Student protests in Venezuela: how is the government manipulating the Constitution for political ends?

The Venezuelan Constitution is ranked fifth in the world in terms of the number of rights it guarantees. Yet the use of the constitution as a political crutch only underlines the government’s failure to uphold and respect these rights, writes Annabelle Huet.

MARQUINAM

Image Credit: MARQUINAM

In February 2014 student protests against the democratic legitimacy of the Venezuelan government and high crime rates erupted in Caracas. Two months on over 40 people have died, more than 70 have reported being abused and the opposition leader has been jailed. The Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, accused the international community of conspiring to overthrow his government in an op-ed in the New York Times and qualified the actions of those inciting violence in Venezuela as “unconstitutional”. Yet it is interesting to note how the government has consistently referred to the constitution not only when denouncing the actions of the opposition but also when seeking to justify its own actions. Examining the constitution might therefore help us gain a better understanding of the dynamics of the conflict.

1. Comparative perspective

According to data collected by the Comparative Constitutions Project (CCP), the Venezuelan Constitution is ranked fifth in the world in terms of the number of rights it guarantees. In total, it protects 81 of the 116 rights coded by the CCP, which is consistent with the Latin American tradition of constitutionalising rights. It also contains some features which are unusual even for a Latin American constitution, such as gender inclusive pronouns and nouns for job titles and the recognition of the right to social security for homeworkers. However, in order for rights to be fully protected, the country needs a strong and independent judiciary willing to enforce them. Unfortunately, Venezuela scores very poorly on the CCP scale for judicial independence (1 out of 6), especially when compared to other Latin American countries such as Peru (6 out of 6), Bolivia and Chile (4 out of 6).

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