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Context of 'February 16, 2005: CIA Director Names Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, and Cuba as ‘Potential Areas for Instability’ '

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In a national referendum, 72 percent of Venezuelan voters approve a new constitution that significantly increases the state’s role in the economy and society. The constitution—Venezuela’s 26th since winning independence from Spain in 1821—codifies into law Chavez’s progressive agenda. It requires the state to promote sustainable agriculture, protect the environment, guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples, take affirmative action against the effects of institutionalized discrimination, and guarantee every Venezuelan the right to a fair wage, health care, and a secure food supply. The victory seems to have been a result of Chavez’s immense popularity and not necessarily the constitution itself, which, according to one poll cited by the Washington Post, was read by only about two percent of the population. [Washington Post, 12/16/1999; Washington Post, 12/17/1999]
Selection of Constitutional Provisions -
bullet The constitution changes the country’s name from “Republic of Venezuela” to “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title IX, 1999] in honor of Simon Bolivar, the South American liberator who fought for the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003] The constitution bases “its moral property and values of freedom, equality, justice and international peace on the doctrine of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator,” Article 1 says. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title I, 1999] The new name reflects Chavez’s desire for a more integrated Latin American, which he hopes will be achieved through a federation of “Bolivarian Republics.” [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet The new constitution implies a distinction between the concepts of “law” and “justice.” [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003] Article 2 of the constitution says that “Venezuela constitutes itself as a Democratic and Social State of Law and Justice… .” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title I, 1999] Gregory Wilpert, a supporter of the Chavez government, notes: “This stands in contrast to many other country’s constitutions [such as Germany’s], which simply say that its state is a state of law. In other words, the Venezuelan constitution highlights the possible differences between law and justice, implying that justice is just as important as the law, which might not always bring about justice.” The term “justice” is not defined anywhere in the document; however, Wilpert suggests that the constitution’s “declaration of motives,” (the section that precedes the official text of the document) provides an indication of what the constitutional assembly understands justice to be. It states: “The state promotes the well-being of Venezuelans, creating the necessary conditions for their social and spiritual development, and striving for equality of opportunity so that all citizens may freely develop their personality, direct their destiny, enjoy human rights and search for their happiness.” Others warn that the constitution’s failure to explicitly define the meaning of the term creates the possibility that the government could use its own understanding of justice to subvert the law. [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet Article 13, in designating the country as an “area of peace,” prohibits the establishment of foreign military bases or facilities in Venezuela “by any power or coalition of powers.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title II, 1999]
bullet The constitution requires the state to respect and guarantee any and all rights declared in international human rights treaties that are signed and ratified by Venezuela. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title II, 1999]
bullet The constitution adopts a broad definition of discrimination and makes it the responsibility of the state to correct any inequalities resulting from discrimination. Article 21 thus states: “[A]ll persons are equal before the law and consequently: No discrimination based on race, sex, creed or social standing shall be permitted, nor, in general, any discrimination with the intent or effect of nullifying or impairing upon the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on equal terms, of the rights and liberties of every individual. The law shall guarantee legal and administrative conditions such as to make equality before the law real and effective manner; [and] shall adopt affirmative measures for the benefit of any group that is discriminated against, marginalized or vulnerable… .” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 58 guarantees the right to information that is “timely, true, and impartial” and adds that such information must be disseminated “without censorship, in accordance with the principles of this constitution.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999] Critics argue that what constitutes truth and impartiality is subjective and therefore this article could provide the government with a pretext for censoring the media. [Washington Post, 12/16/1999, pp. A30; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet The constitution eliminates state financing of political parties. [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet Articles 71 through 74 gives the national assembly, the president, and registered voters (when a petition is signed by 10 to 20 percent of the registered voters) the power to initiate a public referendum. A referendum can be one of four types: consultative, recall, approving, and rescinding. A consultative referendum asks the population to give its opinion on a non-binding question that is of a “national transcendent” nature. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999] For example, a referendum might ask whether the country should sign a free trade agreement. [Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003] A recall referendum is a binding referendum that can be used to recall any elected official after the official has served half of his or her term in office. In an approving referendum, also binding, the public would be called upon to approve a constitutional amendment or an important law or treaty that would infringe on national sovereignty. The rescinding referendum would allow citizens to rescind existing laws. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet The constitution guarantees the freedoms of expression, assembly, political participation, as well as the right to employment, housing, family planning, and health care. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999] For example, with regard to health care, Article 83 states: “Health is a fundamental social right and the responsibility of the State, which shall guarantee it as part of the right to life. The State shall promote and develop policies oriented toward improving the quality of life, common welfare and access to services.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999] Concerning employment, Article 91 states, “Every worker has the right to a sufficient salary that allows a life with dignity and covers his own and his family’s basic material, social, and intellectual necessities.” The constitution also requires that the state promote and protect economic democracy. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 84 charges the state with administering a national public health system that is “governed by the principles of gratuity, universality, completeness, fairness, social integration and solidarity.” The article also outlaws the privatization of health care. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 87 states that all Venezuelans are entitled to the benefits of the social security system, including those who are unable to contribute. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 88 recognizes the contribution of women homemakers and accordingly guarantees them the right to receive social security benefits. “The State guarantees the equality and equitable treatment of men and women in the exercise of the right to work. The state recognizes work at home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth. Homemakers are entitled to Social Security in accordance with law.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 91 states that the minimum wage is to be computed on an annual basis and that its value will be based, in part, on the cost of the basic consumer goods basket. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 103 guarantees every Venezuelan free education up to the undergraduate university level. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Article 115 states: “The right of property is guaranteed. Every person has the right to the use, enjoyment, usufruct and disposal of his or her goods. Property shall be subject to such contributions, restrictions and obligations as may be established by law in the service of the public or general interest. Only for reasons of public benefit or social interest by final judgment, with timely payment of fair compensation, the expropriation of any kind of property may be declared.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Articles 119-126 of the constitution recognizes, for the first time in the country’s history, the indigenous population’s right to exist, to its languages, cultures, and to hold its lands in collective ownership. It also requires the state to help indigenous groups demarcate their lands and guarantees that state-led exploitation of natural resources in their lands “shall be carried out without harming the cultural, social, and economic integrity of such habitats, and likewise subject to prior information and consultation with the native communities concerned.” Under the new constitution, the state is also required to promote indigenous cultures and languages and protect their intellectual property. It prohibits outsiders from registering patents derived from indigenous knowledge. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003] Article 186 guarantees the political rights of Venezuela’s indigenous population—estimated at 316,000—mandating that they be allocated three of the 130 seats in the National Assembly. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet Articles 127-129 charges the state with protecting biological diversity, genetic resources, ecological processes, and national parks. It requires that environmental and socio-cultural impact reports be prepared in advance of any activities that could potentially cause environmental damage. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title III, 1999]
bullet The constitution specifies that the national government will consist of five powers: the legislative, executive, judicial, electoral, and public. The public, or citizen, power would provide oversight to the four other powers to ensure that they adhere to their constitutionally determined functions. Public power is thus charged with “preventing, investigating and punishing actions that undermine public ethics and administrative morals; to see to sound management and legality in the use of public property, and fulfillment and application of the principle of legality in all of the State’s administrative activities, as well as to promote education as a process that helps create citizenship, together with solidarity, freedom, democracy, social responsibility and work.” The responsibility of the electoral power is to oversee state elections, and in certain cases, the elections of civil society organizations, such as unions. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title V, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet The new constitution replaces the former bi-cameral system with a unicameral one. The stated reason for this change is that it will enable the quick passage of legislation. Critics argue that this centralizes state power. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title V, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet At the insistence of President Chavez, the constitutional assembly extended the presidential term from five to six years and eliminated the provision that previously barred presidents from serving two consecutive terms. Chavez argued that a single five-year term would not be sufficient to fully implement the revolution’s policies. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title V, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet Title VI of the constitution charges the state with promoting industry, agriculture, and various other smaller branches, such as fishing, cooperatives, tourism, small businesses, and crafts. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 301 grants the state the right to use “trade policy to protect the economic activities of public and private Venezuelan enterprises” and charges the state with ensuring that foreign-owned enterprises are not afforded preferential terms that could put Venezuelan enterprises at a disadvantage. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 302 enshrines continued state control of the petroleum industry and states that all industries of a strategic nature are subject to state control. Article 303 gives the state complete ownership of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 304, acknowledging that water “is essential to life and development,” specifies that it belongs in the public domain. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Articles 305 and 306 require that the state pursue a food production strategy aimed at self-sufficiency. The approach would entail promoting “sustainable agriculture as the strategic basis for overall rural development”; promulgating any necessary “financial, commercial, technological transfer, land tenancy, infrastructure, manpower training and other measures”; and compensating agricultural producers “for the disadvantages inherent to agricultural activity.” Article 307 states emphatically that the “predominance of large land estates is contrary to the interests of society” and that “farmers and other agricultural producers are entitled to own land.” It thus authorizes the state to implement taxes on landholdings that are left in fallow, to establish the necessary measures to convert fallow lands into productive economic units, and to protect and promote associative and private forms of property. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 311 requires that “any revenues generated by exploiting underground wealth and minerals, in general, shall be used to finance real productive investment, education and health.” [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999]
bullet Article 236 gives the president the exclusive authority to promote high-ranking military officers. This authority previously laid with the legislature. Critics of the constitution argue that these provisions effectively consolidate Chavez’s control over the military by providing him with a means to pack its leadership with political supporters. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title V, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]
bullet Article 330 gives members of the military the right to vote, a right they were denied under the previous constitution. [Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Title VI, 1999; Venezuela Analysis, 8/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Hugo Chavez Frias

Timeline Tags: US-Venezuela (1948-2005)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is overthrown in a military coup. However, the coup collapses after two days, and Chavez returns to power. [BBC, 4/14/2002] Otto J. Reich, the US’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, is in contact with Chavez’s successor on the very day he takes over. The Bush administration claims Reich was pleading with him not to dissolve the National Assembly. [New York Times, 4/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, Lucas Romero Rincon, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez Frias, Otto Juan Reich, Elliott Abrams

Timeline Tags: US-Venezuela (1948-2005)

President Hugo Chavez announces that the Venezuela controlled oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, may sell eight oil refineries owned by US companies. Four of them are owned by Citgo Corporation and are currently used to refine Venezuela’s heavy, high-sulfur crude oil for use in the US. This move is part of a strategy to reduce Venezuelan dependency on US oil markets. At his speech in Argentina, Hugo Chavez describes Venezuelan dependency: “Not one Venezuelan works at these refineries… they don’t give us one cent of profit… they don’t pay taxes in Venezuela… this is economic imperialism.” Ivan Orellana, Venezuela’s representative to OPEC says that any “contracts found to be not in the national interest would be renegotiated.” [Bloomberg, 2/2/2005] The Venezuelan oil industry currently exports half of its oil to the US. [New York Times, 1/25/2005] This latest move is an indication to the Bush administration that the Chavez government is willing to test their relationship. US officials are worried about the implications of the sale for the American economy as 15 percent of US oil imports currently come from Venezuela. White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, “we have serious concerns. We have made our concerns known when it comes to President Chavez….” [Bloomberg, 2/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Hugo Chavez Frias, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: US-Venezuela (1948-2005)

CIA Director Porter Goss, testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, names five Latin American countries as “potential areas for instability” for 2005. First on his list is Venezuela, followed by Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, and Cuba. In Venezuela, according to Goss, President Chavez “is consolidating his power by using technically legal tactics to target his opponents and meddling in the region, supported by Castro.” In Colombia, Haiti, and Mexico, 2005 elections could bring instability, he says, while in Cuba, “a bad fall last October has rekindled speculation about his declining health and succession scenarios.” [US Congress, 2/16/2005; Venezuela Analysis, 10/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Venezuelan National Assembly, Salomon Centeno, Nelson Merentes, Venezuela

Timeline Tags: US-Venezuela (1948-2005)

Venezuelan Navy Commander Armando Laguna announces that the Navy has detected a small fleet of US military vessels off the coast of Curacao in the Caribbean. The Venezuelan Armed Forces are monitoring the vessels, but Laguna says that the US vessels are conducting routine procedures and there is no reason to be alarmed. The presence of the US military has led to rumours about a US invasion, and another coup. William Lara, National Assembly Deputy, and leader of Chavez’s MVR party, says that the US vessels are part of “a plan to intimidate and provoke.” Concern for the vessels is sparked by the fact that the US military did not notify the Venezuelan Navy of their presence as Laguna says they “traditionally have been doing.” [Venezuela Analysis, 3/1/2005]

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, US-Venezuela (1948-2005)

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