Edgardo Lander: “This Constitution is not dialogue, nor treatment, it is imposition”
- “The alternative to not respecting the Constitution is violence or war”
“The spectrum of possibilities that emerges during this breakdown is too wide and each one of them is extremely risky and dangerous”, said the college professor
Edgardo Lander holds a doctorate in sociology from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, associate professor at the same institution and associate researcher at Transnational Institute. When one asks him about the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) driven by president Nicolás Maduro, he states that this is a tool for the governmental interest on “preserve itself in power”, not a Venezuelan people’s sovereignty expression like the officialdom tries to claim.
Lander, leftist critical thinker, social and political activist, explains that the ANC’s committees are designed to favor the “madurism” in power and cannot be interpreted in any way as dialogue: “This is an imposition”.
You said that this constitutional proposal drags the country to a no-turning-back point. Are we at this point?
Not at this very moment, but we are obviously getting closer in a too risky way to a no-turning-back situation in many ways. Firstly, we are in such situation that a Constituent Assembly mechanism is imposed to us which is, on one hand, unconstitutional, but even much more important is that some of the electoral bases were way calculated designed to – regardless the majority opinion of the Venezuelan people – guarantee the madurism majority.
In which way and why do you warn that the ANC composition would be beforehand determined?
Firstly, it is done by the over representation of the municipalities with less population, that is to say, a four thousand souls city could have the same representation as a 800 thousand one, and this is not a casual bias because it was designed to be so. Secondly, this corporate representation which is elaborated based on lists that no one knows from where they came, establishes a difference between top and lower citizens, because there is territorial voter and sector voters, and others who have no vote but territorial ones, which completely violates the one-person-one-vote principle.
Is it possible to speak of a trap in this case?
A trap is something you do under the table if you are playing cards, for instance. In this case, it is an electoral mechanism and a Constitutional proposal designed in a situation that the Government admits that got no chance to win elections. This is the case of the recall referendum in spite of the accomplishment of all deadlines and requirements. No governor’s election were done because the Government knew that he would loose, no city elections are being done, and, in these conditions, there is no warranty that presidential elections are going to happen next year.
So, a government that has recognized that cannot win direct and secret universal elections makes up a tool especially readymade to – despite has no majority – design political system that could be controlled, and this is obviously a violation of any notion of popular sovereignty and democracy, because it is imposed on the will of the majority population. It is a mechanism that corresponds to the Government’s interest to preserve itself in power and not to an expression of Venezuelan people sovereignty. Its aim, therefore, is find a way to re-legitimate madurism in power, not a pursuit for negotiation, nor peace, nor consensus, because for that it would have been necessary to agree with a bunch of things and convene in case of a negotiation, but a constituent convoked by a minority sector to impose itself to the whole population can be in any way understood as a dialogue. This is not a dialogue, this is not an agreement, this is an imposition.
Do you consider that, in this conjuncture, as some propose including the attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, who points it out, it would be possible to apply the 350?
The application of 350 is not a decree either. It is not that someone says: “then today the 350 is applied”. No. We are in a situation that the process of increasing Government de-legitimization, on the one hand, and the levels of confrontation and the violence of far-right sectors and repression by the Government, on the other hand, are leading us to a situation that could lead to a total rupture, I do not mean of constitutional order, but a total breaking off of our collective life, that in terms of society operation, like little by little we realize, the conditions of reproduction of life in society cease to exist in the terms in which we know them, like the public transportation reproduction, the purchase of food, the way we go to school or work, these things start to decompose day by day before our eyes. So I do not think that the 350 is an issue, at this stage, of constitutional legal debate, but it is something that is happening to the extent that the situation is being decomposed to such extremes. What will happen if the elections are held on July 30 and only ten percent of the population participates? With these results, what consequences can be derived? What is the sense of a Government seeking transform the political system, the design of the State, o the basis of the express recognition that a very large majority of the population opposes this? We are approaching a situation in which the constitutional order is ceasing to operate as such.
How do you interpret the fact that the Government has left the control of the importation, production and distribution of food in the hands of the military?
The militarization of society obviously has occurred in Venezuelan society, but above all has been accentuated in the last three or four years. At the moment we find that the third part of the ministers are military, as well as a high proportion of the governors. An important part of the key sectors in which there has been the greatest corruption in these years, which has been in the mechanisms of allocation of foreign exchange, on the one hand, and import mechanisms, on the other, have been in the hands of the military. There is a very severe problem from the point of view of both administrative corruption and democracy. From the point of view of democracy, which means a society that a growing military culture is being imposed that is antagonistic to the spirit of the culture of participatory and protagonistic democracy, which is supposed to be the fundamental meaning of the Bolivarian project. That on the one hand, but on the other, the fact that there is a growing complicity and responsibility in the Military High Command and important sectors of the Armed Forces that, in a certain way, guarantee to the Government its fundamental source of support that is in this moment the military.
THE STATE BREAKING OFF
It occurs to me to think that with this maneuver they try to safeguard their integrity, I mean, in the event of a change of government. Don’t you think?
On one hand, obviously all the effort that especially Chavez directed toward the Armed Forces in terms of the formation of new generations with an anti-elitist and popular imaginary produced changes within the FAN that make its majority members quite different politically and ideologically from what it was 20 or 30 years ago. On the other hand, is the fact that for the high commandos there are vested interests very important as the defense of their own privileges. In fact, this happens not only with the military high command, but in the high civilian command of this Government and that is one of the reasons why there is such a desperation to stop, as it may, a change of government. It is known that if there were a change, there are real possibilities for prosecutions, as accusations of corruption and a number of things surface, many of which are known but there are no operational mechanisms or power relations that allow Its clarification. If the government were to lose the elections next year, this would necessarily mean that there would be a pass of accounts from other sectors, and that passing of accounts would be avoided.
It seems that there has been a gradual dismantling of the State, don’t you think?
In the day-to-day operation of an important part of the State, there is absolute inability to manage, either due to lack of resources, lack of motivation, lack of direction, management, in a crisis situation in the middle of which no one knows what is going to happen. Then there is a kind of expectation of putting up with everything. The State has practically stopped, and all this makes anything that has to do with the State today much more complicated, slower, more difficult, more corrupt.
On the other hand, there has been a very profound transformation from the point of view of institutionality, because the lack of awareness of the National Assembly, or the way it reacts to the positions taken by the Attorney General of the Republic, to ask the Supreme Court of Justice to name a medical board to investigate whether it was in fact crazy, all part of a breakdown of the functioning of the State, which in its construction is designed in such a way that there are different attributions, with different powers, and autonomy of powers, which supposes that there can be confrontation or disagreement between these powers, but what can not be is that one power imposes itself on all the others. Then, if a certain power raises an argument in a different direction, it is declared that the person is crazy. Obviously there we find that we are leaving completely from the constitutional rules, which are the rules of the game.
To where does this constitution ignorance lead?
We integrate what we have called the Citizen Platform for Defense of the Constitution, because we consider that in a situation so full of tensions and so complicated, the Constitution is now in Venezuela the only rule of game with which we have, and that we must therefore claim their respect, because the alternative to not respecting the Constitution is violence or war. Regardless of the policies that each may have to and the possibility that at some point in the future changes are posed because no constitution is eternal or perfect. So, at this time, respecting those rules of play shared by all is a sine qua non condition to avoid war.
Is this becoming a police state?
At the moment, such uncertainty is confronted with this dismantling of the constitutional legal order, such as the existing divisions in society, levels of polarization and interests – by sectors on both sides – that push the exit to be violent, you really can not even predict what will happen. The most you can think about are possible scenarios, but it is difficult to even think which one is most likely. We could be on the way to a process of progressive disintegration of citizen coexistence, which could end as these processes usually end, in an authoritarian military order; We could find that the Government itself, through the Constituent Assembly, designs a legal system in the measure of its interests, as impenetrable as possible to preserve itself in power; We might find that the degrees of violence increase in such a way that this serves as a justification for the United States, with the support of the Colombian Government, for possible military intervention. That is to say, the range of possibilities that opens in the middle of this decomposition is very wide and each one of them is extremely risky and dangerous.
Would there be a social outbreak in Venezuela?
Do you think little what happened in Maracay? Does not that sound like a social outbreak to you?
Well, Professor, you are a sociologist, a scientist, a scholar of society, I am simply a marginal observer, in any case a snoop, a peep …
[Laughs] In Venezuela, unlike the year 1989 when the so-called “Caracazo”, which was a kind of simultaneous outbreak that began in Caracas and spread to many of the main cities of the country, in the last two years have occurred Throughout the country small “caracazos” in Cumaná, in Bolívar … what happened in Maracay, which affected a good part of the food distribution network, are expressions of that, which begin to occur as a consequence of the decomposition of the State, which entails a decomposition of the social fabric, so that we have a mixture of people who come out to protest because they can not get food or because they have no gas, we find that there are mafias, a more organized hamponato than the rest of the population, which takes advantage of this situation to assault businesses. In these cases it is not possible to identify who the actor is. There are sectors of the extreme right that are interested; There are, of course, Colombian paramilitary groups financed from the outside that operate; Of course there are spontaneous protests from people; All these things are there together. Obviously what can not be is a simple explanation that says, this happened for such thing and this corresponds to such group.
“THE PRODUCTION OF THE COMMUNAL SECTOR IS MINORITY”
President Maduro decreed the end of the rentier era, is this possible in a country like ours, with essentially oil based economy?
Maduro can decree what he wants as a statement, but in fact the decisions that have been taken, in particular the opening of the Mining Arc, does not mean in any way the end of the rentismo, but its deepening, since it is replacing a rentismo by another , the rentism petroleum by the rentism mining; Then, for political reasons, for environmental reasons, the balance on the planet, and so on, it is absolutely essential to overcome an economy mounted on oil; In the first place, thinking about the planet. Currently greenhouse gas emissions are at such a level that the global temperature of the planet continues to increase year after year. The last three years were the highest of what is recorded, we are dangerously approaching a situation of irreversible nature of catastrophic climate changes that endanger the preservation of life on the planet, and who arises the need for overcoming capitalist society necessarily has to address as an absolutely priority axis the construction of another productive factor that does not depend on the emission of greenhouse gases. The possibility of overcoming rentism is obviously not something that can be done by decree. In these last 17 years of Bolivarian government where there has been much discourse on the subject of the environment and the overcoming of the rentism what has been done is to emphasize the rentier dependence of the Venezuelan State in the Venezuelan society as a whole. When in the plan of the homeland it aims to save the planet, it turns out that there is another objective of the same level but in practical terms has many more implications because it is what are the policies that are effectively carried out, to turn Venezuela into a great world energy power.
The Plan of the Homeland considers food sovereignty and the eradication of poverty in general as its main objective. Is this possible, or is it simply good intentions?
It is clear that during the first years of the Bolivarian government there was a very significant reduction of the levels of poverty in the country, and everywhere there is the possibility of public policies that contribute to the reduction of poverty. At the moment, as a consequence, on the one hand, of the collapse of oil prices, but on the other hand, as a result of the deterioration of the country’s productive capacity, both industrial and agricultural, we find that the capacity The State to respond to its constitutional obligations in relation to critical issues such as food sovereignty and the right of the population to have access to food, it is not able to fulfill it because it does not have the management capacity, it does not have the right dollars. There is sufficient internal production, that is why the crisis that Venezuelan society is experiencing is by far a crisis that goes well beyond simply the political conjuncture. In the productive field it is profound and with very long-term consequences, to recover the productive capacity of the country to effectively have security and basic food self-sufficiency and recover what has been the deterioration of living conditions that has occurred in the last three years , is something that is going to take a lot of time.
If the socialist prioritizes the communal, does it mean that with the new socialist constitution we would go towards a communal state?
The communal state has been part of a speech and a whole claim legaria and a number of instruments, say organic laws that have been approved, laws of communal councils and laws of communes, financing of popular power, etc., but up to now, as the country’s fundamental productive structure has not been altered and oil dependence remains not only equal but greater than before, public policies have operated more as redistributive policies than as policies to alter the productive model. Today, what is the production of this communal sector in relation to the whole economy is still very minority, then, the steps in the direction of a communal productive model are, but far from the horizon.
As a third objective within the Plan, it is contemplated the protection of watersheds and natural environments, which takes us to the Mining Arc (AM). Why is it that, because Chavez is supposed to be a movement guided by social sensitivity and in defense of the interests of the country, there is no sensible voice there that rises up in defense of the country in the face of this enormous aggression?
That is an important question because it somehow refers us to how political parties operate, as the logic of power operates. I, not only I believe but that I find in different places effectively with sectors identified with Chavismo that in relation to the Mining Arc have very critical positions, but this has no proportion whatsoever with the gravity of what is at stake, that has to do With how we conceive the Venezuela of the next century, because what is being altered are the main rivers of the country, which are affected by the Mining Arc. In addition to that we find that the existence or not of an important group of Venezuelan indigenous peoples whose territory is being occupied by the delimitation of the Mining Arc is at stake. We find that MA occupies a significant part of the Amazon, which forms a critical part of planetary environmental regulatory systems when we are facing such severe risks in relation to all global climate change, we find that 70% of the Country is produced in dams that are within the delimitation of the MA, we find that the opening, as contemplated, with a special economic regime, also a special role of the armed control, means the possibility of contracts of very long term that even with important changes of government will be extraordinarily difficult or impossible to reverse.
So what is at stake is really the Venezuela we want and the Venezuela of the future, so, despite the intensity of the political confrontation, the theme of the Mining Arc can be considered as a topic for later or a secondary issue, because the decisions taken will have very long-term consequences. Fortunately, the government expecting to receive a haemorrhaging of investments, because there is a very large number of transnational mining companies interested in exploiting the MA, that has not happened, and it has not happened because companies do not want to risk unless they have a flat legal basis. Moreover, all this scaffolding has been violated by the Constitution, violating the Organic Law of Indigenous Peoples, the Organic Law of the Environment, violating labor laws, under exceptional conditions as a decree of a president without consulting the National Assembly, on all the conditions are of a very high constitutional legal precariousness, and as the recovery of the mining investment is not in the short term but in the medium term, at least, the companies are not making the investments that were expected. One of the fears that I personally have is that one of the objectives of the ANC that has been convened is precisely to give this legal floor, these guarantees, this legal security for companies to effectively decide to invest, which would be very serious.
What reading deserves a supposed collectivization of society around a single thought?
Any form by which it is intended to impose on society as a whole a way of organizing the collective life that is imposed, and not as an expression of processes of debate, of consensus of collective construction, can only authoritarian tendencies, to decree that a society, from one day to another be socialist, or that has to be Catholic, or that has to be such, contemporary societies are necessarily extremely plural and diverse, and any form of collective co-existence requires assuming as a starting point the existence of that reality, of that difference, and the construction of the space of collective life can only take place by way of consensus, that is to say, by negotiated means, in which some give in some things and others give in other things. If someone stands as the owner of the truth and tries to impose on the whole of society a way of organizing, this necessarily produces reactions that can end in violence.
I could not help but ask you about your perception of the role of the media at this juncture.
I think the media are playing a terrible role, because they are dedicated, full time, to throw gasoline on the fire. They do not seem to be responsiblely aware of the things that are said and reproduced, and they are actively contributing from the media with the increase of this atmosphere of distrust and even of exacerbated hatred that is being installed in society, from the other’s gaze As an enemy, these things are being fed by the media and that is extraordinarily serious. When there are some television programs where on the contrary it poses the possibility of dialogue interview people with other perspectives, it is something like a kind of oxygen within a situation that seems from the media point of view turns out to be frankly suffocating.