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News Update from Venezuela

By Sol Maria Castro,

· President Chávez ‘warns’ the US again.

In an interview published by the French daily Le Figaro today, President Hugo Chávez threatened the United States again with an oil boycott if Washington tries to attack Venezuela. He claims oil and Venezuela’s reactivation of the OPEC is the reason behind Washington’s hate. During the interview President Chávez insists he doubts there will be a recall referendum, but affirms he will leave if he lost it. President Chávez also insists the military authorities did not violate human rights last week, and illustrates his point by lying on how he fired Jesús Urdaneta Hernández because of similar allegations during the Vargas floods four years ago. The interview in French can be read here.

During a press conference this Tuesday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jesús Pérez, challenged the United States government to respond to the accusations President Chávez has made, and exhorted the American administration not to involve other nations to settle its disputes (referring to US Ambassador in Brazil, Donna Hrinak’s statements in Brazil this weekend).

· IACHR rejects Venezuelan government’s recusation against its Secretary.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IACHR, rejected the attempt to recuse its Executive Secretary, Santiago Cantón, presented by the Agent of the State of Venezuela before the OAS, stating it considers it lacks any foundation or juridical basis since the procedure is not contemplated in any of the instruments of the Inter-American system. The press release can be read at here.

· Political party representatives appeal to the TSJ.

Opposition leaders Julio Andrés Borges, Ramón José Medina and Gerardo Blyde, (Primero Justicia), César Pérez Vivas (COPEI), Henry Ramos Allup (AD), Jorge Sucre (Proyecto Venezuela), and Felipe Mujica (MAS) introduced an administrative appeal in the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, TSJ, for the electoral decision of submitting to repair over 800,000 signatures of the petition for a presidential recall referendum, alleging similar handwriting. NB: Last Friday, we reported the Constitutional Chamber was considering deciding on all electoral matters concerning the presidential referendum. This is the third appeal filed in the Electoral Chamber on the so called “assisted forms.”

· 21 people fired for signing PRR.

The Shareholders' Assembly of the Zulia-based power firm C.A. Energía Eléctrica de Venezuela (ENELVEN) approved the decision to remove most of the members of the administrative board and 16 other managers for their participation in the signature collection process for the petition of a recall against President Hugo Chávez. Nervis Villalobos, Vice-Minister of Energy and Mining, and vice president of the company, admitted that the executives' signing the referendum petition "influenced" the decision of the board. Villalobos, who acknowledged the vast experience of the fired managers, but said that the top executives of state-owned companies "are required to be aligned with the nation's plans," rejected the charges of politization of the company claiming it was not such since no personnel from outside will be appointed”

· AN to debate emergency mechanisms to eliminate war propaganda on TV.

In view of the impossibility to pass the Social Responsibility in Radio and TV Law, also known as the Gag Law, anytime soon, the Vice-president of the National Assembly has suggested passing a norm that would put an end to the “excesses in communicational matters or war propaganda that cannot and should not continue.” In the media. The debate will be held among the members of the directorate first, and it will then extend to other sectors, including the representatives of the media. This Tuesday, the Minister of Information and Communication, Jesse Chacón, claimed during a press conference from the Vice-presidency, that the media have unleashed a campaign in two phases: the first consisting of constant broadcasts inciting hate, and the current phase in which the media want to champion the human rights issue accusing the government of violating them. The minister accused private media operators of breaking "all the human rights principles that are now supposedly defending." He also accused them of encouraging "racial hate" and attacking the democratic institutions.

He insisted there are only 9 fatalities and 30 people arrested in the hands of courts of law who are not political prisoners but common criminals, for example, Carlos Melo, who was arrested with two FALs. NT: What he Minister forgot to report is that when Carlos Melo, CD Coordinator for Street Protests, was arrested, he was so in front of a gas station, which had a security camera that recorded the whole operation, denying in images that Melo had weapons of war in his vehicle when he was arrested.

· Updates on Verification Process of Recall Referendum Petitions after 81 days.

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.

§ Repair of 1.1 million signatures will be held March 21 and 22 or March 26 and 27.

§ The National Electoral Council (CNE) announced it will wait only until Wednesday for a definitive answer from the opposition about the proposed modifications to the conditions of the repair procedure. The latest is the CNE’s “willingness” to accept the extension to five days, but limiting the number of claim counters to 335 nationwide, that is, one per district.

§ In an interview with the Maracaibo paper Panorama, the president of the National Electoral Council, Francisco Carrasquero, said the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center have "a biased opinion" on the criteria applied to examine the signature collection forms with uniform handwriting and "have exceeded their observation role." Carrasquero said that their performance is not "transparent" as they have been meeting with opposition parties. Speaking of the similar handwriting collection forms, he said that media reports and the people's complaints show that they are part of a fraud.

§ The CNE's substitute Director Carlos Castillo, a member of the Political Participation and Finance Committee, explained that the data handed in to the opposition on Sunday "are mistaken" since it corresponded to the National Electoral Board’s data and not the final report.

§ MVR legislator William Lara announced they have 700,000 party militants to go house to house and mobilize those citizens whose signatures were deemed valid but were collected with fraud and should follow the repair procedure (over 200,000 according to Lara). Let us hope he is not “persuading” public employees and others to recant now that 20 managers from CADAFE and ENELVEN (State owned electric companies), were fired for signing the petition for the PRR.

Situation report as of today, March 9, 2004:

· Disappeared: The Democratic Coordinator informed there are 8 people listed as disappeared, “people that right now no one knows where they are in the worst fashion of the gorilla dictatorships of the South Cone.”

· Tortured: Nine have been documented victims of torture “electric shocks, blows to the head and back, cold water showers, humiliations, food and water deprivation, etc.

· Fatalities: 15 people dead (12 confirmed with names and location, 9 in Caracas, and 3 in the countryside (Miranda, Carabobo and Zulia States). The Coordinator denounced the death of José Luis Ricaurte Blanco, (39) who was intercepted by a DISIP Command Unit while driving, arrested, and later moved to El Calvario where he was executed last Wednesday, March 3.

· Wounded: 1,758 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: 17 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). 3 other journalists detained by security forces in the last few days.

· Arrested: 410 people arrested nationwide, including Carlos Melo, CD Street Action coordinator, and Mayor Capriles Radonsky’s two escorts who were all 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).

· Government resolutions: Last 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 Friday, and effective until midnight, Sunday, March 14, with the exception of those who use weapons in their security-related jobs.”

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