By Luis Manuel Aguana
Perhaps the most important article of this and of the last Constitution of the Republic of Venezuela is the one referring to who is the depositary of Popular Sovereignty. In both Constitutions, sovereignty always resides in the people. However, from the Constitution of 1961 to that of 1999, there was a transcendental change that we Venezuelans have hardly noticed in its due dimension. Let’s see:
Constitution of 1961, “Article 4: Sovereignty resides in the people, who exercise it, through suffrage, by the organs of the Public Power”.
Constitution of 1999 (in force), “Article 5: Sovereignty resides untransferably in the people, who exercise it directly in the manner provided for in this Constitution and the law, and indirectly, through suffrage, by the organs that exercise Public Power. The organs of the State emanate from popular sovereignty and are subject to it”.
This change modified the way of exercising sovereignty. Before the 1999 Constitution was in force, there was no way to escape from the organs of representation of the Public Power. For example, the deputy citizens of the old National Congress, once invested with the authority given to them by the citizens’ votes, exercised Popular Sovereignty for us, being able to impose any decision they might have without Venezuelans having a way to change that. In other words, with the elections we gave them a 5-year corso patent to govern without any restrictions, of course within the limits imposed by law.
With the modification of the way of exercising Sovereignty, from 1999 the people can now directly exercise their Sovereignty “in the manner provided for in this Constitution and in the law”, leaving it to the organs of the State to exercise it indirectly through suffrage, but with an important pigtail: In one way or another “The organs of the State emanate from popular sovereignty and are subject to it”. In other words, when the people exercise their sovereignty, they rule over the organs of the State.
Hence, from 1999 onwards, the system ceased to be exclusively representative and became additionally participatory. That is, using the tools provided in the Constitution itself, the Venezuelan people can and must directly exercise the sovereignty of which they are constitutionally depository. And how would that sovereignty be exercised? It is established in Article 70 of the Constitution:
“Article 70. They are means of participation and protagonism of the people in the exercise of their sovereignty, in the political sphere: the election of public offices, the referendum, the popular consultation, the revocation of the mandate, the legislative, constitutional and constituent initiative, the open town hall and the assembly of citizens whose decisions will be binding, among others; and in social and economic matters, the instances of citizen attention, self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all their forms including those of a financial nature, savings banks, community enterprises and other associative forms guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity. The law shall establish the conditions for the effective operation of the means of participation provided for in this article.” (Emphasis added).
And these means of participation of the people “in the exercise of their sovereignty” established in Article 70, it is possible that they would have opened a Pandora’s Box for any truly democratic government, but this was not the case for that of Hugo Chávez Frías, and of course much less for that of Nicolás Maduro Moros, quite the opposite. The people have tried without much success since 1999 these mechanisms to directly exercise Popular Sovereignty, but they are still there as useless instruments against a regime that violates the Constitution when it pleases. We have held referendums revoking the popular mandate, popular consultations, town councils, citizens’ assemblies, and have done little to change the regime and the state of affairs in the country. The Sovereignty so boasted in the Constitution is ignored.
But I’m not telling you anything new with all this. You know that. So why do you propose another Popular Consultation? So that it will be ignored like the one of July 16, 2017? And the answer is not so obvious. From my perspective, the proposal made public to Venezuelans on April 19 (see in Spanish The People Order the Cessation of Usurpation and Request the Fulfillment of the Duty and Responsibility to Protect (R2P), in http://chng.it/jhtctxLH) has an eminently political background addressed to the world in two very precise senses:
a) The people order, in direct exercise of their sovereignty established in the Constitution, the Cessation of Usurpation, dismissing Nicolás Maduro Moros, in a clear and direct demonstration through suffrage using a means of legitimate participation that the Constitution has conferred on Venezuelans since 1999. It is not a demonstration measured in a poll or in street marches, however multitudinous they may be – which are otherwise valid – but which does not include all Venezuelans with the capacity to vote, both inside and outside Venezuela; and
b) Request international assistance (SOS) to immediately stop the crimes of against humanity being committed by the regime of Nicolás Maduro Moros in our country, recalling the obligation of the States signatories to the Principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to intervene when a State commits crimes against humanity within its territory, hiding behind the principle of State sovereignty. The crimes of against humanity committed by the regime of Nicolás Maduro Moros have been proved more than enough to the international community through reports regarding the violation of human rights in Venezuela, the OAS and the UN.
The Consultation would tell all States of the world that, 1) constitutionally, we are in a position to order the de facto ruler’s departure and establish that the government is illegal; and 2) that we, making use of our prerogative to directly exercise our sovereignty, the mourners of this country, and those of us who suffer the humanitarian tragedy ourselves, not our representatives in the National Assembly, nor any other official of the organs of Public Power, request the International Community to materialize the Principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in Venezuela based on Treaties signed by Venezuela (UN). If the countries of the world look the other way when faced with this request, it will not be because those who lead the official opposition did not request it for us, but because the Venezuelans themselves did it and ignored us. That has a political power of several orders of magnitude that I doubt countries will dare to ignore.
This Popular Consultation does not seek for any organ of public power in Venezuela to do anything, not even the National Assembly. It is in no way in opposition to the interests of all to promote the established trilogy that begins with the Cessation of Usurpation. But it may well be against some factors of the official opposition that wish to manage the process with interest, delaying in their benefit the exit from the regime and consequently arriving at negotiations that imply an undue cohabitation that we all reject, during a Transitional Government.
On the other hand, if in Venezuela there is a system that is completely constitutionally open to popular participation, and we know that the regime has denied our right to directly exercise our sovereignty, then why is it precisely the official opposition that denies the right of citizens to express their opinion in this dark hour of our Nation? Why deny us a Popular Consultation to express our opinion in relation to an intervention of a humanitarian nature? It is absolutely unacceptable that at this moment in the life of the country the people do not express themselves directly in relation to their destiny and the deputies unduly deny what the people are demanding of them.
There is no reason not to complement the march called for May 1st, consulting the Venezuelan people on the fate of the Nation. We will never have a march with more than 7.5 million participants, as happened on July 16, 2017. Mr. President Guaidó, convoke this national and international Popular Consultation. There is a proposal there, analyze it and you will see that there is nothing in it that is against what you promote, quite the opposite. An order from the people in direct exercise of their sovereignty to the Cessation of Usurpation would be the constitutional platform of immediate and ideal support for the Transitional Government, and your support would have for you the legitimacy of suffrage. Remember that the only one that the people of Venezuela have been supporting since January 23 is you, the rest are the disposable clowns of the great circus that Venezuela has become….
Caracas, April 21, 2019