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Venezuela: COFAVIC has received over 50 cases of violations of human rights.

By Sol Maria Castro,

The executive director of human rights NGO COFAVIC, Liliana Ortega, expressed her concern about the clearly "disproportionate use" of force by the security bodies in the recent protests occurred in Venezuela and the impunity surrounding these events. Ortega told a local radio station that COFAVIC has received at least 50 reports of murder, torture and unjustified detentions. "These events reveal a significant deterioration of the country's democratic principles (and) the slim possibility of an independent investigation" due to the institutional weakness of the Attorney General's Office and the Judicial Power, she said.

· EU expresses concern on the CNE decision.

The European Union shared on Thursday the concerns expressed by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center regarding the enforcement by the National Electoral Council of criteria for validation of signatures supporting a presidential recall vote petition and their eventual consequences on the outcome of the process. The EU also regretted the climate of violence in Venezuela and urged the involved parties to do their best effort to find a constitutional, democratic, peaceful and electoral solution to the crisis. "The European Union recalls its previous declaration of February 23, 2004, and reiterates its full support to the important statement by the OAS and the Carter Center missions in Venezuela in their joint communiqué of March 2, 2004," said the EU.

· Spain’s President asks for respect to the rules of democracy in Venezuela.

During a joint press conference with the president of Guatemala, Oscar Berger, the President of the Spanish government, José María Aznar, expressed his concern on the situation in Venezuela and warned of the need to respect the rules of democracy, the procedures and the essence of democracy to achieve normality in the country which can only be done “taking the voice and the opinion of the Venezuelans into account.”

· Kofi Annan distressed by the violence in Venezuela.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said he follows the situation in Venezuela with concern, and is distressed by the violence unleashed in the last week in the country, according to his spokesperson, Fred Eckhard. Annan added he is committed to supporting both sides in the search of a peaceful solution to the political crisis. The situation led Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN, Milos Alcalay, to resign to his position after a 34-year diplomatic career.

· CNE and CD continue dialogue on repair procedure.

The conversations between the National Electoral Council, CNE, and the umbrella opposition group Democratic Coordinator, CD, continue with little or no advances. The CD awaits for the third time this week the CNE hands over the data base with the information on the forms with similar handwriting to make a decision after matching the information with the numbers Súmate has, while the CNE offers to increase the number of ‘repair’ days to 3 with a reduction in the number of centers to 1,500. Jorge Rodríguez, one of the directors, said it was possible to have the repair procedure ready for this weekend.

· TSJ Constitutional Chamber may prevent Electoral Chamber of knowing of appeals.

Three of the five members of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), its president, Iván Rincón, and Justices Jesús Eduardo Cabrera and José Delgado Ocando, all identified with the government, are considering taking all the cases that might be initiated against the decisions made by the National Electoral Council's (CNE) on the presidential recall vote. Members of the High Court discussed the issue on Wednesday with representatives of the so-called Comando Ayacucho, the campaign command of the political parties that support President Hugo Chávez. The decision would be based on the argument that the CNE has violated constitutional rights, which affects all Venezuelans. With this allegation, they would eliminate any possibility that the Electoral Chamber of the TSJ or any other court in the country may issue any ruling that favors the opposition. Two appeals have been filed in the Electoral Chamber petitioning a ruling on the assisted forms (the first filed by Councilman Enrique Ochoa Antich was withdrawn).

· President Chávez had encounter with Diplomatic Corps in Caracas.

Following the format of his weekly radio and television Sunday show, President Hugo Chávez addressed the Diplomatic Corps in Caracas during a three-hour compulsory radio and television broadcast. According to the President, the encounter was done “in an effort of his government to contribute with the Ambassadors overcoming the difficulties they surely have to find the truth,” and to ask of the international community a declaration against the violations to the sovereignty. To achieve this, the President played the documentary, The Revolution will not be Televised, which helped him comment on the events of April 2002, and once again blame the American administration for “having their hands in Venezuela”, and ousting President Jean Bertrand Aristide, from Haiti (Ambassador Shapiro was absent). President Chávez also hailed the favorable decision made by the national electoral body, CNE, on the presidential recall vote, accused the press of igniting the violence in the recent protests in several cities, threatened to intervene or shut down TV stations, criticized the Catholic Church for rejecting the National Guard excesses during the protests, and condoning the 2002 coup against him, and confessed to having taped private telephone conversations of CIA agents giving instructions to the Venezuelan opposition. According to the President, his government has faced “all this madness” with much patience, as a psychiatrist with the hope that “these people will end up reconsidering. I say this so that you won’t let your governments be confused,” explained the President. The Diplomatic Corps had received an invitation from the Vice-president’s office to meet with him in the presidential palace of Miraflores.

· Caracas Stock Market Vice-president arrested.

Following a request from the Attorney General’s Office, the 11th Control Judge in Caracas, Dayanira Nieves, daughter of David Nieves, MVR legislator and Ayacucho Command leader, sentenced Caracas Stock Market Vice-president Santiago Monteverde, and two other citizens, Luis Guillermo Amorós and Pedro Miguel Vásquez, to be confined in the State police, DISIP headquarters, charging them with illicit weapon of war possession and use and public intimidation, violations of Articles 278, 282, and 297 of the Penal Code. The three were arrested by military intelligence officers, DIM, on Sunday during the protests near the Altamira Freeway.

· Updates on Verification Process of Recall Referendum Petitions after 77 days.

ARTÍCLE 22. The forms constitute the petition to convoke the recall referendum and should include:

1. Name, last name, and position the official whose mandate is to revoke, as well as indication of the inauguration date of said official.

2. Legible name, last name, ID number, date of birth, name of the electoral circumscription, original handwritten signature and fingerprint of the electors petitioning the activation of the recall referendum of mandate.

The petition to convoke the referendum is a very personal act; therefore, power of representation or authorization to sign for another one will not be allowed.

ARTICLE 31: The National Electoral Council will publish in at least, one printed national medium the results of the process of validation to which Numeral 3, Article 28 refers, indicating the numbers of the identity cards of the referendum petitioners. In a five continuous day period following the publication, the signatory who was rejected may go to the National Electoral Council personally, to repair any material error in which the Electoral Administration may have incurred during the verification of his data. Otherwise, the rejection will remain firm. Likewise, the elector who alleges he did not sign the form, may go to the National Electoral Council to requests his immediate exclusion from the total of signatures. In both cases, the National Electoral Council will publish the format of the communications through which the electors will make their requests.

From the Referendum Norms passed by the National Electoral Council on September 25, 2003.

§ Of the petitions to recall 37 opposition legislators in the National Assembly, only 2, Salomón Centeno (required: 13,632; collected: 20,642) and Alfonso Marquina (required: 26,960; collected: 28,799), both from AD, have enough valid signatures to have recall referenda activated against their mandates. Oddly enough, between 75% and 90% of the signatures collected and validated for each lawmaker, respectively, matches the criterion of assisted forms or forms with similar calligraphy, placed under observation in the case of the presidential recall referendum.

§ The presidents of the CEN, Francisco Carrasquero, and TSJ, Iván Rincón, met privately and secretively this Friday morning in Rincón’s TSJ Chambers. No details have been made public, but there’s speculation it may have to do with CNE director Sobella Mejía’s dismissal requested by Carrasquero last week.

Situation report since Friday, February 27:

· Fatalities: 15 people dead (12 confirmed with names and location, 9 in Caracas, and 3 in the countryside (Miranda, Carabobo and Zulia States)

· Wounded: Over 1,000 in the opposition (including 400 of asphyxia; the rest by plastic bullets, pellets, marbles and the result of different cuts and concussions) and 9 National Guard soldiers, 5 of them shot according to General Villegas Solarte.

· Media attacks: Fourteen media professionals injured or attacked since demonstrations against the CNE started on February 27, including three with fire guns wounds (a RCTV cameraman for the third time during President Chávez’s administration). Other three journalists detained by security forces in the last few days.

· Arrested: 397 people arrested nationwide, including some missing. 127 in Zulia State, and 47 in Caracas (including Carlos Melo, CD Street Action coordinator, and Mayor Capriles Radonsky’s two escorts who were transferred with two other people to El Rodeo jail, and Santiago Monteverde, vice-president of the Caracas Stock Market who appeared in court and is jailed, pending trial, in the DISIP). Nine have been documented victims of torture “electric shocks, blows to the head and back, cold water showers, humiliations, food and water deprivation, etc.

· Government resolutions: This Friday, the Minister of Defense, Jorge Luis García Carneiro, read a resolution agreed in the Ministers’ Council, according to which “all arm permits are suspended nationwide starting 6 pm this Friday, and effective until midnight, Sunday, March 14, with the exception of those who use weapons in their security-related jobs.” General García Carneiro explained the measure is intended to “give more security and protection to the citizens, and has nothing to do with tomorrow’s march because otherwise, it would be a one-day measure.”

· Demonstrations in the last 24 hours: Opposition protesters marched from Chuao to the OAS offices in Caracas to invite the international bodies to remain actively present in the country. Earlier, a group of Gente del Petróleo, marched to the Embassy of Spain to request the Spanish authorities exhort the Venezuelan authorities to investigate the murder of José Manuel Vilas, a former PDVSA employee (Intevep), in San Antonio de los Altos during a protest in which he was shot in the back allegedly by uniformed men. Neighbors of the Chacao Municipality, peacefully, sat on the streets of the Luis Roche Avenue in their municipality between 9 and 3 pm this Friday to protest the aggressions suffered during the last week in Altamira. In Maracay, Aragua State, 17 taxi drivers were arrested as they performed a "slow caravan" while driving to the neighboring city of La Victoria. The National Guard and pro-government Bolivarian Circles intercepted the caravan and attacked the people with stones.

· Upcoming Demonstrations. An opposition national march to the same place where repression was unleashed a week ago (Libertador Avenue), to protest the arrests and violations to human rights, and the CNE decisions on Saturday morning.

Pro-government supporters will hold a mega-market on Bolivar Avenue on Saturday all day, for which the avenue was shut down to traffic today Friday morning.

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