Interview with Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Hermann Escarrá Malavé, member of the National Constituent Assembly Presidential Commission.
According to Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Hermann Escarrá Malavé, a member of the Presidential Commission preparing the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), the Revolution is staking everything on this initiative to achieve peace, 18 years after a similar process was promoted by then-President Hugo Chávez, and in the midst of a tumultuous social and political situation, promoted by violent sectors of the opposition.
The co-drafter of the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela noted that the new constituent process will be very complex, but favorable for his country as it has brought together Chavista and Bolivarian political forces.
He added that President Nicolás Maduro – also a member of the Constituent Assembly of 1999 – has taken the initiative and set the agenda, going on the offensive against a more aggressive opposition, with greater economic power and employing increasing levels of violence.
Escarrá Malavé stressed that prior to the coup attempt against President Chávez in 2002, opposition forces mobilized more than a million people on the streets, yet they were unable to remove him from power. Today, after several weeks of violent and terrorist acts in various Venezuelan cities, these same forces have failed to mobilize the same number of people, he assured.
The lawyer noted that today’s battle is much more fierce and delicate than that of 1999, as at that time, Chávez’s leadership was such that failure was unthinkable.
An internal and external war is being waged in the economic sphere that damages the country in the social sphere, and creates collective discontent, a situation that the opposition takes full advantage of to use against the government, he added.
He however emphasized his opinion that the Revolution is staking everything on achieving peace, citing the verses of poet Ernesto Luis Rodríguez in “Rosalinda,” a poem that describes a dice game in which a plainsman bets everything, even the woman he’s in love with, and wins: “I’m going to bet Rosalinda, / and the dice on the beautiful night / returned my odds and ends to me!”
We tend to say that we are staking Rosalinda, that is the Revolution itself, Escarrá Malavé stated.
He recalled that the elections to select the members of the Constituent Assembly will be held at the end of July. On Wednesday, May 31, the nominations opened for the 545 members of the ANC, 364 of whom will be elected through a direct, secret ballot vote in all the country’s electoral constituencies, while 181 will be selected to represent different sectors of society, including eight indigenous representatives, four students, eight campesinos and fisherpeople, five businesspeople, five people with disabilities, 28 pensioners, 24 communal council members, and 79 workers representatives.
Each candidate must collect signatures in support of his or her candidacy equivalent to three percent of the total voters in his or her constituency, in order to be approved by the National Electoral Council.
The vote will take place according to current electoral constituency boundaries, and within the mentioned sectors. Chávez had sought the same process almost two decades ago, yet the only sector for whom representatives were secured were indigenous peoples, who have since had representatives in the National Assembly.
DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES
In conceptual terms, he explained, the constitutional process of 1999 was aimed at repealing the previous Constitution and replacing the concept of representative democracy with that of a participatory and protagonistic democracy, through instruments such as constituent, constitutional, consultative, revocatory and abrogative referenda.
Today we are proposing a new constitution, but based on the doctrine and structure of the text of 1999, which are the legacy of Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, he clarified.
The members of the ANC will expand on those areas outlined by President Maduro, the first objective of which is to secure peace through a dialogue emanating from the people, within a framework that seeks the transformation of the state and reform of the legal system, he noted.
Among the points that the Bolivarian lawyer considers essential is to stimulate, through new legal norms, a non-oil based economy and the incorporation into the constitution of the country’s social programs and missions and new actors such as communes and communal councils, in order to consolidate the social state and undertake the socialist organization of society.
When we drafted the 1999 Constitution, we were humanists and poets, but not practical in establishing instruments and mechanisms to defend the Constitution; we never considered the events of the 2002 coup, or eventual ruptures of the constitutional order, hence the need to protect the supreme law (constitution), Escarrá Malavé reiterated, while assuring that the structure of the Constitution will not be changed.
A LEGAL, TRANSPARENT PROCESS
Since President Maduro announced the National Constituent Assembly on May 1st, invoking Article 348 of the current Constitution, there have been numerous critics in the opposition who have described the move as a “coup d’état” and referred to the president as a “dictator,” disregarding what the law establishes.
According to the member of the Presidential Commission, those from the Supreme Court of Justice who have come out to criticize the Constituent Assembly have not offered any in-depth arguments; they have simply claimed that the issue is not relevant or the timing is not appropriate, and that other paths should be considered.
But the process must be understood as a path for peace, he emphasized.
Another question raised is why a referendum to determine whether the people want to redraft the Constitution is not being held, to which the Bolivarian lawyer responded that, according to Article 348, there are four initiatives established to convene such a process: a request from 15% of the registered electorate; a vote by two-thirds of Municipal Councils in open sessions; a two-thirds vote by members of the National Assembly; or on the initiative of the President of the Republic sitting with the Cabinet of Ministers. He emphasized that regardless of how the initiative emerges, there is no provision established to hold such a referendum.
While he recognized that constitutional interpretation can be very diverse, he stressed that the prevailing position is the original intention, noting that if one refers to the minutes of the Constituent Assembly of 1999, one will note that during the constitutional drafting process, it was proposed that there should be a referendum to convene a constituent assembly on two occasions, and in both cases this was rejected by the entire Assembly.
Regarding what is expected of the ANC, which will be sworn in within 72 hours of the election of its members, he noted that work will be undertaken in different commissions to make the necessary changes to the Constitution, under the guidance of a president who will be elected in the first plenary session of the assembly.
He clarified that the election of the president of the ANC is a very delicate matter, as this person will have more power than any other president in the republican history of Venezuela. He or she will be invested with the original constituent power, with a mandate over all the branches of the government: legislative, executive, judicial, etc. He or she will be the superior officer of the Armed Forces and will even have the power to remove the President of the Republic.
The constitutional lawyer recognized that one of the fundamental challenges facing the country today is to win the battle to inform the public, in a context in which opposition forces do not hesitate to distort reality, spread lies, and manipulate public opinion through a well articulated campaign on social media and in the right-wing international media. He offered the example of the 1,600,000 houses built by the Bolivarian government, a feat which has no parallel in the history of Venezuela, but that has received no coverage in the mass media.
In relation to opposition forces’ participation in the National Constituent Assembly, Escarrá Malavé acknowledged that while not all groups have expressed support for the initiative, 17 of those who form part of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) have already done so, and there are reports that some of the leading – and including the most violent – groups are willing to sit down and talk.
Before concluding the interview, Hermann Escarrá reiterated his desire to form part of the ANC for the second occasion.
It is not a question of having faith or hope in victory this July, it is a question of us all working hard, because there is very little time, although in the same period the Liberator Simón Bolívar led the Admirable Campaign and liberated the west of the nation, during the War of Independence, he noted.
Shortly before we said goodbye, once the recorder was turned off, one name came up: Carlos. The memories of Hermann’s brother and his work as a deputy, committed Chavista, and member of the Communist Party and United Socialist Party of Venezuela, who died a little more than five years ago while serving as Attorney General of the Republic, came flooding back.
Hermann Escarrá Malavé did not hesitate to note that Carlos, like him, would today be in the midst of the constituent process and supporting the Bolivarian Revolution.
“We must all now undertake our Admirable Campaign,” he stated, before affirming that as soon as he returns to Caracas he will join the battle and dedicate every hour of the day to it; this is no time to relax because Rosalinda is at stake, or rather, the Bolivarian Revolution.
* Deputy Director of the Cuban News Agency