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POST CARD FROM VENEZUELA

By Gustavo Coronel

June 12, 2004 - I am back in my country and I have to report that a portion of it, in the hands of Chávez, is rapidly shrinking. Not in physical size but in social and spiritual terms. Venezuela today is a country ruled by a relatively small group of very ignorant people possessing an authoritarian and violent nature. Let me give some examples: today 12 dissident political leaders in the State of Tachira, bordering with Colombia, will be one year in prison without trial, something specifically forbidden in Venezuelan laws. 15 political dissidents, including the mayor of Baruta, a residential suburb of Caracas and several high ranking military officers are in prison without being properly charged of any crime and without being allowed legitimate legal defense. The managers of Súmate, an NGO that has the objective of improving transparency in electoral events, which was given $53,000 by the National Endowment for Democracy, based in Washington, DC, have been indicted as conspirators against the Venezuelan government, in spite of the fact that nothing they have done has been hidden or illegal. Journalists like Ibeyise Pacheco and Patricia Poleo are being harassed by the not so secret police. The monies from the sale of oil in the international markets is being diverted directly to the government instead of being delivered to the Venezuelan Central Bank, as the law dictates. Over one billion dollars have already been given to the Chávez government by the Venezuelan oil company, without transparency or accountability, in open violation of all legal and ethical rules. The money is being handled by Nelson Merentes, the head of the Venezuelan "Development Bank," who is also one of the coordinators of the recently sworn in Chávez's electoral campaign team. Can any civilized person understand how the person in charge of managing the funds of the nation is also in charge of managing the funds of Chávez's political campaign? This is a classic example of conflict of interests. In addition, the monies from PDVSA, the national oil company, are being diverted to finance directly the costs of the 11,150 Cuban "patriots" present in the country, as recently and publicly admitted by Juana Contreras, a Director of the Ministry of Health (Descifrado, June 7h, 2004). Oscar Bataglinni, one of the Chávez followers in the Board of the National Electoral Council has let it be known that he will "oppose the presence of international observers in the referendum and the independent audit of the referendum process." This would be in open violation of all internationally accepted norms. To add insult to injury, the company providing the machinery for this event is a company in which the Chávez government has substantial share ownership and one that has never, I repeat, never has done work in any election since it was formed, rather mysteriously, a few months ago. Does this sound transparent? Should the Venezuelan opposition to the current government make an act of faith and hope that the setup, as described above, will transmit faithfully the will of the Venezuelan people? This would be very naďve of the opposition, in the light of the low moral qualities of the people currently in government. There cannot be trust in these adventurers. As I write this, Venevisión, a TV station opposed to the government is being raided by the secret and not so secret police, the 30th such raid conducted systematically on private television and newspaper organizations in an effort to plant incriminating evidence. During the recent signature collection event, Chávez shouted fraud, as is his habit, and his claim this time was that many Venezuelan citizens had used false, cloned identity cards. This was so ridiculous a claim that not one of his followers dared to pursue it.

The Chávez government is characterized by improvisation and waste. All factual data point to a dramatic deterioration of the Venezuelan society: a drop of 25 places in the United Nations Human Development Index (measures quality of life) from 1998 to 2003; a record increase of unemployment during the last five years, the highest in Latin America; the highest rate of inflation in Latin America; the highest drop in economic growth during 2003; a horrible situation of more than 200,000 abandoned Venezuelan children in the streets.

I arrived back in Venezuela three days ago. The airport is a national scandal: few things work, the parking lots are in ruins, no lights. The road up to Caracas is totally destroyed, no lights, no maintenance, potholes, tunnels in ruins, nothing left from the proud highway that a more progressive dictator inaugurated 60 years ago. Caracas looks like a dirty, toothless, old beggar. For those old enough (like me) to know how beautiful Caracas was, this horrendous accumulation of filth, bad smells and misery that Chavez now calls his Caracas is an unacceptable insult. I have lived and have visited some horrible spots in this earth and always felt relieved to know that I could always go back to my beautiful Caracas. But now Caracas is more horrible a sight and a smell than the worst of those places I have ever visited. And I say, political language does not mean a thing if the people cannot live decently. The rhetoric about revolution does not mean a thing if people grow hungry and in squalor. Words are ineffectual against poverty unless good and transparent management of national wealth accompanies them.

What we have today in Venezuela is ruins and empty, fanatical words. People walk the streets with hunger and despair in their eyes while in Canada, in England, in France and in the US, in all existing Chávez government centers for paid propaganda, mercenaries get paid tangible amounts of money to disseminate their lies about a "revolution." The names of these mercenaries will be made public in time. They have sold their souls for a few coins but will not alter the course of events, which will result in the re-establishment of true democracy in Venezuela.

As a Venezuelan who loves all what Venezuela is lovable for, I say: Chávez, get out from our country! Stop sowing hate and resentment among our people!

Out, if you have any decency left.



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