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      Why is Venezuela calling for a Constituent Assembly in 2017?

      A speech by Wilfredo Pérez Bianco
      Consul General of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Vancouver

      Introduction by Alison Bodine

      On May 1, 2017, international worker’s day, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro opened a new phase in the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, a re-writing of the Constitution. In order to carry this out, President Maduro announced the convocation of a Constituent Assembly.

      Over the next few months, the people of Venezuela will elect and appoint 545 representatives to the Constituent Assembly, representing many diverse sectors of society, which will draft changes to the Constitution of Venezuela. ese changes will then be put forward as a referendum and subject to a direct vote by the people of Venezuela.

      This announcement by President Maduro brought immediate outrage from Venezuela’s violent right-wing, which has proven that they would rather provoke bloody riots on the streets of Venezuela, than engage in peaceful dialogue with the Bolivarian revolution. So far, Venezuela’s counter-revolutionary rightwing has vowed to boycott the Constituent Assembly.

      Mainstream media has also spread lies and distortions about the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela, claiming that this constitutional and democratic process is a sign of President Maduro’s increasing “authoritarianism.” ese dangerous accusations are more of so many lies meant to support US and international intervention and “regime” change in Venezuela.

      At this time of increasing attacks by the US government and their allies in Venezuela’s violent and criminal right-wing against President Maduro and the Bolivarian revolutionary process, it is important that we work together to combat the lies and manipulations about what is happening on the ground in Venezuela today.

      On May 19, 2017, Wilfredo J. Pérez Bianco the Chief of Mission & First Consul General of Venezuelan Consulate in Vancouver, gave a speech which explains the origins, context and function of National Constituent Assembly at an event organized by the Hugo Chavez Peoples Defense Front. Fire is Time has printed an excerpt of his talk.


      The first thinker who gives theoretical substance to the notion of constituent power is the French Emmanuel Sieyes, who in 1788 in the framework of the French pre-revolution postulates that the Nation, understood as a common will, is the depository of an original power from which the powers of the State are constituted, for that reason it’s called Constituent Power.

      In Venezuela we live a historical moment in which the people take on their leading role, which reminds us of the maximum Venezuelan constituent, Juan Germán Roscio (1763- 1821), who was, aside the main propagandist of the American revolution, inspirer and editor of the Act of Proclamation of the Independence (19 of April of 1810), main editor of the Act of Independence in July of 1811 and of the Constitution of Venezuela of December of the same year; as well as editor of the Electoral Regulation for the election of the First Congress; of the First Constitution, and president of the Congress of Angostura of 1819 and vice-president of Gran Colombia (Great Colombia). We cannot fail to mention that Roscio was also the first Chancellor of the Junta of Government of Caracas in the First Republic, who together with Simón Bolívar participates in the reconstitution of the Republic of Venezuela and the creation of Gran Colombia, seed of the Latin American and Caribbean integration.

      Simón Bolívar on February 15, 1819 installed in Venezuela the Congress of Angostura, a call to a National Congress that would promote a constitutional exit to the situation of political instability that the country lived, due to the wars of independence. It was inaugurated under the principles of the ideology of General Francisco de Miranda and represented the second Constituent Congress of the Republic of Venezuela.

      Thus Bolivar in his speech, addressing the 26 deputies elected by the provinces of Caracas, Cumana, Trujillo, Margarita, Guayana, Barinas and Barcelona, called them to discuss and debate the Basic Law of the Gran Colombia. The text should include a political system based on social justice, regulation of powers and self-determination of the peoples.

      The Liberator proposed the creation of a Moral Power that would promote the culture of virtue and watch over the integrity of officials in charge of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. He proposed a republican model based on democracy, that is, on the election of officials by popular vote. But the social aspect was one of the priorities of his proposal, emphasizing the elimination of slavery and the promotion of education, as a basis for the formation of a new citizen with high moral values.

      In summary, in Venezuela, 16 Constituent processes have been carried out since 1811 until today; 12 Constitutional Reforms, two amendment processes and a constitutional reform of 1989-1992 that did not materialize.

      Constituent process in the current Venezuelan political context.

      The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (1999) expresses in its article No. 5, “sovereignty resides without being transferable in the people, who exercises it directly in the manner provided for in this Constitution and in the law, and indirectly, by suffrage, through the organs that exercise the Public Power. The organs of the State originate from popular sovereignty and are subject to it. “It is, therefore, the concrete and direct use that we Venezuelans do of sovereignty and self-determination to build the State and the political system that fits the historical aspirations of the nation at a particular moment in our history.

      This is the powerful idea that the Eternal Commander Hugo Chávez appealed to in 1998, precisely to channel popular demands and radically transform the rules of the game in terms of a National Project different from that imposed by party and business elites in 1961.

      The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela of 1999 established for the first time in history the possibility of the people transforming the State through the exercise of Constituent Power, by giving a wide enough margin for the future people, as now in 2017, to decide the forms, mechanisms and procedures of transformation of the State through a Constituent Assembly.

      Today, the political game is closed, the political forces that control one of the powers of the state, such as the National Assembly, decide to lock the game, kick the table and cling to violent methods to seize power. They also despise and discard the path of the dialogue - supported by many people in the region and the world, by the Vatican and by the International Organizations. The Constitution leaves no other way than that of a Constituent Assembly to review, transform and expand the rules of the political system, which will allow us to unlock the state, deepen democracy, adapt it to these times of explosion of People’s Power, and guarantee peace and lay the foundations for the country’s political, social and economic stability.

      So there is nothing more Bolivarian and Chavista, radically democratic, than to go to the people, to their original power, to Constituent Power to care, preserve and expand the most sacred possession that we have conquered: independence and national sovereignty.

      In Venezuela, what is at stake right now is peace. It is the possibility or not of having Patria (Homeland). Because there is an internal force that is betting dangerously to make of Venezuela a country protected by a foreign force. That is, sovereignty and selfdetermination are at stake. Government is not what is at stake, no.

      Chávez granted this marvelous possibility, and President Nicolás Maduro now claims it as an essential means of preserving sovereignty and maintaining peace, given the grave threats of war that the right has imposed on the Venezuelan people.

      The newly convened National Constituent Assembly is called to recognize, preserve and expand the social guarantees that have been developed in Revolution, the basis of which is contained in the 1999 Constitution.

      In the current political context, it must recognize and reflect the new forms of Popular Power that have emerged from the implementation of the 1999 Constitution. Social sectors that were rendered invisible by the State 30 years ago are now central subjects of the democratic process, and in good measure have been the main promoters, protectors and executors of the democratic, protagonist Social State, based on rights and justice enshrined in the Bolivarian constitutional text during these 18 years, to become the most democratic Constituent of our history.

      Today President Nicolás Maduro is giving us light in a path that the rightwing has plagued with shadows. Light is the exercise of the original power of the people. Light is the possibility of channeling democratically, constitutionally and peacefully very deep contradictions that the current rules of the game have not been able to resolve, not because Chavismo wanted, but because the rightwing has decided to block the country and subject it to the most serious dangers.

      This is the precise historical moment to return to the source of the original power. May the people, through the mechanism established by the Constitution itself, generate the way to overcome the current political crisis and create a new framework, with new rules that deepen democracy, and preserve peace and national independence.

      President Nicolás Maduro calls for Constituent National Assembly

      As part of his attributions as Head of State, in accordance with Article 347 of the Constitution, President Nicolas Maduro Moros, on May 1, 2017, convened the original Constituent Power so that the people, in a popular constituent process, convene a National Constituent Assembly.

      “National Constituent Assembly with the people, with the working class. I call on the original constituent power of the people, it’s time, it’s the way, they left no alternatives, here we have the daughter of Chavez (the Constitution), here we have the pioneer, [that] our Commander Chavez wanted to perfect it in 2007 and conditions were not given; I summon the original constituent power to achieve the peace that the Republic needs, to defeat the fascist coup and to make the people, with their sovereignty, impose peace, harmony and true national dialogue”, announced President Maduro next to the working class of the country during an impressive mass activity to mark International Workers’ Day.

      During the same activity he said: “We call a citizen constituent, not a constituent of political parties and elites; a civic constituent of workers, communes, missions, of peasants, feminists, youth, students, indigenous people, but above all of brothers and sisters, deeply working, decisively working, deeply communal. “

      Legal framework of the Convocation to a National Constituent Assembly.

      Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Chapter III

      Article 347 The people of Venezuela are the depositary of the original constituent power. In the exercise of this power, it may convene a National Constituent Assembly with the purpose of transforming the State, creating a new legal order and drafting a new Constitution.

      Article 348 The initiative to convene the National Constituent Assembly may be taken by the President of the Republic in the Council of Ministers; the National Assembly, by agreement of the two thirds of its members; the Municipal Councils in session, by the vote of two thirds of them; or fifteen percent of the registered voters enrolled in the Civil and Electoral Registry.

      Article 349 The President of the Republic cannot object to the new Constitution. The constituted powers may in no way impede the decisions of the National Constituent Assembly. Once the new Constitution has been promulgated, it will be published in the Official Gazette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela or in the Gazette of the National Constituent Assembly.

      Presidential Decree No. 2830

      This decree made official on May 01, 2017, through its Extraordinary publication in the Official Gazette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela No. 6,295, states:


      President of the Republic

      In exercise of the power conferred on me by Article 348 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in accordance with articles 70, 236, numeral 1 and 347 ejusdem, with the blessing of Almighty God, and inspired by the grandiose historical inheritance of our aboriginal ancestors, heroes and heroines of independence, on whose crest is the Father of the Homeland, the Libertador Simón Bolívar, and with the primary purpose of ensuring the preservation of the country’s peace in the current social, political and economic circumstances, in which severe internal and external threats of antidemocratic factors and marked antipatriotic stance hang over its constitutional order, I consider it a historic duty to call a CONSTITUENT NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, based on the popular constituent process, Legacy of Commander Hugo Chávez, and the pioneering and foundational Constitution of 1999, so that our people, as the Original Constituent Power, express its strong will and maximum guarantee of the sacred rights and social achievements won, which during my mandate I have struggled to sustain and deepen. Therefore I propose as programmatic objectives of the National Constituent Assembly:

      1. Peace as a necessity, right and yearning for the nation, the constituent process is a great call for a national dialogue to contain the escalation of political violence, through mutual political recognition and a reorganization of the State, to restore the constitutional principle of cooperation between the public powers, as a guarantee of the full functioning of the democratic, social, legal and just State, overcoming the current climate of impunity.

      2. The improvement of the national economic system towards Venezuela Potencia (Venezuela Power), conceiving the new model of the post-oil economy, mixed, productive, diversified, integrationist, starting with the creation of new instruments to stimulate the development of productive forces, as well as the establishment of a new transparent distribution model that fully meets the population’s supply needs.

      3. Give constitutional standing to the Missions and Major Socialist Missions, developing the democratic, social, legal and juridical State, towards a State of Highest Social Happiness, in order to preserve and expand the legacy of Commander Hugo Chávez, in the field of full enjoyment and exercise of social rights for our people.

      4. Extending the powers of the Justice System to eradicate impunity for crimes, especially those committed against persons (homicides, kidnapping, extortion, rape, gender-based violence and against children); as well as crimes against the Homeland and society such as corruption; smuggling; speculation; terrorism; drug trafficking; the promotion of social hatred and foreign interference.

      5. Constitutionalisation of the new forms of participatory and protagonist democracy, based on the recognition of the new subjects of the People’s Power, such as Comunas and Communal Councils, Workers’ Councils, among other forms of territorial and social organization of the population.

      6. The defense of the sovereignty and integrity of the nation and protection against foreign interventionism, expanding the powers of the democratic, social, legal and juridical State for the preservation of citizen security, the guarantee of the integral exercise of human rights, defense of independence, peace, immunity, and political, economic and territorial sovereignty of Venezuela. As well as promoting the consolidation of a multipolar and multi-center world that guarantees respect for international law and security.

      7. Claiming the multicultural character of the country, through the constitutional development of spiritual values that allow us to recognize ourselves as Venezuelans, in our ethnic and cultural diversity as a guarantee of peaceful coexistence in the present and towards the future, immunizing ourselves against social and racial hate nurtured in a minority groups of society.

      8. The guarantee of the future, our youth, through the inclusion of a constitutional chapter to set apart the rights of youth, such as the free and conscious use of information technologies; the right to decent work and opening of their creativity, the protection of young mothers; access to a first home; and recognition of the diversity of their taste, styles and thoughts, among others.

      9. The preservation of life on the planet, constitutionally developing with greater specificity, the sovereign rights over the protection of our biodiversity and the development of an ecological culture in our society.

      I invoke the Original Constituent Power, so that with its deep patriotic spirit, may bring together a National Constituent Assembly that will be a participatory and protagonist tribune of all of our society, where the voice of the most diverse social sectors is expressed. A National Constituent Assembly, which conforms to the geopolitical structure of the Federal and Decentralized State, based on the primary political unity of the territorial organization that our Constitution enshrines.

      It is the duty of the National Constituent Assembly to guarantee the Social State of Law and Justice, as well as to channel the popular outcry of those who today demand that their rights, gains and achievements enjoy the constitutional rank, to which level they undoubtedly deserve to be elevated; and so perfecting the model of humanistic, political, juridical and economic development that is contained and enshrined in our Magna Carta. For all these historical reasons and with the most sacred moral and loving commitment that I keep to the Venezuelan people, I take the constitutional and exclusive initiative to convene, in Council of Ministers:


      Article 1 In the exercise of the powers conferred on me by the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Articles 348, 347, 70, and 236 numeral 1 ejusdem I CALL A NATIONAL CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, a citizen and of deep popular participation, so that our People, as depositary of the Original Constituent Power, with its supreme voice, can decide the future of the country, reaffirming the principles of independence, sovereignty, equality, peace, participatory and protagonist democracy, multiethnic and pluricultural democracy.

      Article 2 The members of the National Constituent Assembly shall be elected at the sectoral and territorial levels, under the guidance of the National Electoral Council, by universal, direct and secret vote; with the highest interest of preserving and deepening the constitutional values of freedom, equality, justice and immunity of the Republic and selfdetermination of the people.

      Given in Caracas, on the first day of May, two thousand and seventeen. Years 207 ° of Independence, 158 ° of the Federation and 18 ° of the Bolivarian Revolution.

      To be carried,

      Comrades, I have just read the true, authentic spirit of the National Constituent Assembly. I have read verbatim the content of Presidential Decree No. 2830, with the purpose of reducing to zero the speculations, manipulations, misrepresentations, and poor interpretations of the Convocation made by President Nicolás Maduro, and which today enjoys a wide support in the most diverse sectors of Venezuelan society, as will be demonstrated surely, with the voters participation during the election of its members by universal, secret and direct vote.


      The Constituent Power. The first thinker who gives theoretical substance to the notion of constituent power is the French Emmanuel Sieyes, who in 1788 in the framework of the French pre-revolution postulates that the Nation, understood as a common will, is the depository of an original power from which the powers of the State are constituted, for that reason it was called Constituent Power.

      The National Constituent Assembly. It is the juridical space where the representatives chosen by the constituent power, are to agree on the social coexistence and the legal regulation that governs it, the Constitution.

      Is there a recognition in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela? Our Bolivarian Constitution, resulting from a constituent process led by Commander Hugo Chavez, recognizes in its article 347 that there is an original power.

      Its functions. To transform the State, create a new legal system and draft a new Constitution.

      Why is it called at this time? To promote a great national dialogue that will stop the escalation of violence promoted by the opposition leadership; that will preserve the independence and the peace of the Republic; and will leave the constitutional base of a social model, where we can all live with mutual recognition, equality, justice, peace and dignity.

      Thank you very much!

      * Wilfredo Peréz Bianco is the Consul General of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Vancouver, Canada.

      Follow the Venezuelan Consulate in Vancouver on Twitter: @ConsuladoVenVan

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