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Hugo Chávez will have to go; no matter the tricks he tries

By Gustavo Coronel

February 26, 2004 - In 2003, Venezuelans went to sign spontaneously to ask for a presidential referendum to oust Hugo Chávez from the presidency. The National Electoral Council invalidated this massive showing of popular will, on the basis that it had come too early, that it should have waited until the precise midterm of the presidential period . . . OK. . . . This wonderful example of true democracy in action was invalidated due to technicalities. The Venezuelan people got ready to sign again, this time in accordance with very strict rules and limitations imposed by the newly designed Board of the National Electoral Council, in which three of the members were government followers although one, Mr. Francisco Carrasquero, was said to be an honorable man. The second signing took place in late 2003 and, some weeks later, the opposition delivered to the national Electoral Council some 3.4 million signatures, which compared with the 2.4 million signatures required. These signatures were collected during 4 full days, in more than 1,200 collection centers, in addition to a process of signature collection by itinerant, duly authorized agents, in hospitals, prisons and places where the people were confined. The National Electoral Council had a legal deadline to respond to this process. But, after more than a three months of unjustified delays, the “chavista” members of the Board of the National Electoral Council, have come to a decision which is so dishonest, so openly fraudulent, that the Venezuelan people are indignant about it. What have they done? Let me try to explain to our international readers what has happened:

The Venezuelan people wanting to ask for a referendum against President Chávez approached a long table in which there were seven to ten volunteers representing both the opposition and the government. In addition, around the table there were members of the armed forces, let us call them neutral, and national and international observers. Quite a crowd. The person signing approached the table and was given the choice to fill in his/her name and identity card number in the empty form or, as it has always been done for the last 50 years of electoral events in Venezuela, supply this information to the volunteers in the table and, then, sign his, her name and put his, her fingerprint next to it. Our beloved philologist Pedro Grases and his wife, both in their nineties, chose to have their names and ID numbers filled in by their daughter but they duly signed and placed their fingerprints. Many not so senior did as well, following the traditional way of doing this in Venezuela, a country that has already had a long tradition of voting. There was no rule against this type of procedure at the time of the event. This is perfectly well documented. The National Electoral Council did not prohibit the assistance of the volunteers at the table to fill in the basic personal data, since what was truly personal, was the signature and the fingerprint. . . . But, what has happened now? the National Electoral Council, in a 3 to 2 vote, with the vote of the three Chávez followers, have decided that all signatures which show a similar calligraphy in the process of filling in the personal data are subject to question. This means that all people who properly signed their own names but whose personal data were filled out at the collection center have their signatures in doubt. The National Electoral Council now orders all these people, about one million of them, to sign again! I have to emphasize the fact that this rule is being manufactured by the National Electoral Council AFTER the signature collection has been completed. In short, they are requesting one million Venezuelans to sign, for a third time! to ask for a referendum to oust President Chávez from power. I, and millions of other Venezuelans, consider this unacceptable. To force Mr. Pedro Grases and his wife to sign again is intolerable. I mention this respected couple just as an example. But, all over Venezuela, millions are now being requested to prove that they are innocent, to prove, once more, that they did sign. The National Electoral Council pretends to reverse the burden of proof. In all democratic societies you are innocent until you are proven to be guilty. But in the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, you have to prove again and again that you are who you say you are and that you did what you claim you did.

Therefore, this is unacceptable. If he insists in this stupid act of raw power, Chávez is going to have to face a civil rebellion which will end in thousands of deaths, mostly ours, since he has bought the top military commanders of the Venezuelan army and has a paramilitary force made up of thousands of armed Cuban and Venezuelan thugs. The OAS and the Carter Center proposal about spot, statistically valid checks on these “assisted” forms, is acceptable to the Venezuelan opposition. This would be a proposal that could save much blood in our country. What is not acceptable to the Venezuelan opposition is a new, third, signature collection process, after the wonderful civic efforts of early 2003 and of November and December 2003. This would be unfair and dishonest. We are fed up . . . we will not be run over. I ask the international community to lend us their support. I am not a political leader. I have no groups under my command. I am a single Venezuelan citizen protesting against the grotesque coup being attempted today in our country by Hugo Chávez, a throwback to the 19th century era of the caudillos.

A man like Hugo Chávez does not deserve the blood of one single Venezuelan. . .

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