Dec. 3, 2007
With a registered voter turn-out of about 55%, Venezuelan voters rejected two referendum questions asking for approval of a total of 69 amendments to their constitution. Each question was defeated by a margin of 1.5 percentage points.
As a result, Venezuelans will not have a constitution that gives them a 36 hour work week, that gives informal sector workers social security, that recognizes the contributions of African and indigenous peoples to the building of Venezuelan identity, that eliminates discrimination in all forms. They also won’t have a seven year presidential term without term limits, definitions for the four classes of property, and other changes that – on paper – would move the country more rapidly toward what is being called “21st century socialism.”
Venezuelans get to vote on constitutional amendments unlike citizens in the United States. In the US, two-thirds of both houses of Congress must approve an amendment and then it must be approved by three quarters of the state legislatures. Voters never get a direct say. Which country has the greater democracy? With 11 national votes in the past nine years since Hugo Chavez was first elected president in 1998, is it any wonder that Venezuelans follow only Uruguay among Latin Americans in their satisfaction with their democracy?
It is time for the US government and the US corporate media to acknowledge that Venezuela is a vibrant democracy and that Hugo Chavez is its elected president. He is not a dictator and he obviously does not have autocratic control of the system or the amendments he supported would not have been voted down.
It is time for the US government and the US corporate media to acknowledge that freedom of speech and assembly are alive and well in Venezuela. The wealthy opposition to the “Bolivarian process” owns the great majority of print and electronic media and was completely free to attack the proposed amendments and Chavez himself, which it did daily and in language that we would never see outside of blogs in the United States.
It is time for the US government and US corporate media to acknowledge that Venezuela’s electoral process is free and fair. Its electronic voting machines issue paper receipts which make fraud almost impossible. We only can wish that electronic voting in the US were as reliable. A defeat by only 1-1/2 percent would have been converted to a victory by those in power in many countries. Mexico’s long tradition of dirty elections easily comes to mind.
It is time for the US government to stop interfering in Venezuela’s democracy and time for the US corporate media to stop aiding and abetting it. Reports are that the US government, through the US Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy, spent $8 million of US taxpayer’s money to influence the vote on the referendum. That would be the equivalent of a foreign country spending $92.6 million on a national referendum – if we had such a democratic tool – in the US. Would we tolerate that? The Venezuela Solidarity Network organized a delegation to Venezuela in October of 2006 to investigate US government interference in that year’s presidential election. The US embassy official who met with us freely admitted that the US was spending $26 million on Venezuela’s presidential election. What would be the reaction in the US if Venezuela spent the equivalent $301 million on our upcoming presidential election?
It is time for the US government to close the Office of Transition Initiatives housed in the US embassy in Caracas. Venezuela’s transition to a real democracy that began with the rejection of the old political parties of the elites in 1998 is alive and well and doesn’t need any so-called “democracy building” from the United States. Indeed, there’s a lot we could learn about democracy from the Venezuelans.