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Critical week for Venezuela

By Veneconomy

Everything is ready for ratifying the signatures next weekend in an attempt to obtain enough signatures to call a referendum to revoke President Hugo Chávez' mandate, or put another way, in favor of the democratic system of freedoms. The opposition needs to ratify 540,492 signatures, apart from making up any signatures withdrawn by the government side, so that people can exercise their democratic right to express their political will via the ballot box. Every signature counts. One signature more or one less could make the difference to being able to vote between living under an authoritarian regime and living in democracy.

The ratification weekend itself will be tantamount to a recall referendum, because a triumph by the opposition would divest Hugo Chávez of legitimacy as President. And that is why nobody should succumb to the government's strategy of making people believe that, after two years of trying to get to the recall referendum, there is no longer any point to this new test.

But it has been precisely the opposition's constancy since 2002, when the first signatures for requesting the referendum were collected, that has made it quite clear, at home and abroad, that what the polls say is true: the majority of Venezuelans want to live in democracy and, for that reason, they want Hugo Chávez to count his supporters via the ballot box.

Almost two years of trying without faltering and against countless obstacles put in the way by the government majority in the CNE, plus the excellent organization of civil society through Súmate and the Democratic Coordinator, have got the government spooked.

While Chávez can carry on governing until the referendum decides whether he continues in power or not, a triumph by the opposition in getting enough ratified signatures will divest him of his legitimacy, because he will be left without grass-root support.

It is this lack of legitimacy that has given rise to his latest demonstrations of authoritarianism and arbitrariness: General Francisco Usón's arrest, the threats against Súmate directors María Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz, and the arrest of Baruta Mayor Henrique Capriles Radonski.

Other signs of his fear are the lists of signatures that the government and its supporters have circulated in the different government agencies and institutions to terrorize their employees. If the government thought it had the support of the majority, it would not be doing everything in its power to avoid going to the ballot box.

The signatures of each and every one of the Venezuelan who go to ratify will be yet further and conclusive proof that this country wants democracy.

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