Spanish – Like a bad omen, on December 15, 1999, Venezuela experienced the greatest natural disaster of the last few years. That deluge of apocalyptic proportions for the inhabitants of the state of Vargas marked a before and after for the country. The coastal populations of the small federal entity separated from Caracas only by the imposing El Avila hill were left desolate. The number of dead is still unclear. According to estimates by the International Red Cross, the figure may have reached 50,000. A tragedy that could have been avoided if it had not been for the excessive power ambition of an unscrupulous narcissistic megalomaniac who defied nature to impose the constitution on that very day, the same constitution that today governs the destinies of a rich country in the greatest misery. Another tragedy that could have been avoided.
Evoking the trampled image of Simón Bolivar, the proud Hugo Chávez responded the night before with one of the Liberator’s famous phrases to journalists who asked about the imperious need to suspend the referendum to be held on December 15 to submit the new national constitution to a vote. “If nature is opposed, we will fight against it and make it obey us.” Nature did not obey.
An uncontrolled landslide destroyed everything in its path. The bodies of tens of thousands of Venezuelans were left under the waters, under the thick mud, under the rubble. In a parallel Venezuela, about 30 kilometers away, Hugo Chávez and his acolytes were celebrating that night the victory at the ballot box. The electoral ballot boxes. Of the tragedy and the ballot boxes in which thousands of families would bury their loved ones.
The blank check that caused the socialist tragedy
Eleven months ago, when the military coup leader was assuming the presidency after the only electoral triumph that nobody disputes, Chávez was sworn in before the “dying” Constitution of 1961. With that phrase, he sentenced his non-negotiable whim to change the country’s constitution, even over the life of the people he so often invoked.
His first year of government was spent amid electoral campaigns. The first was to summon a constituent, the second to elect the legislators who would write the new constitution, and the third to definitively approve the project. “CubaNO” was the slogan of those who opposed the change of constitution. But this option got only 28.22% of the votes. The so-called Bolivarian Constitution was approved with 71.78% of the votes. A majority that signed a blank check to the charismatic leftist leader vehemently assuring, “Venezuela is not an island, Venezuela is not Cuba.”
With the new constitution in his pocket, Chávez began to show his true face. The project that he timidly qualified in its beginnings as “humanist” soon changed its name to “socialist” without any dissimulation. Trips to Havana became frequent until March 2000 when he launched that unfortunate phrase that turned out to be as premonitory as it was infamous: “Venezuela must sail the same sea of happiness as Cuba.”
The dreams that drown in the “sea of happiness”
Two decades later, that sea that engulfed the dreams of thousands of Cubans fleeing from communism now devours mercilessly the desperate migrants from the prosperous oil-rich nation who saw that tragic scene as something alien and inconceivable in a continental country.
Over 100 Venezuelans have died in the Caribbean Sea fleeing from socialism. From the nation that boasted of having the largest oil reserves in the world, they escape to small Caribbean islands that, within their limitations, offer a better quality of life. But the risk is very high. The most recent shipwreck of migrants to Trinidad and Tobago drowned the dreams of more than 20 Venezuelans, including several children.
In total, the United Nations Organization (UN) estimates in 5.4 million the exodus from the country with “one of the best constitutions in the world,” according to Chávez. The promoter of the new supreme norm -which sold as the panacea- highlighted the guarantees in the matter of human rights as the greatest advance offered by his Bolivarian Constitution. Rights that Venezuelans have had to seek by air, sea, and land in other latitudes.
The only objective: perpetual reelection
Barely seven years had passed when the father of “la bicha” -as Chávez called the constitution with his vulgar lexicon- decided that he had to reform it to extend his mandate indefinitely. Although the modification project was quite broad, it soon became evident that it was his only interest.
For the first time, the opposition managed to stop him from indulging in one of his whims. The “No” option was imposed in the referendum for the 2007 constitutional reform. Two years later, however, he presented the proposal again, this time disguised as an amendment but with the objective uncovered. Deploying all the power of the state, he managed to impose his proposal of indefinite reelection.
Life was the only thing he couldn’t buy. After Chávez’s death in March 2013, Nicolás Maduro took the reins of the so-called “Bolivarian revolution.” The clumsiness, lack of charisma, and end of the oil bonanza brought out the most totalitarian and repressive side of a regime that could no longer sustain the appearance of democratic normality.
Tragedies come together
Fleeing forward became the recurrent practice of the now faceless dictatorship. Confronted with the counterweight of the National Assembly that had come under total opposition control, Maduro thought of calling a National Constituent Assembly (ANC). With his proposal, he was evicting the constitution with which its supreme leader had created the greatest tragedy in the history of Venezuela.
Unlike the 1999 Constituent Assembly, the current ANC did not draft any constitution, which is, after all, its nature. Chavismo only used this gadget to install a parallel parliament and neutralize the legitimate assembly in the hands of the opposition.
This scenario posed a great paradox. Now Chavismo promised to shatter the political project of its maximum leader condensed in 350 articles, while the opposition defended the constitution of socialist nature that it opposed at the beginning and that allowed expropriations, the politicization of the armed forces, destruction of the productive apparatus, the looting of the oil industry and national reserves, and the perpetuity in power. It is a perpetual tragedy.
On December 15, Chavismo and the opposition coincide in the defense of a constitution that allows them to live together and that for now, they are not going to change. Of that narrow coastal strip scourged by nature that defied the arrogance of a tyrant few remember.
The state of Vargas only made the news again when in a useless and unnecessary act, the regime changed its name. The state of La Guaira continues to suffer the same hardships as the former Vargas. To the latent danger of the instability of the terrain, we can add the acute shortage of food, medicine, and gasoline, unstoppable inflation, and the deterioration of basic services. The state has spent years in debt to thousands of victims who today have been joined by the natural tragedy of 21 years ago with the tragedy of socialism which continues to be in force.