Friday, November 29, 2002
Militarization: In today's Americas column in the Wall Street Journal (no link, in the paper only), Mary Anastasia O'Grady looks at the way President Hugo Chávez undermined and then took over control of the Metropolitan Police. Her main source is Ivan Simonovis, chief of the Metropolitan Police from September 2002 to April 2002, when he resigned. Of events during and since April 2002, when Chávez was first deposed and then brought back, O'Grady says:
Radical chavistas, it seems, had infiltrated the police force. More specifically, Chávez supporters from "Bolivarian circles," who are trained to enforce adherence to Chávez doctrines, "are inside the police," says Mr. Sinonovis. "I identified 19 officers who were working for Freddy Bernal (a militant pro-Chávez politician in Caracas)." The former chief says he had tried to clean house but only some of the infiltrators were fired.
After April 11, he says he tried again to get rif of the others but the Mayor (Alfredo Pena) refused. On April 15, Mr. Simonivos resigned...
In October, a small number of officers took control of the city's police command center using the pretext of a labor dispute with the city. On Nov. 16, before dawn, Mr. Chávez sent his National Guard and the army to take over the police force on the grounds that Mr. Pena had lost control.
Mr. Simonovis contends that the whole chain of events was the work of the pro-Chávez radicals inside the police force that he had warned against. He says that they used the city's budget and payroll problems as an excuse to militate against the mayor. It is also worth noting that since Mr. Pena's police payroll depends on disbursements from the national government, revenue shortfalls might originate with the president, for political reasons, or with his economically feckless government that is short of cash.
If the reason is the latter it raises another reason why Mr. Chávez may be so determined to militarize. He has totally trashed the economy...It increasingly looks like armed force might be the only way he can maintain the absolute power he seeks.
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Job action ON: Carlos Ortega, president of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation (Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela, or CTV) says that the supreme court's decision against a consultative referendum will stimulate the strike, reports El Nacional.
"To this little coup d'etat that the supreme court gave civil society, one must give a forceful response next Monday," affirmed Ortega, who opined that the judicial decision forms part of an alleged "terrorist plan" against the opposition put in action by the government.'
There is not justice here. There is no other end than to take to the street in response to the antidemocratic attitude of the regime," he said. He declared that the Coordinator (Democratic Coordinator) will define "in a few hours the duration and reach" of the general strike.
"Con este golpecito (de Estado) que da el Supremo a la sociedad civil, hay que dar una respuesta contundente el próximo lunes", afirmó Ortega, quien opinó que el dictamen judicial forma parte de un supuesto "plan terrorista" contra la oposición puesto en marcha por el Gobierno.
El Nacional, citing Carlos Fernández, president of the business group Fedecámaras, reports that the Democratic Coordinator (Coordinadora Democrática ) will announce tomorrow "the 'actions and conditions' that will accompany the national civic strike/lockout" ("las 'acciones y condiciones' que acompañarán el paro cívico nacional").
"Aquí no hay justicia. No hay otra salida que la toma de la calle en respuesta a esta actitud antidemocrática del régimen", dijo. Declaró que la Coordinadora definirá "en las próximas horas la duración y alcance" del paro general.
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Drug war idea: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has a new idea for prosecuting the war on drugs, says Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer. Nationwide drug testing--in the United States. Oppenheimer interviewed him and says he's serious.
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Other matters: Legal maneuvering over the referendum is the most important, but not the only news out of Venezuela. In other matters:
1. Mediation between the government and opposition, conducted by OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria has been "dominated by 'recriminations' between government and opposition negotiators" ("dominado por 'recriminaciones' entre los negociadores del Gobierno y la oposición"), according to El Universal, citing Gaviria.
Under these conditions he had no difficulty affirming that "we have not advanced in a substantive way any aspects that are on the table. In fundamental subjects and about the situation (intervention in the Metropolitan Police, militarization of Caracas and the strike/lockout) we are blocked.
Ante esta situación no dudó en afirmar que 'no hemos avanzado de manera sustantiva en ninguno de los aspectos que tiene esta Mesa. En los temas de fondo y en la coyuntura (intervención de la Policía Metropolitana, militarización de Caracas y el paro) estamos trancados'.2. Unemployment has reached 18 per cent, reports El Universal, citing a study by Datanálisis, which corresponds with government estimates.
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On again, off again: Yesterday, the National Electoral Council approved a February 2 consultative referendum, on the question on the issue of whether President Hugo Chávez should resign. Then, the Venezuelan supreme court "torpedoed" (torpedeado) the election, reports El Universal.
The paper says the CNE's decision approving the referendum was illegal because it occurred by a vote of three in favor, one abstaining and two absent (having left before the vote), while the law requires a majority, or four votes in favor. The paper also leaves some room for hope that the referendum can be revived. Only the February 2 date was approved with three votes; the question (reproduced in a post just below) was approved with four votes, and remains valid, according to El Universal. Clearly, there is a way to go before the issue is closed.
Failure of the opposition's referendum strategy would be a very big victory for Hugo Chávez.
The referendum presented a big problem for Chávez. He has repeatedly said he would not resign, no matter what the outcome, because, in his view, no referendum on his performance is constitutional before next August. However, every poll indicates he would have lost a consultative election. The probably outcome was, therefore, a repudiated, weakened president refusing to respect the will of the people.
The Supreme Court's decision saves Chávez this embarrassment and leaves the opposition without a clear strategy. A nationwide strike/lockout has been called for December 2. It is to be indefinite in length. It plays to Chávez's strength--his near monopoly of the instruments of violence. One of two outcomes is likely. First, the job action peters out after a few days, as government threats and Chavista intimidation make success appear increasingly remote. Second, there is increasing chaos, which permits Chávez crack down--a self-coup (autogolpe). If the opposition calls off the action, or limits it, is appears weak though it lives to fight another day. Then, the opposition faces the question of what to do to keep up hope after defeat until August, hoping Chávez will then honor his constitution's promise of a referendum. Truly a set of hard choices.
Bloomberg.com has a brief report in English.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2002
SOUTH AMERICAN POLITICS
Left-populist coupsters gain: A Center for Stragetic and International Studies report examines the success of "military firebrands" and finds "a crisis of democracy in much of the region."
Yet the appeal of military strongmen is attributable to more than just a lack of strong and credible political parties. It also may be symptomatic of a conscious or unconscious desire on the part of electorates to return to the old days of authoritarian regimes. Alarmingly, it appears that there is a yearning among some segments of society for the kind of law and order that existed in the days before democracy was restored...
There is also an economic nostalgia for the days of old that this new breed of populist military politicians is capitalizing on. Some believe that only a strong leader can rid a country of corruption and undertake needed economic reforms....
Governments led by former coup leaders are likely to be inherently less stable than those headed by non military leaders, for they invite violent actions by those who deem them not to be fully legitimate. Here again, Venezuela is an example. The alternatives available to voters in countries such as Ecuador and Paraguay, where some of the political parties are quite discredited, may not be much more appealing. But the dangers should not be overlooked. The growing clout of such politicians, should it spread elsewhere, would be alarming indeed and constitute a bad omen for democracy in the region.
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Strike or election:
Manuel Cova, secretary general of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela, said that the union and the Democratic Coordinator (Coordinadora Democrática) would change their call for a nationwide job action if the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, or CNE) accepts the opposition's signatures and announces the date of a consultative referendum on the tenure of President Hugo Chávez, reports El Universal. Cova also invited the government to put an alternative electoral scheme up for negotiation.
A decision on whether the opposition has gathered the required 1.2 million signatures is expected tomorrow, reports El Universal in another story. According to the paper, one million signatures have been validated, 300,000 have been thrown out. The question that would be posed to voters is:
Do you agree to request the president of the republic, citizen Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías that he immediately and voluntarily resign his office?
¿Está usted de acuerdo con solicitar al Presidente de la República, ciudadano Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, que de manera inmediata renuncie voluntariamente a su cargo?The Chicago Tribune suggests that, as much as anything, it is Chávez's mouth that has him in trouble.
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Left's margin cut: The Chilean left's margin in Congress is likely to narrow to one seat, jeopardizing such initiatives as tax increases, spending increases and changes to Pinochet-era rules that tend to restrict the left's freedom of action, reports Bloomberg.com. The reason, five left-coalition (Concertación) members of Chile's national congress have been caught taking bribes and are being stripped of their seats.
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Monday, November 25, 2002
Update: According to El Universal, the National Electoral Commission (CNE) has verified 66 per cent of the signatures needed for a consultative referendum on the tenure of President Hugo Chávez.
Also according to El Universal Venezuela's opposition parties have agreed to support the nationwide strike/lockout called by the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela union, the Fedecámaras business organization and Coordinadora Democrática, the opposition umbrella orgainzing group. Not all would go foward with the work action if the CNE finds that there are sufficient signatures for a referendum.
According to still another report in El Universal, 59 per cent of Venezuelans support an indefinite strike/lockout. This number comes from a poll of 1,199 registered voters age 18 and over, in seven large cities (Anzoátegui, Aragua, Carabobo, Lara, Táchira, Zulia and metropolitan Caracas) conducted by Cifras Encuestadora (CECA). Twenty-six per cent oppose the action; 15 per cent are undecided. Interestingly, when the researchers asked respondents who they would support as president if an election was being held today, the leading candidate was Hugo Chávez, at 19 per cent. This appears to be his beadrock support. Problem is, though Chávez's supporters are now few, they are increasingly violent.
A new pro-Chávez armed group threatening violence appeared yesterday. What's unusual, is that this is a group of women. They announced themselves to the paper El Mundo yesterday, threatening to go out into the streets to break up the December 2 strike/lockout. A photo of the armed women at their press conference with reporters from El Mundo is here.
Finally, according to El Nacional, the national guard will remain on the streets in Caracas until members of the Metropolitan Police agree to accept their new Chavista masters. Yahoo! News - AP has a report in English.
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Peace talks: The Colombian government has opened talks with one of the country's three illegal armies, the right-wing United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia or AUC), reports the BBC News. According to El Tiempo, talks are conditioned on the AUC forces ceasing to commit crimes. The Financial Times has a report on this development in English.
El Tiempo also reports that President Álvaro Uribe has decided to send an envoy to meet representatives of the Colombia's largest illegal army, the communist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), in Venezuela. The purpose of the meeing is to arrange a prisoner exchange.
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Binging: Cuba is buying American foodstuffs like there's no tomorrow, reports Bloomberg.com. Among the biggest sellers, U.S. subsidy farmer Archer Daniels Midland Co., which no doubt will want a bailout when the Cuban government fails to pay.
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Wednesday, November 20, 2002
1. Yahoo! News - AP reports that Chávez remains confident despite ever increasing turmoil. A possible reason: he believes violence can save him.
2. Monday's Financial Times reports on Chávez's Bolivarian bitter enders.
Recent polls suggest Mr Chávez's approval rating among the poor stands at some 30 per cent, most of whom are Chavistas who remain relentlessly faithful despite Venezuela's deepening economic woes and an increase in poverty under El Comandante.
Actually, according to a recent Datanálisis poll (described in detail in El Sur last Friday), only 19 per cent of Venezuelans are hard-core Chavistas. Another 10 per cent are moderately pro-Chávez. But that 19 per cent can cause a lot of trouble.
But Lina and her comrades have a job to do: to stop the 70 per cent of Venezuelans who, to varying degrees, oppose Mr Chávez and who are becoming ever more determined to oust him from office before elections due in 2006.
Yahoo! News has a photo of guardsmen guarding a police station, here.
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Attorney General denies resigning: According to El Universal, Attorney General Marisol Plaza denies she is resigning or has been asked to resign.
In her judgement, what occurred was due to the "intention of third parties to create confusion in the national political environment" and the "confusion created on Tuesday afternoon by the suspension of a press conference" called by her office "to make an announcement of interest to the people generally."
A su juicio, lo ocurrido se debió a la ''intención de terceros por crear confusión en el ambiente político nacional'' y a la ''confusión creada el día martes en la tarde por la suspensión de una rueda de prensa'' convocada por su despacho para ''hacer un anuncio de interés para la colectividad en general''.Admitting that the press conference was cancelled at the request of high officials, Plaza denied that the conference or its cancellation had anything to do with her opposition to the government takeover of the Metropolitan Police.
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News reports in English: Recent reports on the crisis in Venezuela, in English, include reports from the Miami Herald, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times.
Yahoo! News -AP reports today that anti-Chávez demonstrators have blocked a busy highway in Caracas with cars, trucks and flaming piles of trash to protest the takeover of the Metropolitan Police.
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Attorney General opposed takeover of police: President Hugo Chávez has asked for the resignation of Venezuela's Attorney General reports El Universal. He did so, the paper reports because the Attorney General, Marisol Plaza, opposed the national government's takeover of the Metropolitan Police.
The official was never consulted over the legality of the resolution that permitted intervention in the PM, before it was publicly announced, according to informants, who assured that among the criticisms she made is one according to which it was necessary to decree a state of exception, ir order to take measures such as that taken Saturday.
La funcionaria nunca habría sido consultada sobre la legalidad de la resolución que permitió intervenir a la PM, antes de que ésta fuera anunciada públicamente, según los informantes, quienes aseguraron que entre las críticas por ella efectuadas se encuentra una según la cual era necesario decretar un estado de excepción, para tomar medidas como las del sábado.That is, Plaza's opposition wasn't primarily one or prudence but rather one of legality. Government sources, on the other hand, say Plaza's resignation is being sought over another issue entirely, the government's failure to get the the Supreme Court to block the opposition's effort to obtain a consultative referendum.
Plaza would be disposed to leave her post without conflict, in spite of the words that the Chief of State had made against her, during a meeting with other officials, in which he denigrated her conduct before the Supreme Court and stated openly that he intended to seek her resignation.
The state attorney had convoked a press conference for Tuesday, at 5 p.m., in which whe was to make a "grave" announcement to the country, but it was suspended.
High government sources explained that the silence of the attorney was agreed to, on request of the chief of staff, General Carlos Martínez Mendoza, who had considered the meeting of Marisol Plaza with the media inconvenient.
The worry among high officials, about the Attorney General's evential statements, is that they aggravated, since they would take place simultaneously with the meeting that, through the mediation of Gaviria, was to be held by the government and the mayors of the Metropolitan District.
Plaza estaría dispuesta a separarse del cargo sin conflicto, pese a las palabras que el jefe de Estado habría tenido en su contra, durante una reunión con otros funcionarios, en la cual descalificó sus gestiones ante el TSJ y dijo a toda voz que le exigiría la dimisión.
Bloomberg.com has a report in English.
La abogada del Estado había convocado a una conferencia de prensa el martes, a las 5 de la tarde, en la que haría un anuncio "grave" al país, pero la misma fue suspendida.
Fuentes del Alto Gobierno explicaron que el silencio de la procuradora fue acordado, luego de una solicitud que le hizo el jefe del despacho presidencial, general Carlos Martínez Mendoza, quien habría considerado inconveniente el encuentro de Marisol Plaza con los medios.
Las preocupaciones en el Alto Gobierno, por las eventuales declaraciones de la procuradora, se agravaron, pues éstas tendrían lugar paralelamente a la reunión que, por intermediación de Gaviria, realizarían el Gobierno y los alcaldes del Distrito Metropolitano.
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Monday, November 18, 2002
Stratfor's view: Analysts at Stratfor, a Texas-based provider of private intelligence analysis, believe that President Hugo Chávez is deliberately provoking violence, as a means of justifying a military takeover of the country.
With new opinion polls showing that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would lose by a landslide any popular referendum on his continued stay in office, the government has set in motion a plan to force a violent confrontation with political foes, according to Stratfor sources in Caracas. The objective reportedly is to use the excuse of street violence between supporters and opponents of the regime in order to decree a state of exception and unleash military firepower to crush the opposition.
Stratfor's analysis is available from the conservative news forum FreeRepublic.com. Stratfor's analysis is available by subscription at Stratfor.com.
A state of exception would suspend all civil and political liberties indefinitely, and would enable the government to arrest anyone viewed as a threat to democracy and the rule of law. A state of exception also would end the internationally mediated negotiations currently under way between the Chavez regime and the political opposition over the timing of a popular referendum on whether Chavez should resign.
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His government "can't be blackmailed" (''no es chantajeable''), President Hugo Chávez told the First National Assembly of Bolivarian Students, accoring to a report published by El Universal.
He said that some sectors adverse to his government "are obsessed with taking Chávez out of the government saying that one must go to elections right now; well here there will not be elections right now and less because of the whim of a minority that does not want to accept the road that the majority took," he said. He indicated that elections will be held when suitable.
Dijo que algunos sectores adversos a su gobierno ''están obsesionados por sacar a Chávez del Gobierno diciendo que hay que ir a elecciones ya; pues aquí no habrá elecciones ya y menos por el capricho de una minoría que no quiere aceptar el camino que tomó la mayoría'', dijo. Indicó que las elecciones se realizarán cuando corresponda.As always, Chávez treated his followers to a large dose of populist demagoguery class warefare rhetoric.
He asked "why does the coupist and fascist counterrevelolution want to pull down this government and this Constitution" and indicated that "the elites and counterrevolutionaries wanted to take out Chávez because they have the false idea that they will be able to come back to install themselves (in office). They are misteken, because even when Hugo Chávez disappears they will never return."
Se preguntó ''por qué la contrarrevolución golpista y fascista quiere derribar este Gobierno y esta Constitución'' y señaló que ''las élites contrarrevolucionarias quisieran sacar a Chávez porque tienen la falsa idea de que así volverían a instalarse. Están equivocados, porque aún cuando Hugo Chávez desapareciera más nunca ellos volverían''.Unfortunately for Chávez, a large majority of Venezuelan's are not longer buying his divisive rhetoric, including, according to a poll noted in El Sur last Friday, a large majority of Venezuela' poorest citizens, who are those for whom Chávez claims to speak.
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1. Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña today asked the Supreme Court to render ineffective the national government decree taking over the Metropolitan Police, reports El Nacional. Peña also guaranteed security during a march in defense of the Metropolitan Police, to be held Wednesday.
2. A permanent commission of the National Assembly dealing with human rights and constitutional guarantees is holding an emergency meeting to review the takeover the Metropolitan Police, reports El Mundo. The meeting was called by Edgar Zambrano, a Democratic Action delegate.
"President Chávez says that the PM is politicized, but this situation is present in every military component, because his dream is to control the armed institution. The intervention in the PM is due to the aspiration to have absolute control violating the decentralization and the autonomy of the municipaities," indicated Zambrano.
“El presidente Chávez dice que la PM está politizada, pero esta situación se presenta en todo el componente militar, porque su sueño es controlar la institución armada. La intervención de la PM obedece a la aspiración de tener el control absoluto violentando la descentralización y la autonomía de los municipios”, señaló Zambrano.
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Additional links: In addition to those linked below, several other news sources have items on the takeover of Caracas' Metropolitan Police, including, the New York Times, iafrica.com and the Miami Herald. From the Herald:
The president on Sunday described the police under Peña as "an armed spearhead of the opposition." The government says the police played a major role in April's failed coup, when the police and pro-Chávez activists fought a gun battle after a massive opposition demonstration was fired on. Nineteen people died.
According to the government, the police force has used firearms to suppress pro-Chávez demonstrations, leaving two people dead and dozens injured.
"We could wait no longer," Chávez said Sunday. ``The executive was obliged to act.''
Peña and his police chief, Commissioner Henry Vivas, however, who describe the attempted takeover as tantamount to a coup, refuse to recognize the authority of Gonzalo Sánchez, appointed Saturday by the Interior Ministry as police director. Sánchez was picked as a late stand-in after the government's first appointee failed to win over district chiefs.
In a phone conversation with Chávez, broadcast live on the president's weekly TV and radio show, Sánchez admitted to "some small problems" of control. He said military supervision would continue, "until the legality [of the measure] is recognized"'
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Prelude to a "self-coup" ("autogolpe")? Forces loyal to President Hugo Chávez took over the Metropolitan Police over the weekend. The Financial Times has a report. Yahoo! News has photos of the anti-takeover demonstrations that followed at Caracas police stations, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.
According to Yahoo! News - AP, control of the police force remained in doubt as of this morning, many members of the police having rejected the takeover.
Police Chief Henry Vivas, appointed by Pena, refused to step down, even after Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello named Gonzalo Sanchez Delgado as the new chief.
An indicator of the government's true intentions is the identity of the newly designated police chief. As described in El Universal:
Speaking during his weekly radio program "Hello President," Chavez said the government ordered the takeover because disputes within the force had become "unbearable" and Pena had failed to resolve the situation.
The crisis raised concerns that police would not be able to guarantee security during the country's frequent political demonstrations.
The Democratic Coordinator movement, a coalition of opposition groups pushing for a referendum on Chavez' rule, condemned the takeover.
"We must tell (Chavez) that he can't intimidate us with armored personnel carriers. We must show that we will restore constitutionality in Venezuela," the group said in a statement.
Pena accused Chavez of trying to create chaos and ruin negotiations mediated by the Organization of American States so that the president could declare martial law.
The second director general of the Metropolitan Police designated by the National Executive in less than 24 hours, retired commissioner Gonzalo Sánchez Delgado served as leader of the Bolivarian Circles in Caracas.
The ex-policeman, who possesses a degree in Public Relations, took an oath last August 15 as general coordinator of the Bolivarian Circles of Liberator, in the Patio de Los leones de la Alcaldia, in the presence of several members of the Comando Político de la Revolución and the Mayor Freddy Bernal.
The last executive activity of the ex-functionary in the Metropolitan police was to command the police zone Caricuao. There his subordinates charged him before superiors with conducting political harangues and offering them courses in communism. He sought to form Bolivarian Circles throughout the Metropolitan Police.
El segundo director general de la Policía Metropolitana designado por el Ejecutivo Nacional en menos de 24 horas, comisario jubilado Gonzalo Sánchez Delgado, se desempeña como jefe de los círculos bolivarianos en Caracas.
Bloomberg.com reports that Carlos Ortega, leader of the Venezuela's largest labor union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), says the organization will decide this week whether to strike.
El ex policía, quien posee un curso de Relaciones Públicas, fue juramentado el pasado 15 de agosto como coordinador general de los círculos bolivarianos de Libertador, en el Patio de Los Leones de la Alcaldía, en presencia de algunos miembros del Comando Político de la Revolución y del alcalde Freddy Bernal.
La última actividad ejecutada por el ex funcionario en la PM fue comandar la zona policial de Caricuao. Allí sus subalternos lo denunciaron ante los superiores por realizar arengas políticas y ofrecerles cursos de comunismo. Pretendió formar círculos bolivarianos dentro de la PM.
Meanwhile, Organization of American States Secretary General César Gaviria returned to Caracas to facilitate continued dialog between the Chávez government and opposition. According to El Universal,
The strategy of opposition representatives at the negotiation table will be centered on not permitting the intervention in the PM to become the dominant subject today over the search for an electoral solution for the country.
La estrategia de los representantes de la oposición en la mesa de negociación estará centrada en no permitir que la intervención de la PM sea hoy el tema dominante por encima de la búsqueda de una salida electoral para el país.Nevertheless, the paper says, leaders of the Democratic Coordinator provided Gavaria with a brief in opposition to Chavez's takeover the the police.
This is a major development. If Chávez succeeds in taking and maintaining control over the Metropolitan Police, he can be confident that he can employ force succssfully over much larger matters, including taking firm and final control of the military and being able to use armed units to put down civilian protest, with violence if necessary. If this partial, tentative autogolpe succeeds, dictatorship becomes a possibility. On the other hand, if Chávez can't force this issue, he can't force bigger ones either.
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Saturday, November 16, 2002
Question valid; signatures next: Venezuela's National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral or CNE) has approved the question to be put before the voters respecting President Hugo Chávez's tenure in office, reports El Universal. The question is as follows:
Do you approve asking the President of the Republic citizen Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, to immediately and voluntarily resign from his office?
¿Está usted de acuerdo con solicitar al presidente de la República, ciudadano Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, que de manera inmediata renuncie voluntariamente a su cargo?The commission noted that the question was in the form of a request that did not have the effect of ending Chávez's tenure in office. The commission also finished counting the signatures in favor of putting this question to referendum--2,056,470--and has begun verifying them
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Friday, November 15, 2002
U.S. AND LATIN AMERICA
Trade: Mary Anastasia O'Grady makes the case for a U.S. trade deal with Chile, in her "Americas" column in today's Wall Street Journal (sorry, no link). She says a trade deal is long overdue and very much in the interest of both countries--and Latin America as a whole.
But for the U.S. the reasons to complete the agreement go well beyond access to Chilean goods and markets. The U.S. desperately needs a win in Latin America. Free trade expansion is one of the few productive and morally defensible tools to advance U.S. interests in political and economic stabilization in a region that is rapidly falling apart.
O'Grady concludes saying that Chilean democracy should be treated with the respect it deserves. Absolutely.
Without a U.S.-Chile free trade agreement, Chilean modernization and openness would probably survive. But the rest of the region, which is already listing left toward renewed nationalist populism, could read the failure of the deal as a sign of U.S. arrogance and indifference...
Making good on its promise to let Chile into the U.s. free trade club is a necessary first step in salvaging U.S. leadership in the region. As it stands now Latins are more likely to complain about U.S. hypocrisy--be it on trade or narcotics use--than to defend American values, even though they instinctively prefer economic liberalism. Preaching open markets to poor countries while practicing protectionism in Washington has not only energized anti-American populists. It has hurt the advocates of economic freedom who are fighting the liberalization battle on the ground.
By any measure Chile has been badly treated by the U.S. It's strong rule of law, secure property-rights protection, impressive trade openness and stable democracy long ago qualified it as a free-trade partner with the U.S....
Chile may have been jilted but it did not stay home spilling tears over its fickle suitor. Instead it went ahead with its own free trade agenda, while keeping open the possibility of a U.S. deal. This has turned out to be a brilliant strategy and one that would surely serve another nations in Latin America.
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Default II: As noted yesterday, Argentina has defaulted on repayment of the principal of a loan from the World Bank. According to the Economist,
This is a high-risk strategy for a country still reeling from the catastrophic economic collapse it experienced at the turn of the year. Argentina has now, in effect, cut itself off from its last source of outside financing. The government defaulted on its debts to the private sector last December—at around $140 billion, that made it the biggest default in history. IMF disbursements have also been suspended for ten months as negotiations on a new IMF programme have dragged on.Will this second default make negotiations with the IMF more difficult? Not necessarily, says the magazine:
And yet the Fund’s response to the default announcement was intriguing. It did not comment directly on Argentina’s decision. Instead, a statement said that progress had been made in the latest round of negotiations between Argentina and the IMF, but that further issues needed to be resolved. It also referred to the need to seek political consensus for what had already been agreed.
In fact, it is beginning to appear as if Argentine authorities believe they have upper hand in their negotiations with the IMF. The reason for their newfound confidence is the existence of indications that the country's economic decline has been halted, if not yet reversed. A report by the Centro de Investigaciones en Finanzas of the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella (UTDT), summarized in La Nacion, measures the turnaround. According to the center, an index of leading indicators and a consumer confidence index both indicate that the country's four-year-long recession has ended.
But in a sign that the IMF wants to give Argentina some breathing space, the statement also revealed that a deadline of November 22nd for payments due to the Fund would be extended. This apparently conciliatory gesture suggests that the IMF wants to reach a deal if at all possible.
In these elaborately choreographed negotiations, it is not just the Argentines who have much at stake. Even for an organisation like the IMF, used to playing the role of international scapegoat, the deadlock with Argentina is uncomfortable. It cannot afford to pour more money down a black hole: extending a loan without having properly sown up a reform programme would be politically disastrous for the IMF. Letting Argentina go further along the road to full-scale default with the multilateral institutions would not be much better.
According to these studies, in October, after five months of increases in anticipated economic activity, a 94.5 per cent probability of breaking the tendency to recession is registered.
Según esa casa de estudios, en octubre, tras cinco meses de subas en el anticipador de actividad económica, se registró un 94,5 por ciento de probabilidades de quiebre de la tendencia recesiva.However, the studies also indicate that the level of economic activity, though apparently bottoming out, is well below the level recorded last year.
President Eduardo Duhalde and his allies need to restrain their joy. Argentina's people undoubtedly feel relieved that economic decline has ceased--for now. But unless Argentines begin to see real improvement, their relief will quickly be replaced with concern and anger. Renewed growth is not inevitable, even after a decline on the scale of Argentina's. Also possible is that Argentina has only achieved stability at a much lower economic level. If Argentina is to grow, much less to realize its potential, it needs to reform, especially to protect property and eliminate arbitrary government decision-making, which has serveed only the interests of the political class and politically connected. Debt repudiation is not a good start.
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New poll: Today's El Universal has the results of a new Datanálisis poll of Venezuelans. The results of the poll are not good for President Hugo Chávez.
According to the poll:
* By more than two-to-one, Venezuelans view negatively President Hugo Chávez's performance in office.
* If, as the opposition wants, a consultative referendum is held on the question of whether Hugo Chávez ought to continue as President or leave the Miraflores Palace, voters would vote for his departure by a 66.1 to 33.9 per cent margin.
* If elections were held tomorrow, the poll asks, and the candidates were Hugo Chávez and Enrique Mendoza, Chávez would lose to Mendoza, by 46.4 to 29.6 per cent, with 18.4 per cent voting for neither and undecided. Mendoza is the governor of the state of Miranda and leader in the Primero Justicia party. The difference between the two-thirds who would vote Chávez out and the less than half who would vote Mendoza in is a measure of Venezuelans' continuing alienation from the country's entire leadership strata.
* Venezuelans are also unhappy with the performance of other public officials, according to the poll. Majorities ranging from 55 per cent to 64 per cent support the resignation of National Assembly, Electoral Commission, Supreme Court and Attorney General, among others.
* Although Chávez is most strongly supported by the poorest elements in the Venezualan population, he no longer has majority support in any of the five segments (estratos) of the population into which respondents are divided. In the upper- and middle-income groupings (Estratos A,B, and C) Chávez has about 20 per cent support. In Estrato D, he has 31 per cent support, and in Estrato E, those "who find themselves in a condition of extremity" ("la que se encuentra en estado extremo"), he is supported by 39 per cent.
* The country's increasing polarization--though deliberately fostered by Chávez--appears to favor the opposition. Fully 55 per cent of respondents can be classified as radical anti-Chávez (Antichavismo radical); 19 per cent can be classified as radical pro-Chávez (Chavismo radical). Radical (as opposed to moderate) opponents of Chávez are "those that are disposed to demonstrate and march, including paralizing economic activity, as means of pressing for the departure of Chávez from his chair in Miraflores" ("aquellos que están dispuestos a manifestar y marchar, e incluso paralizar sus actividades económicas como medidas de presión por la salida de Chávez de la silla de Miraflores").Luis Vicente León, director of Datanálisis, believes the results of his company's poll point toward the outcome of the current Venezuelan struggle:
León maintaines that the end of the story is already written, "although the road will not be easy. Chávez will end by leaving, with little room for doubt, since with such rejection, it is impossible to perpetuate a stay in power."
León sostiene que el final de la historia ya está escrito, "aunque el camino no será fácil. Chávez terminará saliendo, sin lugar a dudas, pues con tal rechazo, es imposible perpetuar una permanencia en el poder".El Universal has two charts summarizing the poll's most important results, here and here.
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Thursday, November 14, 2002
Oil employees' demonstrating: Employees of the Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), demonstrating against the company's politicization, have emerged as key players in Venezuela's continuing political drama, says the Chicago Tribune's foreign correspondent Gary Marx.
So far, the protests at Petroleos de Venezuela, known by its Spanish acronym PDVSA, remain limited to a small number of white-collar workers.
But the rumblings at PDVSA could spell big trouble for Chavez if they spread to the oil fields that provide 80 percent of Venezuela's export earnings. A strike by the company's management in mid-April sparked last spring's failed coup against Chavez.
"PDVSA is a critical factor in terms of what happens to Chavez," said Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank. "If PDVSA joins the strike, that could signal a rapid deterioration of the situation. Chavez relies on oil to sustain himself."
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Default: Argentina has defaulted on an $805 million World Bank loan repayment, reports Bloomberg.com. The government chose to default rather than reduce its foreign currency reserves.
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Justice targets...II: Not everyone is pleased that the U.S. Justice Department has begun indicting members of Colombia's illegal armies, reports El Tiempo. Who's not happy? The usual suspects:
"They are closing all the doors of negotiation," says León Valencia, political analyst and ex-militant of the ELN. "It is converting the process more into one of judging the guerilla and it is reducing the space for politics," he added.
"Están cerrando todas las puertas de negociación", dijo León Valencia, analista político y ex militante del Eln. "Se está convirtiendo en un proceso más de judicialización de la guerrilla y se le quita espacio a lo político", añadió.The National Liberation Army of Colombia (Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Colombia) is one of three illegal armies infesting Colombia.
For Carlos Lozano, director of the leftwing weekly Voice, the announcement of yesterday, "rarifies the internal political climate, shows the pressure of the U.S. toward a solution by war and not by peace."
Para Carlos Lozano, director del semanario de izquierda Voz, el anuncio de ayer, "enrarece el clima político interno, se muestra la presión de E.U. para que haya una salida de guerra y no de paz".
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Analysis, en inglés:
1. The Economist has a review of the current status of Argentina's politics. The article focuses on the internal troubles of the Partido Justicialista, the Peronist party.
2. The World Press Review, of September 17, has a (now slightly dated) review of Argentina's upcoming presidential election.
3. Yahoo! News - AP has a profile of candidate Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, the populist Peronist who was president for a week last December, just long enough default on Argentina's international debt, to the cheers of the National Assembly. According to the article, a recent poll published, in La Nacion shows Rodriguez Saa seading with 18 per cent, followed by former President Carlos Menem at 16 per cent. Four others candidates trailed well behind.
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Bishop kidnapped II: The kidnapped Bishop of the City of Zipaquirá "is not casheable" ("no es canjeable"), the Colombian Catholic Church has decided, according to El Tiempo.
"The opinion of the episcopacy, not only with respect to the Bishop of Zipaquirá, but with all the kidnapped, is that life and liberty cannot be bought, nor sold and as a result cannot be the subject of exchange or negotiation. On the contrary, they must be respected and defended," he (spokesman Iván Marín) said.
"La opinión del Episcopado, no solo con respecto al obispo de Zipaquirá, sino con todos los secuestrados, es que la vida y la libertad ni se compra, ni se vende y por consiguiente ni se cambia, ni se negocia. Por el contrario, se respetan y se defienden", dijo.El Tiempo has a photo of a demostration demanding the bishop's release, here.
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U.S. justice targets Colombian combatants: The United States Justice Department has indicted Colombian guerilla leader Jorge Briceúo SuÍrez on charges of drug trafficking and kidnapping. Briceño Suárez (El Tiempo has a photo of him, here) is the No.2 man in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The primary charge against him, reports El Tiempo, is conspiracy to kidnap two Americans Jeff Shaffer and Earl Goen, who worked in the Venezuelan oil industry. He is also charged with conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
In the view of the Miami Herald,
The charges marked the latest sign that the Bush administration is extending the reach of U.S. justice to combat three outlaw groups in the embattled South American nation branded by Washington as terrorist organizations.U.S. prosecutors recently broke up an arms-for-cocaine deal organized by Colombia's right-wing paramilitary army (the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC) and indicted members of a kidnapping ring. Earlier indictments have targeted other left-wing guerrillas, arms merchants and the leader of the AUC.
The barrage of U.S. charges marks a significant change in Colombian policy, the Herald says:
The barrage of recent U.S. indictments coincides with dramatic shifts in Colombia on the policy of sending suspected criminals, once captured, to the United States for trial.
Key to the success of this strategy is evenhandedness, the willingness to pursue members all three illegal armies, without regard to stated ideology. And as always, a solution may raise new problems, in this case creating a precedent for the indictment of Americans in foreign courts.
A decade ago, angry drug barons mounted a bombing campaign to avoid U.S. jails. Their slogan: ``Better a grave in Colombia than a jail in the U.S.''
From the late 1980s until 1997, Colombia's Constitution banned extraditions. But since 1999, Colombians -- weary of lawlessness and losing faith in their own justice system -- have sent at least 64 suspected criminals to stand trial in the United States.
The cooperation coincides with an evolving view in the Bush administration that many of Colombia's woes are the result of lawlessness -- and can be dealt with through prosecutions.
''They are developing some degree of a policy that goes toward saying that much of this violence is really criminal,'' said Phillip McLean, a former U.S. diplomat in Colombia and now a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
According to a second report in El Tiempo the government intends to extradite Briceño Suárez to the U.S., upon his capture.
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Wednesday, November 13, 2002
1. The army is now patroling the streets of Caracas in conjunction with loca police, reports El Universal. The order is controversial, El Nacional reports. The paper quotes the mayor of Baruta, Henrique Capriles Radonsky, to the effect that such joint patrols are appropriate only in case of the activation of Plan Ávila, the plan to protect government buildings against insurrection. It was President Hugo Chávez's activation of Plan Ávila that led to the military rebellion in April. Other mayors agreed. The mayor El Hatillo, Alfredo Catalán, said
he will not recognize these instructions since "we would only coordinate patrolling with the military in case of a declaration of a state of exception." Catalán affirmed that several soldiers of the army already "visited" the headquarters of the Hatillo police.
desconocerá estas instrucciones pues "solo coordinaríamos un patrullaje con militares en caso de declararse un estado de excepción". Catalán aseguró que varios efectivos del Ejército ya "visitaron" la sede de PoliHatillo.The mayor of Chacao, Leopoldo López, charged that the joint patrolling was an attempt by the national government to militarize the city "in frank violation of the Constitution and without any justification" ("en franca violación a la Constitución y sin justificación alguna").
Yahoo! News has a photo, here.
2. Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña announced that he will be taking legal action against President Hugo Chávez, who Peña believes is responsible for attacks by Bolivarian Circles (see below). According to El Universal, Peña
Indicated that the national leader pressed the violent groups to attack the Metropolitan Mayor's office and loaned the facilities of the Miraflores Palace (the seat of government) for their meetings.
"I am going to demand civilly that he respond for these damages and criminally for the bloody acts that were produced there," he said in a Unión Radio interview.
Señaló que el mandatario nacional insta a los grupos violentos a atacar la Alcaldía Metropolitana y presta las instalaciones del Palacio de Miraflores para sus reuniones.
3. Meanwhile, the protest in the Plaza Francia de Altamira continues. High-ranking officers of the military have been camped there in what they call "legitimate disobedience" against the Chávez government. The officers entered the plaze in the wake of the most recent nationwide lockout/strike, October 21. El Nacional has a report.
"Yo lo voy a demandar civilmente para que responda por esos daños y penalmente por los hechos de sangre que allí se produjeron", dijo en entrevista a Unión Radio.
4. Also continuing are protests by employees of the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA). However, according to El Universal's report, leaders of the protest say oil company workers will not necessarily join the next national lockout/strike.
"We are not going to join a stoppage because others announced it. If they carry us to the precipice, then it will be discussed among the workers, as citizens, but we are not going to yield to an announcement because there (Altamira) they say to," commented (Juan) Fernández (president of the oil workers organization).
"No nos vamos a sumar a un paro porque otros lo anuncien. Si nos llevan al precipicio, pues se discutirá entre los trabajadores, como ciudadanos, pero no nos vamos a plegar a un anuncio porque allá (Altamira) lo digan", comentó Fernández.Yahoo! News - AP has an English language update on the situation in Venezuela.
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Deal?: Argentine officials say an agreement with the International Monetary Fund may be near. According to La Nacion:
On his arrival at the headquarters of the IMF, the finance secretary, Guillermo Nielson, declared to reporters that "there are still matters pending" in order to arrive at an accord with the international organisation, and indicated that "one can see the glass as half empty or half full; we see it half full.
Al llegar a la sede del FMI, el secretario de Finanzas, Guillermo Nielsen, declaró a los periodistas que "aún hay asuntos pendientes" para llegar a un acuerdo con el organismo internacional, y señaló que "se puede ver el vaso medio vacío o medio lleno; nosotros lo vemos medio lleno".They have been saying the same thing since January. Now, however, default on an IMF loan is imminent and Argentine officials have said they will not make a payment with reserves. So, the question is: who fears default more, Argentina or the IMF?
Between now and the end of next year, $18 billion in international lending agency loan repayments are due.
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Bishop kidnapped: Monsignor Jorge Enrique Jiménez, bishop of the Colombian city of Zipaquirá and president of the Latin American conference of bishops, has been kidnapped, apparently by communist guerillas of the FARC. El Tiempo reports that the army is searching for Jiménez and that a reward of 100 million pesos ($38,000) has been offered for information leading to his return. The kidnapping has been condemned worldwide. Reuters has an English-language report.
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Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Lina Ron: Yahoo! News has a photo of the infamous (but attractive) Bolivarian street-gang leader Lina Ron, here.
Ron's activties have been noted in El Sur,here and here.
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Oil company employees' demonstrate: Conflict seems to be stirring anew at the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA). The issue is a decision by company officials to permit workers who support Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to use the company's videoconferencing facilities to organize and hold meetings. Other workers are demonstrating for the removal of Chávez crony Gustavo Pérez Issa, director of protection, control and loss. According to El Universal, the demonstrators "evoke the images of the beginning of the conflict of March-April in the state oil company" ("evocan las imágenes de los inicios del conflicto de marzo-abril en la estatal petrolera"). PDVSA workers and managers have played little part subsequent anti-Chávez protests, because many of the specific demands they made at the time were met.
Yahoo! News has one photo from the oil workers protest, here.
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Bolivarian Circles run riot: One person was killed and 28 hurt when rioters clashed with the Metropolitan Police and the National Guard in Caracas. El Nacional and El Universal have reports.
According to El Universal pro-Chávez demonstrators closed off access to the offices of Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña (a Chávez opponent). Demonstrators threw rocks and bottles at police, who responded with tear gas. (El Nacional's report indicates that 13 of the injured had bullet wounds.) The demonstration began in the morning and continued throughout the day, seemingly rising at different points in the center of the city, which suggests coordination.
One bright spot (as reported in Bloomberg.com: The OAS's man on the scene, César Gaviria, in Caracas to mediate betweent he government and opposition, seems to have an idea of the importance of what is going on.
The rioting poses a new obstacle to efforts by Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, to broker talks to end the political stalemate that began with an attempted coup against Chavez in April. Talks between the government and opposition began Friday and resumed this afternoon.
Indeed, creating an "atmosphere of 'impunity'" is one thing those behind the Bolivarian attackers intended. The other is to isolate the Metropolitan Police.
"What happens outside the negotiations affects the negotiations," Gaviria said at a press conference. He called on the government to investigate the disturbances, while warning that an atmosphere of "impunity" was being sowed by the failure to stop violent confrontations.
Yahoo! News has photos, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
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Thursday, November 07, 2002
To pay or not to pay...: It is nearly a year since former President (for two weeks) Adolfo Rodríguez Saa defaulted on private foreign debt. Ever since, the government of President Eduardo Duhalde and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been negotiating for IMF aid. Always, the deal has been just about a month away.
Pending a deal that would both roll over old IMF and World Bank loans and provide new credits, Argentina has used reserves to keep current with IMF and World Bank loans. Now, with new assistance predicated on reforms the government is unable to accept, the government is beginning to question the value of a deal that comes with strings but no new money, reports the Wall Street Journal (International section, no link).
It is unclear to many Argentines what they have to gain from an IMF deal that doesn't include new money. More than half the population now lives in poverty, and many households are scraping by on about $43 a month administered by theDuhalde government. "For Argentina, (defaulting on multilateral loans) ios not the end of the world," said Mr. (Sergio) Berensztein, the political-science professor>
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Referendum battle: Opposition leaders have obtained two million signatures to force a referendum on the continued tenure of President Hugo Chávez. He and his supporters appear unlikely to quietly accept an electoral test, however.
On Monday, reports Yahoo News! AP, rock-throwing pro-Chávez demonstrators attempted to prevent an opposition march to the national elections council offices to deliver their petitions. Police used tear gas to beat back the chavista demonstrators who "detonated powerful fireworks," built and set fire to roadblocks and tried to highjack a bus to prevent the opposition marchers from reaching their goal. While the vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel denounced the pro-Chávez rioting, the government made no attempt to reinforce the metropolitan police with national guard troops. A Wednesday Fox News' report on the mele says at least 17 people were hurt by rubber bullets and another 60 injured by rocks or tear gas. The rioters were unable to prevent delivery of the petition, which is now being examined by the electoral commission.
Photos, from Yahoo! News, are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
As his supporters are mobilizing hit the streets, Chávez is going to court. According to BBC News, Chávez has asked Venezuela's supreme court to remove the members of the national electoral council. Such a decision would, if nothing else, delay a referendum, but preventing verification of the opposition petition and organization of a referendum while the council was re-organized.
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Saturday, November 02, 2002
Update: El Nacional reports that the general secretary of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela union, Manuel Cova, threatens a national strike of indefinite duration, if the supreme court rules against holding a referendum on Chávez's continuation in office. In the same story, the paper also reports that General Enrique Medina Gómez, leader of the group of high-ranking officers in the Plaza Altamira, believes that "the situation is already mature for the convening of a national strike" ("ya la situación está madura para que se convoque al paro nacional").
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Friday, November 01, 2002
Update: The military officers engaged in what they call "legitimate disobedience" under Venezuela's constitution are ready to support a national strike, reports El Nacional.
Also as reported in El Nacional, the National Guard used tear gas to break up a demonstration in front of the Supreme court. The demonstrators were members of families of those killed by snipers, widely believed to be from pro-Chávez organizations and local governments. The guard intervened when the demonstrators were confronted by pro-Chávez demonstrators.
El Universal reports that President Hugo Chávez has declared himself ready to pardon the dissident officers.
"We would be speaking of an amnesty law that would have to be approved by the National Assembly. If this subject is considered with the compromise of this group of military men taking refuge in constitution and the laws, I believe it would be valid," he predicted.
"We don't have any intention of sinking this group of military men in prison from the generals of division to soldiers," he explained.
"Estaríamos hablando de una Ley de Amnistía, que como ley debería aprobarse por la Asamblea Nacional. Si ese tema se plantea con el compromiso de ese grupo de militares de acogerse a la Constitución y a las leyes, yo creo que sería válida", anticipó.
"No tenemos ninguna intención de que se hunda en prisión este grupo de militares desde generales de división hasta soldados", explicó.
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Elections: Electons for Argentina's Senate have now been moved up to the same day as the presidential election, reports Bloomberg.com , March 30. The Peronists have also settled on January 19 as their primary day; this is the date the Peronist President Eduardo Duhalde wanted, not the date former Peronist President Carlos Menem wanted. Duhalde is not running.
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