Understanding Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution: A View into the National Constituent Assembly
by Dae-Han Song (Chief English Editor, The [su:p])
The following analyzes the current situation in Venezuela within the global struggle, effort and creation of a world beyond capitalism. It is based on research and informed by an interview with Jehyson Guzman, one of 545 members in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) — Venezuela’s highest power superseding even the president. The NCA is made up of representatives elected from communities and social sectors. Jehyson was elected by 82% of the vote to represent the community of Libertador municipality in Merida state. Before the NCA, he was part of the student movement in high school and then college and served in various ministerial posts in government for education.
Exploring the current situation in Venezuela, it’s clear that Chavistas are waging a fierce fight for the survival of 21st century socialism. While the drop in global oil prices , corruption and incompetence by the government contribute to Venezuela’s problems, the often overlooked siege — by the old ruling elite (which still controls the country’s production and imports) and the U.S. State Department — turns these problems into existential crises. At stake is the political direction of Venezuela: Will it advance towards 21st century socialism based on the power of people or will it revert to capitalism based on the interests of a small minority? Despite this reality, many of us misunderstand the events in Venezuela, looking upon them in isolation, ignoring or failing to understand the framework and political context. This has led to people’s interpretation that the National Constituent Assembly is an illegitimate dethroning of the opposition-dominated National Assembly despite the fact that such action is allowed by the constitution, can be explained by Venezuela’s crisis and is consistent with radical democracy and people’s sovereignty.
While the media is to blame for their partial and isolated  reporting, many people are also limited by their own blind spots: Venezuela’s political context is wholly different from that of most our countries. Free of context, it is easy to liken a Venezuelan protester with a mask over the mouth throwing rocks or molotov cocktails with protesters fighting global inequality in the 1999 anti-WTO struggles in Seattle. But the former is part of protests instigated by Venezuela’s elite and part of a larger movement funded by the U.S. government to destabilize the government. Police in riot gear pacify violent protesters. Yet, their reaction must be contextualized with the reality of protesters burning police cars and destroying government buildings and local health clinics . The police maintain law and order not for the interests of the 1%, but to protect a revolutionary process that for the past 18 years has uplifted people with social programs and transformed them into social protagonists. And while at the heat of the moment, clashes between protesters and police may turn complicated and murky, people need to challenge their simplistic notion that police are bad and protesters are good.
Venezuela is at the vanguard of a handful of countries where left revolutionary movements have taken power. They face these problems because they’ve advanced to a stage where the old has not yet died, and the new is being born. In this moment, the old customs and elite fight fiercely to stay in power, while the new government has yet to win the cultural hegemony  necessary to dismantle the old structures of society and build new ones. If the goal is social transformation to a world beyond capitalism, then Venezuela is further advanced than the United States, where the right has won the presidency. It’s also more advanced than in Europe where a growing resurgence of the left has received much acclaim, but is still where Venezuela’s left was before taking power in 1999. Because Venezuela’s 21st century socialism involves transforming social relations not only domestically but regionally in Latin America, this path puts Venezuela on a direct collision course with the U.S. empire and its agents in Venezuela and Latin America.
President Maduro’s convening of a National Constituent Assembly — existent until 2019 and charged with creating a new constitution and endowed with an authority exceeding the five branches of government  — has stirred great controversy in the mainstream media. The opposition’s boycott of the election for delegates to the NCA resulted in their ultimate absence from this body . The media broadcast widely the opposition’s message of protest: the NCA was illegitimate because it did not carry out the necessary national referendum; delegates representing social sectors were a ploy to introduce pro-government delegates. Yet, absent or marginalized from the coverage is the fact that President Maduro is constitutionally endowed (by article 348) with the power to create an NCA superseding not only the National Assembly (currently dominated by the opposition) but also the president himself. In fact, the opposition dominated National Assembly (with a ⅔ approval), the municipal councils (with a ⅔ approval) and even the general population (with 15% of the electorate) is endowed with this same authority .
Absent from mainstream discourse is the National Constituent Assembly’s consistency with a radical notion of democracy and sovereignty: the original constituent power rests with the people (article 347), it can even be convened by 15% of the electorate (article 348) and its proposed constitution once ratified by a national referendum cannot be overturned by the president (article 349).
Furthermore, is the rationale of creating a supreme NCA to deal with the extraordinary circumstance facing Venezuela: in moments of extreme crisis, the ultimate decision making power passes onto the people. Jehyson Guzman, a delegate of the NCA, explains that it was the extraordinary threat of the opposition’s shutdown of the government, its violence and U.S. government’s destabilizing the government that forced President Maduro to convene an NCA with authority to override all the other branches of government.
Venezuela’s process may at times be murky, corrupt, problematic, but it is democratic. The National Constituent Assembly — unlike political institutions in most countries and definitely in the United States and South Korea — is directly accountable to the sectors and communities that elected it. The delegates are unaffiliated to political parties. This is significant in creating a greater sense of inclusiveness as delegates were not beholden to an political party machinery to get elected and are not beholden to a political party line. Rather, their duty is to represent the communities and sectors they represent and are in ongoing discussion with. Jehyson explains, “Most of the time, creating a constitution is a negotiation between one political party with another. Political parties don’t have the problem of the work week or of maternity leave. But a worker, a mother does have these problems. They not only have the problem but can also create proposals to solve them.” It is for that reason that the various sectors (e.g. fisherpeople, the disabled, farmers, the elderly) are represented in this process. Guzman explains that NCA members “don’t have to be a part of a political party. They simply have to represent that sector.”
Furthermore, including representatives from the business sector in the National Constituent Assembly opens indirect spaces for negotiation and even compromise with a business sector that has been destabilizing the economy through shortages  and inflation . To protect consumers and the economy, the NCA is passing laws to battle the economic war by controlling the currency  and safeguarding established prices for consumers. However, it is also listening to the demands of the business sector with a “law to allow greater dynamism in export” by facilitating the “export [of] tropical fruits, coffee and cacao” to places, Jehyson adds, such as Korea.
Furthermore, the National Constituent Assembly would incorporate the rights already won — such as the right to study at a university, or to own a personal computer — into the constitution. Jehyson elaborates, “President Chavez created the canaima computer that is given out to all students. That way they can increase their knowledge and capacity and access to knowledge. We want to incorporate this into the constitution as a right.” In addition, while the first constitution “specified a 44-45 hour work-week, the constitution would be amended to reflect the current reality where “the work-week in Venezuela is 36 hours of work with 4 hours dedicated to personal development.”
Ultimately, the National Constituent Assembly is about winning peace and order by achieving a new inclusive social contract reached through dialogue. Greater harmony and thus social consensus creates greater unity in staving off U.S. and Organization of American States (OAS) intervention. As Guzman explains, “The call for an NCA knocks down all the strategies of the United States. Through the NCA all of the country is united in creating a new legal system and a new social pact that we can all respect which recognizes the laws and the institutions and to start the revitalization of the powers.”
While uniting Venezuelans under a National Constituent Assembly representing and addressing people’s needs by community and sector is currently more of a goal than a reality, the latest elections indicate that support for the government’s actions and direction is increasing among the public. The Oct. 15 governors’ elections yielded 18 out of 23 states to the Chavista PSUV . Furthermore, the Dec. 10 local elections  added another governorship  and yielded 308 out of 335 mayoralties with 23 of the 24 state capital cities (including Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city) to PSUV and its allies.
The government is establishing rule and order in the country. Its process at times appears chaotic and troubled. It’s a contested process. It’s also a democratic one where the opposition has access to domestic and global media outlets — even greater than the government’s. More importantly, the whole process involves the people, a refreshing approach to the author living in Korea where politics including the constitutional reform process happens behind closed doors in negotiation between the parties. The Bolivarian Revolutionary process may err, falter, regress, but it still remains the most advanced in building a world beyond capitalism decided and built by the people. From those of us in countries lagging behind fighting to join that construction, Venezuela deserves closer inspection and even some of our humility.
- Venezuela’s wealth in oil has created dutch disease: High demand for its oil results in a high currency thus eliminating the economic competitiveness of cheap production that helps a country industrialize through production for domestic and global consumption. In short, it is cheaper and easier to use dollars acquired from the sale of oil to buy goods produced abroad than to produce them domestically. Though there were efforts to industrialize Venezuela’s economic base ever since Hugo Chavez took power, Venezuela’s economy and its social programs remain dependent on the global sale — and thus price — of petroleum. Efforts to increase agricultural production also face the same problem.
- An example of such out-of-context reporting is challenged by FAIR: a seizure of toys from a toy company hoarding with the intent of selling the toys at an inflated price is likened by CNN to President Maduro being a Grinch. Yet, missing is not simply the fact that those toys will be handed out to the children of impoverished families, but also that the criminalization and confiscation of hoarded goods is an effective means of combating an economic elite that is using their control of production and imports to immiserate the lives of ordinary Venezuelans and destabilize the government. https://fair.org/home/venezuela-brings-toys-to-poor-kids-gets-called-grinch-on-cnn/
- Protests — following the 2013 elections in which PSUV candidate Nicolas Maduro beat opposition MUD candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.5% — targeted health clinics based on the accusation that Cuban doctors were housing stolen ballot boxes. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/20134177162851301.html
- In here we refer to cultural hegemony as the act of winning the hearts of people. Or rather, as Marta Harnecker states, when a class’s “values, its proposals, its societal project are accepted, looked upon sympathetically and taken up as their own by broad sections of society.” Thus winning hegemony is a democratic process “the opposite of imposition by force.” http://ouleft.org/wp-content/uploads/harnecker1.pdf
- While most of the world has three governmental powers/branches — the executive, the legislative and the judicial - Venezuela has two more created by President Chavez and included in the constitution: the electoral power in charge of the electoral system and the citizen’s power that guarantees the coexistence of all the powers and transparency in the government.
- Despite the opposition-led boycott and voter intimidation by violent protests, 41.5% of the electorate voted for the National Constituent Assembly.
- In “The Visible Hand of the Market,” Pasqualina Curcio Curcio first points out the contradiction between increasing GDP (outpacing consumption demand), increasing share of GDP by agricultural products (a growing share of food products in the economy), increasing foreign currency given to importers (which taken all together should increase the supply of goods) and the shortage of essential goods in Venezuela. This disparity is explained by the increasing cost of imports in dollars (far greater than changes in the fixed exchange rate provided by the government to these importers) of essential goods such as food (measured by an increase in the dollar cost of 1 kilogram of food). In short, the food importers are charging more per kilogram of food not accounted by an increase in global prices nor the exchange rate they are being provided by the government to buy this food. This disparity is explained by the increasing dollar reserves in foreign accounts by these importers.
- Curcio shows the connection between inflation and a manipulated black market exchange rate (BMER). She first proves through economic models that the BMER listed in online websites lacks an economic basis (i.e. determined by the foreign currency reserve or monetary liquidity) and has been manipulated since 2012. Secondly, she shows that 70%* of the national price of goods is determined by the BMER. This is explained by 1) Venezuela’s historic and present dependence on imports for inputs in production as well as final product.** 2) the monopolization of imports by 3% of Venezuela’s companies. Despite receiving dollars for imports of essential goods at a low fixed rate, these companies are able to charge prices at the far higher BMER because of the essential nature of goods such as food and medicine. * The rest being affected by aggregate demand (i.e. the overall demand for goods) some of which can be explained from the hoarding mentality during periods of scarcity and the campaigning of the opposition and the media. ** Products or ingredients for production are imported using foreign currency and thus a cheapening of the Bolivar results in price inflation.
- In the opposite direction, some such as Mark Weisbrot of Center for Economic Policy Research advocate a floating currency exchange that in one fell swoop would cut open the Gordian knot of inflation and parallel currency exchange rates. Some could argue that such move would be politically risky especially in a period of political and economic siege. https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/11044
- Despite the opposition’s active participation in the election, 61% of the electorate voted: 55% for the coalition political party of the government and 44% for the opposition.
- While much of the opposition boycotted the election, not all of it did. In the end, 47% of the electorate voted. The overwhelming number of votes went either to PSUV or to other Chavista political parties that took the opposition’s boycott as an opportunity to field their own candidates against PSUV. Compared to 2013, the 2017 election voter turnout was 11.6% lower revealing the limited impact of the boycott. The fact that the Chavistas had a landslide victory among the 47% that voted and that 11.6% of voters boycotted in support of the opposition’s call lets us discern the weakness of the opposition in the latest elections. In comparison, the 2017 municipal elections for mayor in Los Angeles had 20% voter turnout and New York had 14%.
- The governor elected on Oct. 15 for the state of Zulia was removed from office after refusing to be sworn in by the NCA. Thus, the position was up for election again.