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The New York Times and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez: the infatuation continues…

By Aleksander Boyd

London 10 Mar. 04 – Forth charges again the New York Times! In a media world where every reputable outlet has condemned the regime of Hugo Chavez in the past week, the NYT stands proud among the crowd as a beacon of rectitude. Former members of Venezuela’s president fan club appear to have lost their senses; the BBC and the Guardian –just to name a couple of the staunchest supporters of the new Lat Am hero- have actually reported close approximates to protesters in rallies, moreover the Guardian even ran a piece which evidences the lies that emanate from the presidential mouth.

No attention need be dispensed to the press releases and statements of the UN, the EU, the OAS, the Carter Centre, Kofi Annan, Milos Alcalay, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Lech Walesa, the Inter American Court of Human Rights and many others regarding the gross abuses perpetrated in Venezuela, no. Citizens of the world please welcome with the warmest of greetings and utmost admiration Mr Juan Forero and the editorial team of the NYT. Their manifest possession of the absolute truth about Chavez and Venezuela deserves our undivided consideration. Repairing a recall in Venezuela is the title of the brilliant piece of objective journalism which was produced after minute research of facts. Since is such a good piece one must take it by heart and in unquestionable fashion keep it safe for generations to come.

The paragraph opening the editorial states:

After years of political unrest, including an abortive coup in 2002, last year Venezuelans agreed to resolve their differences through peaceful electoral means. As they struggle over whether there is to be a recall vote, President Hugo Chávez and the opposition parties need to abide by their commitment to democracy.

So last year Venezuelans agreed to resolve their differences through peaceful electoral means. Do the savants from the NYT know that it is Hugo Chavez’ openly partisan electoral majority coming up with all sorts of illegal and unconstitutional mechanisms to delay, or more specifically, block out right the recall referendum? The current legislation contains not provisions that can justify the absurd measures taken by the CNE, therefore who is not abiding or committed to democracy?

Venezuela's Constitution provides for a presidential recall election if it is demanded by 20 percent of the electorate, some 2.4 million voters. Late last year, Chávez opponents submitted petitions with 3.4 million signatures. Last week, Venezuela's electoral council ruled that only 1.8 million of those were fully valid, but noted that problems with the others could be addressed in an appeals process.

Problems with the others? What problems are these? The root of the ‘problem’ seems to stem out of many forms having similar calligraphy. I wrote recently a piece titled “A challenge to Venezuela’s savants.” Can the NYT editorial team enlighten all of its readers with the article, provision, amendment, decree or law that contemplates that each person has to individually fill in all the data into the form? What occurs to those who can not read or write; is their constitutional right to vote prohibited or hindered by the fact that only their fingerprint or signature will appear in the ballot?

Leaders of the petition drive and international observers were dismayed at the large number of disqualifications. Opponents of President Chávez are now trying to decide whether to reject the commission as hopelessly biased, or to negotiate the rules that will govern the appeals process for disqualified petitioners. Negotiations are by far the more promising route.

International observers were indeed dismayed t at the large number of disqualifications. As a matter of fact the OAS and the Carter Centre expressed in undoubtedly manner “…discrepancies with the CNE over the verification criteria. In the case of the petition forms in which the basic data of several signers, but not the signatures themselves appear to have been filled in by one person, we do not share the criterion of the CNE to separate these signatures, sending them to the appeals process in order to be rectified by the citizens. These occur in such large numbers that they could have an impact on the outcome of the process.” Moreover the Financial Times report “Diplomats say that a sampling of the disputed signatures, carried out by the Organisation of American States, found that 93 per cent were valid.” Whose opinion shall we take for valid; that of the OAS or that of the chavista CNE?

Hugo Chávez, the populist former army colonel who led a failed coup attempt in 1992, has been a polarizing figure since Venezuela's voters swept him into office five years ago. Large numbers of the poor see him as the first modern president who has really tried to improve their lives. But he is seen as a dictator in the making by plenty of others, including the traditional political parties, the business elites, labor unions and many in the news media.

No mention made to the number of deaths that Chavez has caused by his direct actions? … who has really tried to improve their lives? What is the relevance of such a comment? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, remember? Perhaps a quick analysis of the last six years UN’s Human Development Index can clarify the obnubilated opinion of some NYT reporters.

As long as Mr. Chávez continues to abide by the rules of Venezuela's constitutional democracy, his opponents are obliged to do the same. They can claim no popular or legal mandate for turning to unconstitutional methods, as they did in 2002.

Now here’s a phrase that certainly merits the award of “line of year.” As long as Mr. Chávez continues to abide by the rules of Venezuela's constitutional democracy, his opponents are obliged to do the same. Since when NYT’s journalists are constitutional experts? How many of them have actually read Venezuela’s constitution and had they taken the trouble to read it; how come they haven’t realised the utter disregard of Chavez towards it? For I am a law student and I can go ad infinitum citing violations to the constitution and to pretty much all the legislation currently in force in the country. Allow me to start with Art. 3 of the constitution:

Article 3: The essential purposes of the State are the protection and development of the individual and respect for the dignity of the individual, the democratic exercise of the will of the people, the building of a just and peace-loving society, the furtherance of the prosperity and welfare of the people and the guaranteeing of the Fulfilment of the principles, rights and duties established in this Constitution.

The most obvious one is the presidential disrespect for those who oppose him, to which group I belong. Ergo all the general provisions contained in “DUTIES, HUMAN RIGHTS AND GUARANTEES” are constantly violated by Chavez. Should any of the legal luminaries at the NYT need a crash course on constitutional violations in Venezuela please do contact this humble student.

The Bush administration has so openly allied itself with the anti-Chávez camp that it would be hard for it to play a mediating role. Less compromised institutions like the Organization of American States and the Carter Centre, the former president's respected election-monitoring group, were instrumental last year in persuading both sides to follow the Constitution. Their help is again needed to persuade opposition leaders not to abandon it now, and to urge election officials to agree to a fair and transparent process — with international monitoring — that gives petitioners an adequate chance to confirm their challenged signatures.

Lastly, be advised that no one in the “anti-Chavez camp” want the Bush administration to mediate in any way. The truly democratic people of Venezuela want one thing only: a recall referendum under transparent conditions.

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