Venezuela's Social Contract breached by Hugo Chavez
By Aleksander Boyd
18.12.05 | The 90% plus abstention of December 4 assembly elections served as ultimate confirmation of the hypothesis that Hugo Chavez has breached the Social Contract in Venezuela. Further, the hypothesis has reached theory status. In "Consent of the governed" Michael Rowan makes a series of valid points, namely "Governments are instituted by the governed, not by executive decree. Governments earn legitimacy from the consent of the governed, not from consent with itself. Democracy and pluralism and tolerance and dissent are not rights the government provides to the governed, but which inhere in the spirit of the governed." (Sic). The verdict, as Rowan observed, is in. By abstaining from participating in the plebiscite Venezuelans effectively torn off the pseudo democratic costume of Hugo Chavez, who is now in breach of contract.
The Social Contract
Societies function, in general terms, on the basis of a contract of the social sort. In Greek times, Socrates, in conversation with Crito, made a compelling case in favour of upholding the Social Contract. At a much later date Thomas Hobbes reaffirms the Greek's predicament in Leviathan, which symbolises the State. Hobbes contended that the assembly of men or society cedes voluntarily and temporarily its natural rights to the State that shall in exchange care for, protect and provide to society. Hobbes views were reinforced and substantially ameliorated by the liberal John Locke, who advocated for separation of powers and introduced the concept of "checks and balances." Then came Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose book “The Social Contract” laid the basis for the third theory of social contract. He agreed with Locke about the affable nature of the individual arguing instead on the fairness of the social contract. That man did not set out voluntarily to enter into such a binding relationship with the State was out of the question, the issue being the negotiation of those terms of the contract considered unfair. Loss of negotiating power with the State could only be resolved revolting against it.
In all cases the ceding of rights makes for valuable enough consideration, ergo any of the parties disregarding promises can be made accountable for breach.
Contract law is an alien premise to most Venezuelans. Given that the country's legal system is based on Napoleonic or Civil Code and not in Common Law, of which Contract Law is an integral part, it does not surprise the learned observer that Hugo Chavez has, at best, scant consideration vis-a-vis the Social Contract; at worse sheer disregard for the civil law principle of "Pacta sunt servanda." What's more how can Chavez, in this case representing the State, be made accountable for breaking his end of a deal, which he does not wish to recognize much less abide by its contractual terms, when he has absolute control of the judiciary?
It is fair to say that the sole avenue left for Venezuelans is precisely to stop participating in chavista democratic affairs, thus withholding the inherent legitimacy that people's participation represent and depriving the autocrat of it. In "The Politics of Non Violent Action" Gene Sharp explains in exquisite detail the source of political power:
Sharp states "If political power is not intrinsic to the power-holder, it follows that it must have outside sources." (sic) [p. 11 Part one: Power and Struggle]. He goes on to describe six sources of power, namely: authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material sources and sanctions. Regarding human resources Sharp contends that the level of people's cooperation and obeyance to a ruler affects directly its power. In other words the greater the disposition of Venezuelans to continue withstanding Hugo Chavez's pseudo revolution the more powerful he becomes. Since more than 90% of Venezuelans showed on December 4 utter indifference in supporting Chavez's brand of 'democracy' one can conclude that his is a de facto dictatorship. For he has demonstrated ad nauseam his unwillingness to respect the will of the people.
The relevance of international opinion
By now it must be understood that local dissent is not something that deprives El Supremo's sleep. However recent developments demonstrate that international criticism towards his kleptocratic regime do affect him. Prime example is the smear campaign geared at undermining the credibility of the international electoral observation missions deployed recently by the Organization of American States, the European Union and Spain. It is also important that Latin American analysts and scholars opining on Venezuelan issues do so firmly based on facts. For instance, Mark Falcoff considers that Chavez is but "an unpleasant fever" (sic) whereas Steven Johnson argues that the autocrat has "all three branches under his thumb" (sic). Both comments are factually inaccurate. For a gullible, deranged and megalomanic individual who controls unrestrainedly the immense proceeds of Latin America's second largest commercial conglomerate, and is hellbent in 'revolutionizing' the region, can hardly be qualified as a simple nuisance. His extraordinary financial muscle ought not to be taken lightly, specially in a region characterised by abject poverty and rampant corruption. On the other hand, as with the absence of contract law, the Venezuelan State is not divided in three branches of power but in five. The Citizen -Attorney General's, Comptroller's and Ombudsman's offices- and Electoral powers, are also under Chavez's boot. What this means is that Venezuelans, effectively, lack means of seeking redress against an increasingly ominous police-state. In any functioning democracy the discovery of a head of government ordering the construction, and admitting in public the existence, of a database to be used for political prosecution purposes and to harass the citizenry would mean repudiation by society, impeachment and immediate dismissal. Not in Venezuela though, were El Supremo can in fact get away with murder.
Breach of Social Contract
Article 3 of the chavista constitution reads:
Whereas article 5 establishes:
One must pause here, ponder upon the meaning of these two articles and try to reconcile their constitutional significance with the actions of the illegitimate president of Venezuela. No respect whatsoever is due to a president that has so evidently violated our natural rights, let alone our constitutional ones. Since the organs of the Venezuelan State emanate from and are subject to our inherent sovereignty, why should we put up with Hugo Chavez? Why Venezuelans must bear with an intolerable anti-democratic autocrat? Is it not unmissable the fact that he has breached the Social Contract?
Imagine this scenario in the presidential campaign of 1998 when Chavez got elected. Picture Chavez in a rally shouting:
After 7 years of unstopped abuses more than 90% of us have realised who Hugo Chavez is; his fall is only a matter of time for sovereignty belongs to us and it is only through our cooperation and concourse that he can claim to be legitimate and powerful. No more. As Antonio Sanchez Garcia wrote the other day "Venezuelans won't let themselves be courted and enamoured twice by the same ruffian."
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