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Venezuela’s democracy has a rendezvous with history…

By Aleksander Boyd

London 24 May 2004 – It all started two years ago. In the aftermath of the botched coup, Hugo Chavez showed extraordinary theatrical abilities and called for the unification of Venezuela. He said that problems should be resolved not with the use of violence but by progressive democratic means, such as referenda. He repeatedly stated that there was a mechanism contemplated in the constitution, urging the opposition to make use of it. Agreements geared at reconciling the parties were signed between his government and the opposition with the good auspices of the OAS, the United Nations Development Programme, the Group of Friends (Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Spain, Portugal and the USA) and the Carter Centre.

So it all began. To every opposition move there was an equal, opposite and for the most part illegal reaction by the government. A simple process of appointing electoral officials (CNE) was boycotted by the simple chavista majority of congress in sufficient occasions until the Supreme Court stepped in and appointed CNE’s directors. Provisions were taken to give Chavez’ henchmen control of the board. Regardless of how unconstitutional CNE’s actions were and have been it has been impossible for the opposition to stop them from doing what the master dictates, considering that in the five member board three directors are controlled by Chavez. Notwithstanding an attempt to trigger a recall referendum was staged on February last year. More than 4 million signatures were collected only to be stroke off as extemporaneous by the Electoral chamber of the Supreme Court. The rationale behind the ruling was that, since the presidential midterm was August 19th 2.003, recall efforts would only be considered valid had they start on or after that date.

The opposition appealed the ruling before the Constitutional chamber to be dismissed again; constitutional justices ruled that electoral matters were to be presented exclusively to the Electoral chamber, creating precedent in that sense.

So Chavez adversaries restart the preparations for the second signature collection, this time however CNE officials put an unimaginable amount of technicalities and regulations upon the process. The desired effect was to make the process so difficult that it would be nearly impossible for the opposition to observe all the norms and regulations and still manage to collect the required signatures to trigger the recall. In spite of it, 3.4 million signatures were collected in the presence of officially accredited national and international observers and the army. What a blow that was to Hugo Chavez, the boomerang thrown by the CNE is coming directly to chop the president's head. Right there and then he started with his prevarications about a “Mega Fraud” that to this date have not been substantiated with one piece of tangible evidence. His attempt to discredit the process in front of the diplomatic corps in Venezuela backfired badly; individuals who purportedly had signed whilst being deceased were mentioned by him in front of them to be confronted the following day with the news that said individuals were alive and kicking and would sign again to recall him!!

The CNE decided, violating all the legislation of the land, to ask 847.000 people to ratify their signatures through a process called “reparos,” which will take place this coming weekend. Yet again the opposition presented an appeal against the CNE’s decision before the aforementioned Electoral chamber that was held, moreover electoral justices ordered the CNE to add the 847.000 alleged fraudulent signatures to the ones already verified. They went further striking off parts of norms and regulations imposed by the CNE that violate constitutional precepts. Confronted with such a clear judicial mandate the CNE appealed the ruling of the electoral justices before the Constitutional chamber. It is worth noting that the same constitutional justices who established precedent in that sense a year ago are overturning their precedent and ordering electoral justices to abstain from ruling, or even learning, upon electoral matters. Constitutional justices maintain that there is a conflict of interests due to their interpretation of Art. 72 of the constitution, however they had no conflict a year ago and the constitution has not been amended in any way. Could it be that the present ruling goes against the ‘revolution’ and must be overturned?

Resolute, as the regime is, in his disposition to deviate the attention from the recall referendum all sorts of tactics have been implemented: from paying lawyers in the USA to dig up NED files and repeating incessantly the line of imperialist intervention to actually importing Colombian peasants that were meant to be paramilitaries bent on assassinating-without-weapons President Chavez.

The truth is that Venezuelans have a rendezvous with history for not only Chavez political survival is at stake here; Fidel Castro’s too and most certainly the Colombian guerrillas will not be a bunch of happy campers if they lose the tactical support of the Venezuelan President and the camps of tranquillity in our territory. Drug lords will not be content either in the know that future Venezuelan governments may open our air space to DEA planes. And what about the leftist talebans? Will they cope with an ageing hero that has lost all lustre and an incarcerated successor? Will the green and anti capitalism youngsters of the planet mourn their newly discovered anti establishment hero? Who knows…

Nonetheless I remain confident that the number of people reaffirming their political stance will be so big that further accusations -which will surely emanate from the presidential mouth by this time next week- will be seen both nationally and internationally as definite proof of his dictatorial intentions.

What exit there is though, should he decide to abandon his democratic pose and eliminate the referendum? Is there any hope in voting him out of office in 2.006? Will Venezuelans react? Is civil war or guerrilla warfare imminent? I guess that what we are about to see is the democratic disposition of the Venezuelan people, perhaps they will return the favour to Chavez and Castro without firing a single shot.

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