“The ‘Anti-Blockade Law’ is part of a process of neoliberalization of the economy”

LaClase.info interviews sociologist Emiliano Terán Mantovani

Photograph: Ultimas Noticias. Maduro handing the “antiblockade law” to Constituent Assembly president Diosdado Cabello. Caracas, October 14- On October 8, 2020 without prior consultation and amid criticism from several of its members, the National Constituent Assembly approved the so-called “anti-blockade” constitutional law, provoking a series of questions among broad sectors of the country’s popular classes.

We conducted an interview to discuss the “anti-blockade” law with sociologist Emiliano Terán Mantovani. Terán Mantovani is a member of the Venezuelan Observatory of Political Ecology, and of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Working Group on Alternatives to Development. He is a doctoral candidate in environmental science and technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Translator’s notes are in brackets.

What is your assessment of the “Anti-Blockade” law?

The recently approved “anti-blockade” law must be evaluated both for what it says, and for its political and economic significance—which we characterize as the intensification of a process of opening up and denationalization of the Venezuelan economy. The law contemplates in several of its articles an opening to private capital of public companies and goods. For this, extraordinary powers are granted to the government in the management of these State assets, to decide at its discretion how it will open them to foreign and local capital.

These extraordinary powers are based on the fact that the “anti-blockade” law places itself as preferential over other Venezuelan laws and regulations, which raises something that has generated much concern, which is the withdrawal of any type of laws that may hinder this process of opening and denationalization of the Venezuelan economy enshrined in the “anti-blockade” law.

In addition, the law contemplates the creation of new revenue modalities parallel to the national treasury, which obviously is outside the Constitution and also prevents knowledge of the source and management of those resources.

Also, the “anti-blockade” law exalts foreign investment, even allowing the national government and foreign investors themselves to establish agreements with mechanisms for the protection of foreign capital, preventing any type of internal social and political control.

Finally, we know that the “anti-blockade” law allows for the classifying and making secret of information on this type of initiative. And now, with the law approved, the opening to external financing mechanisms appears more clearly, which is obviously related to the debts in foreign currency to other countries.

All this is quite serious because the neoliberal policies promoted are kept in total secrecy, and the population loses the ability to challenge them. Thus, extraordinary powers are taken by the government and foreign investors.

Now, in relation to its meaning, it must be said that in reality the “anti-blockade” law is part of a process of neoliberalization of the Venezuelan economy, which has been going on since 2014, and which I have called “The Long Turning” [“el Largo Viraje”]—different from “The Great Turn” under [President] Carlos Andrés Pérez [in his second period, 1989-1993], when measures were applied under the guidance of the so-called Washington Consensus, with the International Monetary Fund.

For these reasons, the “anti-blockade” law reflects the maturation of this neoliberalization process. We have mentioned that it promotes and protects private capital and foreign investment, but this already had very clear precedents, as in for example the Special Economic Zones established under the 2014 “Integral Regionalization Law”, setting up a radical deregulation [environmental, labor law, taxation regimes] in different territories—and this was six years ago.

Another example is the 2015 Petrochemical Activities Development Law, which allowed private capital to take a majority of stocks in joint ventures with the State. We can also remember the Foreign Investment Law of 2017 and the 2018 “Economic Recovery, Growth and Prosperity Program” itself, which used neoliberal jargon and clearly outlined with more clarity measures of macroeconomic adjustment. And, in that same 2018, the government issued a decree to exempt transnational capital from income tax on profits from oil activities, a terrible symptom of the dismantling of historical oil nationalism in the country.

So, we are facing a process of neoliberalization of the State and the economy that is crowned with this “anti-blockade” Law, but that is not novel or new.

What do you think is the objective of the Maduro government with the “anti-blockade” law?

The “anti-blockade” law was presented in its approved version as as a special legal norm to “guarantee the human rights of the population,” but this official discourse is contradicted not only the Maduro government’s own practices, but also the neoliberal logic of making foreign capital prevail, which evidently annihilates the social and environmental rights and sovereignty of the country, because it lays the recovery of Venezuela in the hands of foreign capital while the ruling elite takes up the work of repression.

It must also be said that in Venezuela the Constitution is violated left and right by the national government—although traditional opposition sectors, especially the most extremist can also be accused of this—while the sanctions established by Trump flagrantly violate the human rights of the Venezuelan population.

We can ask ourselves, why this new law, if the existing laws are not respected, if everything here is done at the discretion of those who hold power? If this is to defend the human rights of the population, are the current laws not being applied for that, to defend the rights of citizens? Can [the people] take refuge in the laws for this? I’m afraid not.

Therefore, in reality, the true function of the “anti-blockade” law is to formally write down the offers of legal guarantees that may attract transnational capital, which requires them to protect and ensure the performance and viability of its investments. It goes without saying that the President of Fedecamaras mentioned that the bases of the “anti-blockade” law were adequate, although he condemned it because it was legislated by an illegitimate body such as the National Constituent Assembly.

The other objective is to continue to constitute an internal legal framework for the political conformation of an economy of accumulation by dispossession.

If there were doubts, President Maduro himself confirmed this, just after the approval of the law, by inviting transnational corporations and local companies in a public address to see the new opportunities that had been opened by the “anti-blockade” law. There, the objectives of this new law were made clearly evident.

Now that the “anti-blockade” law has been approved, should it be accepted or should we continue to fight against it?

The “anti-blockade” law must be clearly rejected, as it is already happening. I see at least three different reasons for doing so. 

The first, perhaps the one that can connect the majority of the population, has to do with the negative effects of consolidating an economy of the ruling elite associated with foreign capital, obviously with a logic of enrichment. This project is totally turning its back on the interests of the people, and will make conditions for the working class even more precarious. Furthermore, because the fundamental economic undertakings in Venezuela are extractivist—based on the exploitation of nature—[and this law] furthers not only the neoliberalization of extractivism but also a loss of sovereignty, with high environmental impacts and the handover of territories, conditions in [peripheral] territories will also worsen.

The impact, social, environmental, and on national sovereignty, will be tremendous, as it has been throughout this crisis and the process of neoliberalization I mentioned earlier, which has been accompanied by the increasing prevalence of illicit economies. These impacts are already at play, and have moved people to stage protests [over living conditions and necessity goods] throughout the country. We can see this contradiction intensifying more and more, which can lead many different actors to unite around an opposition to this profound process of precarization of life.

A second motivation to mention is more political, and has to do with the entire Venezuelan political culture and tradition of energy nationalism–which had basically been oil nationalism. This political culture has been closely linked to Chavismo in recent decades, but it is also present in other political sectors that adhere to these paradigms (including conservative sectors that do not agree with surrendering to foreign capital). 

The point is that this political culture is being completely dismantled, which has sensitized various political actors, because we are reaching a point of maturation of a logic of denationalization. This affects even the bases of the left and Chavismo that had maintained some support for the current government. 

But if Chavismo refounded energy nationalism as one of the pillars of its political project, then its bases are now faced with an existential dilemma. For this reason, a part of that Chavista base no longer supports the government or the measures of the “anti-blockade” law, which can potentially lead to new articulations with other political actors.

The third motivation for rejecting this “anti-blockade” law has to do with its null legitimacy, not only because of how it was approved, but also because we are dealing with a government that does not respect any constitutional or legal norms—not the rule of law, nor clean electoral processes, nor the rights of the people. This generates another type of rejection of the “anti-blockade” law, since the problem is fundamental and has to do with the legitimacy of the political regime and the urgent need to regain a constitutional path, to do politics, and to legitimize minimum agreements of coexistence, because if not, we’ll remain in a potentially explosive situation.

So, several actors have been coming together around these three criticisms against the “anti-blockade” law, and could articulate various fronts of struggle to reject this and the set of legal norms of the neoliberalization process, which also have to be condemned, as they are just as serious and important.

Do you think that the ratification of the “anti-blockade” law should be consulted with the people?

The question of a popular consultation on the “anti-blockade” law is complex in my opinion, because on the one hand, in the current political conditions, a consultation could be used as be a mechanism to try to legitimize a legal norm that in reality is contrary to the people and their rights, in addition to being anti-constitutional. On the other hand, the institutional conditions for an electoral process are still very complicated, and these remain blocked.

But precisely for this reason, the horizon must be to push forward social mobilization to reactivate, in the first instance, a climate of political interpellation and popular demands for rights, which can serve as a basis to activate various political mechanisms also contemplated in the constitutional framework. We can denounce that the “anti-blockade” law is promoted by a government that does not have any kind of respect for elections, peoples’ rights or the legal framework for coexistence. This could mean a re-politicizing of the Constitution, to give a more political meaning to the multiple demands that we see on the streets of the country.

So it is essential to articulate this discontent and reactivate the popular debate. Talking about the Constitution does not necessarily have to refer us to a legitimation of the bourgeois State or  of a normative vision. What happens is that now, as a people, we find ourselves not only in a context of brutal vulnerability, but also in a framework that is fully functional to the accumulation of capital and the ruling elite. For this reason, in my opinion, we need a minimal framework of empowerment that allows people to be able to resort to mechanisms where they can challenge these things.

Today, only social mobilization can rescue politics. We can discuss the issue of a referendum, because it has certain limitations in my opinion, or seek a more diversified strategy.

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