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Local News from Venezuela

By Sol Maria Castro,

Signature drive against President Chávez and 33 pro-government legislators ends today.

With petition forms exhausted since Saturday in most of the 2,482 centers, and the necessary number of signatures collected the very first day, the signature collection drive to petition a recall referendum of President Hugo Chávez’s mandate and 33 pro-government lawmakers ends this evening at 6 pm. The opposition umbrella group Democratic Coordinator has launched the “Galloping Operation” to transport people to centers which still have forms available, from arranged points of departure. Problems reported included performance by troops in some centers in Lara and Zulia State, delay in receiving material in 23 centers, security incidents in 16 centers, including violent acts, and 19 centers with very few signers due to location. For the daily reports by the Watchers’ Net, please visit: 2.4 million signatures are needed to activate the revoking referendum early next year. Official results won't be known until January.

Opposition will be respectful of norms and will not announce numbers.

Representatives from the opposition umbrella group Democratic Coordinator indicated they will not violate the norms established by the National Electoral Council announcing the number of signatures collected so far, but “the images are eloquent.” Off the record, it is known that the number of signatures collected until Sunday ranges around the 4.9 million figure, almost double the number needed to activate the referendum.

Government shut down private airports around Caracas

For the first time in 32 years during an electoral process, the two private airports near Caracas, Metropolitano and Caracas were ordered shut by the Minister of Infrastructure, Disodado Cabello, following instructions from the Minister of Defense. The civilian air controllers in both airports located in Charallave were asked to leave the premises Sunday morning, and replaced by military personnel who shut down the airports until Monday at midnight. The Minister of Defense indicated he had given the order as a precaution measure since “in the past, from helicopters in flight, grenades were dropped against public demonstrations, and we want to prevent this from happening during the signature collection drive.” It is unknown when those incidents referred by the Minister happened as they have never been reported. On Sunday, the first boxes with forms collected in the different centers nationwide would be arriving to Caracas by air to these airports. In face of the shut-down, the National Electoral Council authorized the presence of international observers from the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, and two CNE officials at the Maiquetía Airport to monitor the arrival and transportation of the first boxes with signatures from the different centers in the countryside.

OAS Secretary General downplays President Chávez’s fraud accusations

During a news conference late on Sunday, César Gaviria, Organization of American States Secretary General, said the most important thing is that the system has worked, and that Venezuelans willing to sign recall petitions have been able to do so. He underlined that disturbing incidents that have been reported in several regions of the country are normal, and claimed that such "incidents are not going to affect the legitimacy of the process." Gaviria had earlier met with the opposition representatives to the Liaison Commission of the Negotiation and Agreement Table. During this meeting, he was informed about some decisions the Venezuelan government adopted during the weekend (shut down of border and airports), and the calls to violence made by certain government leaders. As to their denounces, he believed that both President Chávez and the leaders of ruling party MVR who have described the collection of signatures as a fraud are to file their complaints with the National Electoral Council (CNE). “I would not want to imagine that other things are being considered,” he said, adding the process of signature collection “has been democratic and clean as to what has been observed by OAS and the Carter Center.”

Venezuelans abroad collected signatures in 34 countries

Venezuelans abroad, prevented from signing a petition to revoke President Hugo Chávez’s mandate formally, still collected signatures in over 136 cities and locations worldwide from Bogotá, Colombia to Sydney, Australia, including cities in four continents. Signatures which Venezuelans refuse to call ‘symbolic’ will be used to protest the discrimination against them and to demand their rights be taken into account.

AN President calls pro-government people to take to the streets

Francisco Ameliach, president of the National Assembly, made a call late Sunday evening to all the Bolivarian forces that support President Chávez to take to the streets and fight the fraud. “The people have started to become restless and are coming down,” expressed Ameliach who congratulated the Armed Forces for being aware of the opposition’s contempt towards them, urging them to be vigilant in the centers. Later, MVR legislator William Lara convoked people to gather outside the presidential palace of Miraflores at 6 pm today in yet another violation of CNE Norms.

Only signatures to revoke 13 legislators have been submitted to CNE by pro-government groups

Alleging “logistic details” failure to Xerox all forms, and a mistrust of CNE personnel, the Ayacucho Command did not submit the signatures collected on Thursday as promised for a third time, but has been submitting them since Friday in small groups instead, only one on Friday (29,223 signatures against Nueva Esparta Luis Longart), eight on Saturday (806.776 signatures against Aragua Alberto Jordán, Carlos Tablante, Leopoldo Puchi and Alejandro Armas; Miranda Carlos Ocariz, and Luis Salas; Bolívar Nelson Rampersad, and Zulia Julio Montoya), and four on Sunday (against Aragua Miguel Angel Moyetones, and Rafael Marín; Miranda Leopoldo Martínez, and Trujillo, Conrado Pérez). MVR Nicolás Maduro announced Friday it would be December 6 when they will finish submitting the forms when they will gather “two million people” on Bolivar Avenue in a presentation of Cuban protest singer Silvio Rodríguez. (NB: Our readers should be aware that total capacity for Bolivar Avenue is estimated at 120,000 packing lanes and sidewalks).

Avila Cross lit today

Today at 4 pm, the 37 meter tall Avila Cross, the symbol that has marked the beginning of the Christmas season for 40 years in Caracas will be ignited by five children whose parents work at the metropolitan electricity company. The Cross will remain lit until January 6, 2004. The Cross was an initiative of an engineer hired by Electricidad de Caracas in the 40s, Ottomar Pfersdorff to awaken the Christmas spirit and feelings of peace and union among caraqueños.

No Aló Presidente this Sunday

There was no weekly radio and television presidential show this Sunday. Instead, the president attended a popular market deployed in a main artery downtown Caracas, Bolivar Avenue, and from there, he stated his knowledge that the opposition was preparing a ‘mega fraud’ with the signatures collected; “something neither the government nor the people will accept”. President Chávez insisted each signature and fingerprint must be checked, and added he had toured several collection centers this Sunday and found them empty, predicting a total failure. The President asked his followers to be ready for “the active defense and knee on the ground of the revolution” and to avoid falling into the opposition’s provocations.


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