Bolívar vs. Chávez / Carlos Vecchio

Bolívar vs. Chávez

The President has indicated he will propose that indefinite reelection be included in the constitutional reform. At the same time he has told everyone to read “The Angostura Address” pronounced by The Liberator at the constituent congress of 1819 that was intended to give the country a Constitution.

In that Address, Bolívar pronounced one of his more famous and most effective phrases: “…nothing is more perilous than to permit one citizen to retain power for an extended period. The people become accustomed to obeying him and he forms the habit of commanding them; herein lie the origins of usurpation and tyranny.”

Despite the fact that the President tends to make references to Bolívar, and particularly in an erroneous manner to his ideas in the Address, only a week ago, and just because the organization Ciudadanía Activa is promoting the phrase cited above, he dared to pronounce it. Now he doesn’t know how to not contradict that thought by The Liberator while simultaneously maintaining his own desire to remain in power indefinitely.

None of our Constitutions (from 1811 until 1999) have established indefinite reelection in a direct manner. The Gómez constitutions, like those of 1857 (Monagas) and 1953 (Pérez Jiménez), raised doubts about whether they accepted or not indefinite or immediate reelection, because their texts were not very clear, as they made no direct reference to the topic. In turn, the Constitution approved in Angostura in 1819 established a presidential term of four years with an immediate reelection.

In the various countries of our Latin American region, it is evident that none of them has adopted indefinite reelection. However, alternating reelection is admitted (9 out of 18 evaluated), that is to say, once at least a constitutional period has elapsed (Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Uruguay). While a few others (Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay) absolutely prohibit reelection. Only five countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Venezuela) allow immediate reelection, but all for terms of 4 years, except for Venezuela (6 years). Venezuela is the country with the longest presidential period in Latin America (12 years, including immediate reelection).

Since the XX century, the three figures who have remained in power uninterruptedly for the longest time in Venezuela, all military men by the way, are: 1) General Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1935): 27 years; 2) General Pérez Jiménez (1948-1958): 10 years; and 3) Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez (1999-2007): 8 years. The length of their rule has not exactly reflected benefits for the people. On the contrary, it has turned into a symbol of usurpation and tyranny.

We think that indefinite reelection exposes the political system to a personalist leadership that is exacerbated by institutional weakness. The strengthening and consolidation of our fragile democracies do not occur because of charismatic leaders but because of the quality of institutions and the maturity of citizens.

{ Carlos Vecchio, TalCual, 2 March 2007 }

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