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Chavez' dilemma: "To feed or not to feed!"

By Alexandra Beech,

As the petition drive for a recall referendum against President Chavez draws near, the government-controlled electoral authorities are busy setting roadblocks towards the success of the petition. The latest are strict rules concerning advertising. In a draconian measure not even used by Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988, the rules stipulate that registered political organizations can only televise commercials concerning the referendum for two minutes per day. That’s 120 seconds. These same organizations can only broadcast radio commercials for five minutes per day. That’s 300 seconds. And they can only advertise on half a page in newspapers.

If Chavez is so certain that he will win the referendum, why so many strict controls? Why can’t Venezuelans abroad sign? If most Venezuelans support him, as he claims, would television commercials hypnotize them to sign petitions against his government?

A reliable source with close government contacts informed me that according to internal government figures, the country is split in three: 30% firmly support Chavez, 30% firmly oppose him, and 40% are in the middle. Thus, Chavez has decided to shift his focus towards the center, appealing to the middle class that vehemently rejects him. He is also trying to fortify a new business class while continuing to fight the media to maintain support among his core base.

Government insiders also acknowledge that, “to defend the revolution”, three airplanes are arriving in Venezuela every day from Cuba on Cuba’s commercial line, Cubana de Aviación, each carrying approximately 250 Cubans. The total number of Cubans who have arrived recently don’t exceed 25,000, they say.

To justify heightened “security” around the signature drive, government authorities claim that they are concerned that the opposition is planning violence during those days. They claim that plans are underway by the opposition to attack senior government officials during the petition drive, and that their “intelligence” indicates an assassination attempt against Chavez four days prior to the signature drive. The assassination attempt would cancel the petition drive, so that that the opposition “can’t prove their inability…to collect them.” Moreover, government officials are certain that the opposition will not collect the 2.4 million signatures to convoke the referendum.

Needless to say, Chavez and his government are desperately trying to remain in power. Why would the opposition plan violence when all it has been demanding all along is a right for the referendum? In a prior attempt, it collected enough signatures for the referendum with no incidents. Why would it plan violence now when it is so close to achieving a democratic, constitutional, and electoral solution to the grave crisis affecting ALL Venezuelans?

A Venezuelan friend says that many people are afraid to sign the petitions, since their signatures and personal information will be made public, as government supporters have done in the past. (Congressman Luis Tascon published a prior petition list on his website!) As I’ve written before, the government has already fired government workers who participated in other petition drives, and recently Chavez threatened by saying that all names, addresses, and fingerprints would be “recorded for history.”

However, the same people who are afraid to sign the petitions would sign the referendum, if it is convoked, because the referendum is a “secret vote”.

Despite government efforts to gain support abroad through the distribution of pro-Chavez propaganda, such as the movie that consulates are promoting around the world, only Venezuelans will decide Chavez’s fate. While Chavez has spent plenty of dollars buying support, his government failed to deliver the basics. Eventually, hunger wins over admiration. Dow Jones reports that “ Venezuelans consumed 16% less food during the first nine months of this year compared to the same period of 2002, El Universal newspaper reported Wednesday.” With an economy that failed completely, dropping 9% in 2002 and 13% in 2003, and soaring unemployment, Venezuelans are no longer invested in the revolution, which is really a devolution of the worst Latin American kind. In a recent television interview, a destitute woman claimed: “Chavez said he was going to end poverty. And he has, he has ended it by killing the poor.” Ill-conceived social programs and Cubans won’t bring them back to life.


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