Thursday, November 29, 2007

Venezuela: Term Limits and the Revolutionary Process

By Joe Sims

A prominent item in the news this morning is Venezuela’s upcoming referendum on Sunday. Recent polls show the proposals going down to defeat by ten percentage points, 49 percent to 39 percent, a sharp reversal of fortune from previous weeks. Everyone cautions however that the outcome will ultimately hinge on turnout: who has the capacity to bring the voters out.

At stake is the issue of term limits for the country’s president, the current constitution allowing for only two terms. Those is the US who might see this as a drift toward undemocratic rule might remember that only after the long reign of FDR did the US adopt term limits for the presidency. Are term limits universally a good thing? It depends. Each country is different and should determine its own policy on the matter without outside interference. Readers should take note that a senior US diplomat may be expelled from Venezuela for meddling in their internal affairs. It also seems that this week Russians complained about Bush’s interference in their upcoming elections. No surprise there.

In the case of Venezuela, given the stage of the revolutionary movement, having an experienced leader at the helm might benefit the process lending continuity and stability. There is no substitute for mature leadership with decades old experience in governing. Lenin used to argue that it takes at least a decade to forge a communist cadre: perhaps twice that is needed for steady leadership to emerge. There is no hard and fast rule here and the experience of the revolutionary movement varies: with Vietnam having established a rotating leadership with term limitations; China now achieving smooth transitions void of “leadership for life,” Cuba etching towards a new dispensation with Fidel’s ill health, and South Africa’s (albeit very different) constitutional two-term rule.

Venezuela’s experiment then should be settled on its own term in keeping with the dynamics of its own revolutionary process, one in which the leadership is relatively new, and the party political institutions still forming. In this regard, as an outside observer looking in, it seems caustic “either-or” comments may not be helpful. For example, when Venezuela’s Communist Party recently hesitated about dissolving to join Chavez’s new party, the president is reported to have said, “you are either with me or against me.” So too, calling those on the left who are reluctant on the referendum “traitors” seems ill-advised.

However that said, it’s the issue for Venezuela to decide and clearly it’s more than about just term limits, but how to direct deeper more thorough going changes in a poor and under developed country confronting a formidable foe in US imperialism and the Bush administration.

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