By Luis Manuel Aguana
The Constitution of 1819 or Constitution of Angostura established for the first time centralism in Venezuela, reflecting the thought of El Libertador. Where did the centralizing character of our political class come from? In Angostura 1819. From there the paradigm was born. Bolívar never rejected the decentralized and federal model established in the first Constitution of 1811. He rejected that this model be applied to the reality of the country at that moment:
“The First Congress in its Federal Constitution consulted more the spirit of the Provinces than the solid idea of forming an indivisible and central Republic. Here our Legislators yielded to the inconsiderate determination of those provincials seduced by the dazzling glow of the happiness of the American People thinking that the blessings he enjoys are due exclusively to the form of Government and not to the character and customs of the Citizens”. (see in Spanish Discurso de Angostura in https://storicamente.org/sites/default/images/articles/media/1880/Bolivar_Discurso_de_Angostura.pdf).
In the Constitution of Angostura it appears for the first time in our political institutionality that the “President is the Commander in Chief of all sea and land forces” and is the “Chief of the general administration of the Republic”. (see in Spanish Sección Tercera, Artículos 1 y 4, Constitución Política del Estado de Venezuela de 1819, 15 de Agosto de 1819, https://tinyurl.com/y84ps5z3).
What was the background to Bolívar’s approach in his Speech in rejecting a model that did not fit our political reality at the time? That the Constituent Congress of Angostura adapt the political system to who we were and the problems we faced in 1819. Bolivar the citizen, Bolivar the statesman, hands over the command and destiny of Venezuela to the Sovereignty of the People represented in that Constituent Congress of Angostura of 1819, explaining to them the importance of that change:
“Representatives of the People! -You are called to consacrate, or to suppress whatever seems to you worthy to be preserved, reformed, or discarded in our social covenant. To you belongs the correction of the work of our first Legislators; I would like to say, that it is up to you to cover a part of the beauties contained in our Political Code; for not all hearts are formed to love all beauties; not all eyes are able to bear the heavenly light of perfection.”… “Horrified by the divergence that has reigned and must reign among us by the subtle spirit that characterizes the Federative Government, I have been dragged to beg you to adopt Centralism and the reunion of all the States of Venezuela in a single and indivisible Republic. This measure, in my opinion, urgent, vital, redeeming, is of such a nature that, without it, the fruit of our regeneration will be death”.
And before that request the Constituent changed the system and the political model, centralizing the State and establishing a fundamental text capable of facing the war of independence, delivering the power to the President of the Republic, under the control of a Congress.
Venezuela’s political reality – and the world’s – changed in 200 years. In less than a year, on August 15, 2019, it will be two centuries since the promulgation of the Constitution of Angostura and even our political class has not understood that the country has changed, that the Venezuelan people’s trousers have grown and that it is necessary to adapt again the political system and the fundamental political text to the realities of the country. Hence the need to reconvene Popular Sovereignty and debate the next 200 years of political institutionality. This was understood by the Liberator in 1819, only 8 years after the first Constitution.
Is that an exaggerated approach? The fact that there is no political genius in Venezuela that resembles the Liberator does not imply that the problem does not exist and that we face it. And it is not a question here of avoiding dealing with the historical accident represented by Hugo Chávez and the 1999 Constitution, much less the possible communist Constitution that is being cooked up by Nicolás Maduro’s spurious National Constituent Assembly. No! It is precisely to reject that accident becoming a reference in our line of historical evolution.
When the group of Venezuelans that constituted the National Constituent Alliance-ANCO proposed the rescue of the federation and the decentralization of power, it is because we believe that Venezuela is now prepared for what the Liberator indicated in Angostura was the best system on the planet but that he rejected for the situation that the country had since 1812:
“The federal system, although the most perfect and most capable of providing human happiness in society, is, nevertheless, the most opposite to the interests of our recent states”, Simón Bolívar, Cartagena Manifesto, 15 Dec. 1812.
What is the current situation? The exacerbation of centralism in the 1999 Constitution, which suspended a consistent decentralization process that had been underway since the 1961 Constitution, and which, if it had materialized with a constitutional change before 1998, would have halted the aspirations of a coup plotter to the Presidency of the Republic, ruined and destroyed the Nation in 20 years. The Public Treasury in the hands of only one person, whoever this is -and worse if he is an ignorant like the one we have now- in the 21st century, with all the complexities that this involves, is to say at least foolishness. A profound revision of the territorial and population distribution of the municipalities is required so that they can respond to the needs and quality of life of the citizens. It is required that the income distribution pyramid be inverted, constitutionally establishing the municipalities and the citizen the greatest bulk of the resources and power for their administration, then to the States and finally to a central federated power. That is the way modern states work well. The federal system is the one that provides the greatest sum of happiness possible in this century. That’s the difference from the 19th century when the Liberator lived.
Those are just a few examples of the realities of this century that we have not addressed in our Constitution, still living anchored in the past. But they faced it in Angostura when the constituents in their own century changed at the behest of the Liberator the model and the political system to the realities of their time. The small big difference is that we don’t have Bolívar’s genius. But we are his heirs and that is the challenge that history has imposed on us…
Caracas, November 12, 2018