Poor Venezuelans sold on change
After a year in office, President Chvez is still popular, and
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"This is not the best constitution in the world, but it is not guaranteed chaos or the death of the private sector either," says Pedro Palma, a Caracas investments adviser. "Much depends on the legislation that will be written to define it."Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Palma notes that the constitution's social-security articles could leave the country bankrupt. The section on the operation of the Central Bank could be interpreted to end the bank's independence - or could simply mean US-style oversight, as when Alan Greenspan goes before Congress. "The section on the right to employment could be interpreted to mean that layoffs are now illegal, but will there be a law to that effect?" he adds. "Right now we don't know."
While proponents say the constitution's improvements in human rights and environmental protection augur well for its success, opponents say its risks are already clear.
"Not only does this constitution not change what was wrong with the current one - the political parties' monopoly on power ... but it includes new threats that are very grave," says Allan Brewer-Carias, a leading constitutionalist. A longtime proponent of a new constitution to rid the country of its "partiocracy," Mr. Brewer says the document being voted on today "opens the door to authoritarianism, a militarized state, and a paternalistic economic system."
The new constitution calls for a six-year presidential term
and the possibility of one reelection - Chvez is already talking about 12 more years as president. The Senate would be eliminated, while taking away some of Congress's powers. For example it takes responsibility for military promotions from Congress and gives them solely to the president.
Yet despite the back-and-forth between the constitution's supporters and detractors, the biggest risk may be that it does nothing to address the problems that have put Venezuela on a downward course for more than a decade.
Luis Vicente Len, a director of the Caracas polling firm Datanalisis, says years of oil wealth and a state charged with providing prosperity have created a dependent population, and nothing in the new constitution suggests changing that is part of Chvez's self-described "revolution."
"The surveying we do tells us there are two Venezuelas: one made up of about 83 percent of the population that believes in destiny and puts little stock in individual responsibility, and 17 percent that believes one's future is built with individual effort," says Mr. Len.
As disconcerting as that might sound, Len says he tries to assuage concerned friends. "I tell them ... they can take some terrible comfort in the idea that all this constitution will do is reinforce traditional tendencies towards populism, centralism, and the all-providing state."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society