Why is Venezuela rewriting its constitution

Chavismus and the consequences

"At 4:25 pm today, March 5th, President Hugo Chávez Frías passed away."

Vice-President Nicolás Maduro announced this on Tuesday with a voice choked with tears. A few days ago he announced that Hugo Chavez was fighting for his life and called on the people to pray for him. A small altar was erected in the Caracas Military Hospital and many Venezuelans flocked to express their condolences. His supporters rallied spontaneously in the streets of Caracas.

His death had long been expected. The interim government did everything possible to cover up his real state of health. Eventually it was announced that he had lost his voice but found new ways of communication. Then the government finally brought the terminally ill home to Venezuela. The Cubans did not want him to die in Havana, where he had been given medical care for two years and had four operations. Since then, the public has been prepared for the worst.

Venezuela mourns the loss of its president Hugo Chávez (picture alliance / dpa / David Fernandez) Shortly before midnight our time, the doctors gave up the month-long struggle for his life. The government put the police and army on alert: after all, there had been an attempted coup against him once before, in 2002 - supported by parts of the military. Now renewed turmoil was feared. But so far it's been quiet in the country. Venezuela is said to mourn the loss of one of the most unusual presidents in its history for seven days. Then there will finally be the long overdue new elections and another chapter of Venezuelan politics will begin. The opposition also showed sadness. Her presidential candidate Henrique Capriles wrote in a Twitter message:

"My solidarity with the whole family and the supporters of President Hugo Chávez. We plead for the unity of all Venezuelans."

Chavez changed the political landscape of Venezuela forever. He was elected in 1998 as a renewer because the population had lost all trust in the political class. The two ruling parties had virtually divided the country between themselves and viewed its riches as a self-service shop. With the lieutenant colonel of the paratroopers, a completely new figure entered the political stage. The bureaucratic language was completely alien to the son of a village school teacher. He used the simple language of the majority of the population, made them feel like one of them and, above all, a politician who took care of their worries. Many Venezuelans loved him for that. First of all, with a constitutional reform in 1999, he created the prerequisites for the social change he had in mind. Hugo Chavez:

"In our new constitution we go beyond the formal concept of democracy. We have added two important parts: a social component and popular participation, something very essential for a democracy. Our constitution - I am convinced - is one of the most progressive the world, a participatory constitution. "

Among other things, it strengthened women's rights and emphasized the equality of indigenous peoples. Free education and medical care were guaranteed. Health care, the school system and social security were not allowed to be privatized. Even tough opponents of Chavez could accept the social program. The publicist Teodoro Petkoff:

"That's the only thing I recognize from Chávez. He made the social issue a major Venezuelan issue. All social, economic, political, cultural and even sporting circles are now convinced that the fight against poverty is the main task . "

President Chavez has campaigned for this with countless measures during the 14 years of his government. They were organized with the help of so-called missions such as Barrio Adentro for basic medical care for the population in the slums. About 13,000 Cubans also provided help: as doctors and among the nursing staff. Venezuelan doctors could not be won over for this task.

Today there are a good two dozen different missions: for the rights of the indigenous population, for literacy, for the integration of the unemployed, for training, for energy saving, for moving to the countryside, for the development of grain production and for housing.

No other government in Latin America has invested as much in its social programs as the Venezuelan one. Exact figures do not exist because the missions' budgets are not part of the state budget. They are fed from the profits of PDVSA, the largest Latin American oil producer, and its budget is not very transparent. Those in the know consider it possible that so far 60 billion US dollars have flowed into a wide variety of social measures. However, an oil company is only partially suitable as a ministry for social affairs. The sociologist Margaríta López Maya:

"The missions were actually well thought out. But they should have been institutionalized, placed on a legal basis and given a fixed budget. To this day, however, the budget of the missions depends on the development of the oil price on the world market. In times of crisis like In 2008 it will be cut, and then there will be shortages in the supply of basic food for the poor, for example. But the missions were also dependent on the political whims of the President. What was conceived as an excellent social program was often used by him as a political weapon before elections, So served a clientele policy. "

The millions of Venezuelans who benefited from these measures did not care. They are among the government's closest supporters and are easy to mobilize. Especially since Chavez - unlike his predecessors - actually kept many of his promises. They were part of a great far-reaching program he called "Socialism of the 21st Century".

"Socialism means power for the people. In order for socialism to rule here, we must change Venezuela's economic structures and nationalize the means of production. This is the only way to create the conditions for social justice so that there is no more misery, poverty, and insecurity in Venezuela. "

This program was an indirect consequence of the coup against him in 2002. A number of businessmen and politicians, supported by the US and parts of the army, tried to eliminate the increasingly influential President Chavez. This attack radicalized his politics, led to the conception of a socialist program and increased his hostility to "the empire" - as he liked to dub the United States.

This also began a massive nationalization policy in a number of industries. Hundreds of companies were expropriated and mostly only compensated "according to market value": banks, companies in the energy supply, retail trade, construction and agriculture, tourism and more. Many of these companies have since closed. This has led to dramatic bottlenecks in the economy, for example in the energy supply and especially in times of drought, as in these days.

Another problem was his authoritarian leadership style, his resistance to advice, his dealings with the opposition and the media. Criticism had no place in his supposedly "participatory" democracy. It was systematically fought: Anyone who broadcast programs critical of the government quickly lost their license - as happened with RCTV, a popular entertainment broadcaster. Today, with ‘Globovisión’, there is only one TV channel that can allow itself critical reporting. Teodoro Petkoff:

"I never liked the authoritarian style of Chavez, which was hinted at early on. He never concealed his authoritarian character, either, these dictatorial traits that gradually became unmistakable. That did not fit my idea of ​​social change, because it is associated with a strong democratic component for me. I never saw that in Chavez. I saw him as a threat to democracy. "

It hardly seems to have bothered his followers. They appreciate other values ​​in him, such as his political vision. He saw himself as a legacy of the Cuban revolution and saw in Fidel Castro something like a political foster father, but his real model was Simón Bolívar. In the 19th century he freed Venezuela and most of the Andean countries from the Spanish yoke and was the first statesman to pursue the vision of the unity of South America. Hugo Chavez also dreamed of this:

"Why don't we think of the idea of ​​Bolívar, who called from Lima for a Congress on Panama? Bolívar went on to say that Colombia must be united with the neighboring countries. We already have various elements for a system of integration in the Andean countries. We could think of a kind of confederation of republics, this is not a dream, not a utopia, it is possible. "

And that's why he pushed his vision forward in Latin America. The ALBA alliance was created on his initiative: a pact of economic and political cooperation with Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean countries. It is directed against the influence of the USA in this area. Chavez spent around $ 40 billion on it. Almost 30 billion flowed into Cuba alone. Chavez felt himself to be the champion of a new unity to the exclusion of the United States.

He provided aid and subsidies worth an estimated 82 billion US dollars in more than 40 countries around the world. And he did not shy away from cooperating with Iran and opening the diplomatic doors to Latin America for its President Ahmadinejad. When he visited Venezuela in order to sign an agricultural agreement, among other things, the US resorted to the lightest diplomatic weapon and expelled a Venezuelan consul. At a press conference, Ahmadinejad criticized the measure and Chavez continued:

"This is another demonstration of the prepotency of this ridiculous empire. We will examine the appropriate answer to this rabble, for it is directed against our people, our country and our revolution."

Hugo Chavez had made his bad relations with Washington a trademark. His regime drew part of its legitimation from a strictly anti-American stance that is deeply rooted in the Latin American left.

Indeed, Chavez "21st Century Socialism" and his anti-Americanism went hand in hand. The Venezuelan president leaves an ambivalent legacy, according to Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Johns Hopkins University:

"" No doubt, his personality was larger than life. He pushed through some reforms that have helped many poor people. He represented the interests of those who were previously unrepresented in Venezuela. On the other hand, there is his autocratic leadership, there are many question marks behind his democratic convictions. He was not a rational actor in a capitalist world. And as far as attitudes towards the economy are concerned, he is leaving a trail of devastation. ""

Venezuela only expelled two American military attachés on Tuesday. The reason: you had worked on destabilizing the country. The Venezuelan Vice President Maduro even went so far as to accuse the United States of having infected Chavez with cancer.

The White House did not respond to these attacks. President Obama issued a statement showing that he is open to establishing a new, constructive relationship with Venezuela. You continue to support the Venezuelan people. The declaration literally said:

"Now that Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the US remains committed to democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

Not everyone in Washington was so diplomatic, however. The Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Ed Royce, issued a statement following Chavez's death that reflects more of the current state of affairs:

"Hugo Chavez was a tyrant who forced his people to live in fear. His death damaged the alliance of left-wing opponents of the USA in Latin America. It's good that this dictator has left us.
Venezuela once had a strong democratic tradition and was close to the United States. Chavez's death enables new elections. There is no guarantee of it, but better relations with this important country in the western hemisphere are at least possible now. "

The two countries currently maintain diplomatic relations, but to a manageable extent. Venezuela expelled the American ambassador in 2008. To date, the two countries have not sent any new ambassadors to the other country. The hope that the then new Obama administration and its policy of the outstretched hand could also improve mutual relations was not fulfilled. Chavez soon went harshly to justice with Obama.

... he wanted an Obama of peace, but Obama was constantly setting up new military bases in Latin America and waging war against the countries of Latin America.

Obama is a disgrace to his people, said Chavez. He attacked Obama's predecessor George Bush even more polemically. Relations with the Bush administration were poisoned after it rashly recognized a government in 2002 that had put up a coup against Chavez but was unable to stay in power.

"The devil was here yesterday and I can still smell the sulfur."

... said Hugo Chavez in 2006 before the General Assembly of the United Nations about George Bush. That didn't stop Chavez from selling most of Venezuela's oil to the US, however. 500 American companies are still active in Venezuela.

The anti-American propaganda of Hugo Chavez has increasingly served to cover up the real problems of the country, said Michael Shifter, president of the research institute Inter American Dialogue.

"He's leaving a country that is very polarized and he couldn't solve the problems because he concentrated power in his hand. There was only one person in Venezuela who could make decisions and that was Hugo Chavez. But that does not work in our age. That is why the country has high inflation, a high crime rate, a shortage economy, national debt, a crumbling infrastructure. Venezuela is not in good shape. Whoever takes the helm now will have a very difficult time. "

The American government, meanwhile, is betting on democratic elections in Venezuela. These elections, according to a State Department spokesman, should be free and fair. The Obama administration seems open to a diplomatic restart. There is a chance that Venezuela-US relations will improve.