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Venezuela On-Site Report

By Gustavo Coronel

March 7, 2004 - In the last few days I have been in Maracaibo, Valencia and in several smaller towns of Central Venezuela. I have traveled by road some 1,500 kilometers and have encountered many road blocks manned by fierce looking National Guards (GN), they have always waved me on smilingly. The reason is simple: I wore a red shirt that serves as the chavista uniform and a cap given to me years ago, when the army was friendly, by an army General. With these two garment pieces I have never been stopped, as I have seen many other travelers stopped, to show their identity papers and to be asked all kinds of questions, in spite of the fact that our Constitution guarantees free and unencumbered travel for citizens throughout the country. Everywhere I went, I found a Venezuelan population showing their indignation to the fraud of the National Electoral Council (CNE), which pretends to rob one million Venezuelans of their legitimate right to request a presidential referendum. In all restaurants and public places where I stopped, I heard the same comments from the people. In every city and every village there is civil disobedience in action. The civic protest started peacefully after the absurd decision by the dishonest members of the CNE but, as the neanderthalic troops of the GN charged against defenseless citizens, the protest has been turning violent. There is very little the unarmed citizens can do against the sadistic Venezuelan National Guard. The Minister of Defense has just anounced that he will personally decorate Glenda Nieto, the heavily armed GN soldier who beat a flag-carrying woman to the ground during the march of Friday February 28th. This decoration is clear proof of the perverted values that exist within this government and within segments of the Venezuelan armed forces. The indignation of the people is also fueled by the feeling of impotence Venezuelans feel when faced with extreme brute force. The international opinion should not see these agressions with indifference. There are more than four hundred detainees many of whom have been tortured, 1,200 injured and ten dead. Human rights are being violated at every turn. The cynical members of the government Jose Vicente Rangel and Jorge Rodriguez, the latter a member of the CNE, pretend to give to the outside world a version of events totally divorced from reality. The President of the CNE, Francisco Carrasquero, and the president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), Ivan Rincon, have been both co-opted by the Executive Power, to the extent that there is no longer any hope that these two institutions can behave in an independent and autonomous manner.

The fraudulent decision of the CNE was based on regulations which did not exist at the time the signatures were collected. Assistance in filling out the personal data of citizens during the signature process was totally acceptable. It is after the fact that they have decided that this is unacceptable. This represents a violation of universal principles of Law which preclude the retroactivity of bureaucratic decisions. Worse still, the signatures by Chávez followers against opposition congressmen and mayors which show the very same characteristics of having been assisted HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED AS VALID by the three dishonest members of the CNE. This has been documented on national television.

The last hope seems to be the mediation of The Carter Center and the OAS, organizations which have already said that they do not agree with the decision of the CNE. They are trying to convince the members of the CNE that their decision is absurd, illegal and will have horrible consequences for Venezuelan democracy and for social peace in our country. Due to the decision these three men have taken, coerced by the brute force of the government, they already have blood in their hands. They will go down in Venezuelan history as cowards who did not know how to meet their civic obligations with integrity.

The current Venezuelan government is beyond hope and condemned to failure. Chávez has decided, in his unbalanced and autocratic fashion, that he will challenge the whole civilized world in the name of a grotesque revolution that has only brought misery and suffering to the Venezuelan people. Unfortunately, the levels of hate and social resentment exhibited by followers of the government have been increasing, promoted by the violent rhetoric of Chávez and Rangel and in tune with the mounting indignation of the opposition, to the point that we might well have a civil war in our hands. The last civil war we had in Venezuela was in the 19th century and was triggered by a resented fanatic called Ezequiel Zamora (not to be confused with CNE rector Zamora), a sort of latin mahdi who has become one of the icons of the "Bolivarian revolution." In that war, pompously called the "Federal revolution," more than 100,000 Venezuelans died and the country was left in ruins. This time around, the potential for disaster is even greater, as a mentally unstable man is in the presidency of our country and nobody belonging to his immediate gang dares to contradict him.

Those who love freedom and democracy in Venezuela are subject, today, to the greatest perils due to the arbitrary nature of the political regime. International public opinion should be fully aware of the Venezuelan situation. The OAS and The Carter Center should render their reports swiftly before the democratic protest is crushed and a full fledged dictatorship emerges in Venezuela.

I hope that the international press and the international public opinion turn their heads to Venezuela, where a tragedy of major proportions is already taking place. Haiti . . . yes. But, what about Venezuela? For many years Venezuela has been a steady and reliable supplier of petroleum to the western world, through war and peace. Venezuela and the U.S. have been traditional close partners in commerce but also during the world wars and in most fundamental diplomatic issues. Venezuela has been an ally of the civilized world. Today, all this is hanging in the balance, as we have a fanatical and mentally ill president, already illegitimate due to his dismal performance, attempting to align our country with the most unsavory characters of this planet: Castro, Mugabe and Qadhafi and lamenting the departure of Hussein and Aristide. What a bunch!

At this moment, Venezuela is already a country partially taken over by Cuba. There are thousands of Cuban agents in Venezuela and the Venezuelan president has become an embarrasing errand boy of Fidel Castro. This is a country that needs the immediate attention of the OAS, the European Union and the civilized community of nations.

We might not be able to do it alone, although we will certainly try.

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