After gathering proposals during a six-week trip around the country, members of
But more than nine months after this process was initiated in
The demand for a constituent assembly in
The failure of Morales’ supporters to gain a majority during the July 2 elections of the constituent assembly introduced certain constraints for progressive forces from the start. Morales’ party Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) won 135 seats, which was 35 seats short of the two-thirds required in order to control the assembly. Further, the exclusive control by political parties over the electoral process meant that social movements leaders not belonging to political parties were left out of the assembly. In order to participate, social movement organizations needed to gather 15,000 signatures, fingerprints and identification numbers in the space of a few weeks, while political parties were automatically included on the ballot. Key movement leaders such as Oscar Olivera, who played an important role during the 2000 Water Wars, were not even included on the ballot. Requests from indigenous organizations to elect representatives to the assembly according to their own customs were rejected; the indigenous leaders who were elected belong to MAS or other political parties.
By contrast, the rewriting of the constitution in
Despite the dominance of political parties over the constitutional process in
Indigenous groups and urban social movements were given a role to play in the drafting of the Venezuelan constitution. Three seats on the assembly were reserved for indigenous leaders, and these leaders were responsible for the section on indigenous rights, which recognizes the existence of indigenous communities, and guarantees their right to demarcate their own territory. Urban social movements, community radio organizations, Afro-Venezuelan groups and others all formulated proposals. Many of the progressive changes incorporated into the new constitution reflected struggles that had been waged for several decades by a range of social movements. These included self-management, citizen participation, and the principle of co-responsibility.
One of the notable features of the constitutional process in
The mention of participation and protagonism in the Venezuelan constitution has provided the impetus for these kinds of occupations, which have also taken place in other parishes such as La Vega and 23 de Enero. On
Indigenous groups in
But the degree to which the government can enforce constitutional principles remains to be seen, especially where established interests are at stake. In cases where indigenous ancestral lands are owned by the government, the transfer will be easier, but in cases where that land is owned by private businesses or criollos (whites), it will likely be a long and protracted process of conflict and confrontation. Likewise, the new constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, or creed and guarantees equality before the law. But as the Fundación Afro-Venezolana (Afro-Venezuelan Foundation) has pointed out, since President Chávez has come into power, there have been 1,154 examples of racist messages in the mostly opposition controlled media. Yet not a single individual or media corporation has been penalized under the law.
The act of rewriting the constitution is certainly not a new phenomenon. Latin American countries have been through many constitutions and reforms of the constitution. But rewriting the constitution has taken on special significance across