling their town the Cuna de Bolívar y Reina del Guaraira Repano. I mean, it's been over 20 years since the government decided that the Cota Mil wasn't the Cota Mil anymore, but do you know anyone who calls it the Avenida Boyacá?