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Venezuela: The dates for the collection of signatures are upon us

By Gustavo Coronel

(21.11.03) - As the days for the collection of signatures to request revoking referenda for National Assembly members and the President grow nearer, an expectant mood has descended upon the nation. After so many months of back and forth, of verbal fencing and verbal violence. After so many visits by international observers and civic groups. After all the maneuvers by the government to block or, at least, delay the moment of truth. As the first moments of arrogant denial from the president have given way to the inevitability of the process, there is solemnity in the air. The country is getting ready to speak its will.

During the last two months, public spending by the government has increased more than 27%, most of it in social handouts and in the grandiose programs which promise poor Venezuelans to make them literate and university graduates in no time flat. This year the Central Bank has handed the Chavez government more than 2.1 billion bolivares, Spanish billions, from profits on exchange rate differentials. This is about $1 billion, a bundle of money flooding revolutionary circles, making instant millionaires by the minute, no questions asked, as long as they buy the required amount of followers for the process. The level of corruption unleashed by these maneuvers is only comparable to the Lusinchi presidential term, when a very corrupt exchange control program was put in place. This is the sad story of the “revolution”, a political process which is ending in the same note of ineptness and corruption as those of the worst preceding governments.

But today the Venezuelan people are close to speaking out. Only two main outcomes are likely: one, the people want the President to stay. The other, the people want the President to go. If the process is reasonably transparent, if there are no last minute interventions that render the process murky or without credibility, we all should abide by its results. I have to say, every reader knows this anyway, that I consider the term of President Chavez one of the worst things that could have happened to my country. I have given my reasons many times before, so that there is no need to repeat them here. I am not alone in my perception, which seems to be supported by statistical data and by the misery seen around the country. However, I am not totally sure that I am right. Is there a country I have not seen? Are there a people I have failed to recognize? Have I been wrong all along in my beliefs that people are not to be given handouts but the proper tools to become citizens?

The coming referendum will not be about the color of Chavez’s skin or about his grotesque mannerisms or his immature idolatry of Fidel Castro. It will be about the state of the nation, about competing visions of the Venezuelan future. If I am convinced that Chavez is taking us to oblivion and that we are already half way there, I will not hesitate in asking for his accelerated removal from his job. If I am satisfied that Venezuela under Chavez is progressing, that more people are happy and working, that more Venezuelans feel safe walking the streets at night, that all segments of society are participating in the overall development of the nation, I will certainly act to keep Chavez in the presidency. It is as simple as that. We are getting very near to decide what kind of country we want. The majority will win but, if we are really democratic, we will have to recognize that there is another segment of our society that feels and thinks differently. It is our duty to include this segment in the decision-making mechanisms, which will shape the future of our country. Extremist stupidities occur when the avenues of participation are closed to important segments of society. Chavez was the end result of many of these stupidities. Now that we are in the threshold of ousting Chavez, please remember what brought him to the surface.

Let us act, as citizens, in a way that the bogeyman becomes unnecessary. Let the people speak freely…

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