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Venezuela's National Assembly: A Model for Honduras?

I would welcome learning from Libre presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya in Honduras about just how her proposed National Constituent Assembly would be elected, function, and be re-elected. The idea of a legislative body that would better represent the interests of all Hondurans is a noble one. However, mostly what I've heard about la Constituyente are lots of slogans, but almost nothing in the way of a concrete, well-crafted plan for how it would all work. If such a document exists, I'd love to review it.

My sense is that la Constituyente is mostly a romantic notion that a legislature that is more beholding to the interests of laborers, peasant workers, indigenous tribes, and the poor in general would be less corrupt, less apt to be manipulated, wiser, and a better promoter of the public good than the National Congress. I would gladly provide the benefit of the doubt to this notion if I could see on what assumptions it is based.

Given the extremely close relationship between the government of Mrs. Zelaya's husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, and the government of the now-deceased President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela prior to Mr. Zelaya's ousting on June 28, 2009 (plus the close personal relationship between the two men), it is reasonable to assume la Constituyente in Honduras might eventually come to resemble the National Assembly of Venezuela, which is a unicameral body made up of 167 representatives. According to Wikipedia, these diputados are elected by "universal, direct, personal, and secret" vote on a national party-list proportional representation system.

I get the "universal and "direct" parts. Not too comfortable, though, with what "personal" and "secret" imply. The proportional representation seems okay, particularly given that most of the world's democracies use this system rather than one based on the "winner-take-all" system used in the United States. I understand that elections where a candidate only has to win a plurality of the votes in order to be elected to represent a particular district has the unfair effect of leaving significant blocs of voters unrepresented.

In-and-of-itself, there is nothing wrong with a proportional representation-based National Constituent Assembly. The question is, "Could it work in Honduras?" Venezuela's Asamblea Nacional includes three seats that are reserved for representatives of the country's indigenous tribes. Seems fair enough, given that they were the original inhabitants of the land.

I think the more critical question, though, is, "Could a National Constituent Assembly remain any more independent and less swayed by private interests than the Congress?" We know that Congress has a strong lean in favor of the economic and social interests of the wealthy business class in Honduras. It's not right and it's not fair because it leaves the vast majority of Hondurans at a huge disadvantage. To whom would representatives of a National Constituent Assembly established under the Zelaya administration have answered? To their constituencies? Maybe.

If you look at the recent history of Venezuela's Asamblea Nacional, notice that in 2000 it granted Mr. Chávez temporary power to rule by decree. Rule by decree? Sounds a little too much like a dictatorship to me. According to Wikipedia, Mr. Chávez approved 49 laws by decree. Then, in January 2007, the Asamblea Nacional granted Mr. Chávez another 18 months to rule by decree and push through a series of revolutionary economic and social laws that would transform Venezuela into a socialist society.

So essentially what Venezuela's Asamblea Nacional did was place its faith and trust in one guy. One guy. That is about the farthest thing from democracy that I can imagine. What if that one guy had just happened to get up on the wrong side of the bed one morning? What if he had acquired some bad habits that clouded his judgment? What if he had gotten too much of an ego for his own good? What if he had developed prejudices toward certain races, ethnic groups, religious faiths, or classes? What if he had suddenly gotten the urge to nationalize everything in town? What if he had simply wanted to stick around forever?

Hmm. Vaguely call to mind anyone in particular?

One of the defining elements of a democracy is a system of checks and balances. In countries like Honduras, this system unfortunately is manipulated by the segment of the society that is wealthy and privileged. This has to change. But to trade this kind of system in for one that can potentially be manipulated by a single person is, well... insanity.

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