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Venezuela's Chavez threatens to intervene CANTV

By Alexandra Beech,

August 1, 2004 - I hiked El Avila mountain today. On Sundays, hundreds of Venezuelans - rich and poor -hike this venerated mountain. As I trudged up, I was surprised by the number of people wearing pro-opposition SI insignia on t-shirts, hats, and other paraphanelia. Everyone discussed politics.

For the past two days, the political community has mourned the death of Alejandro Armas, a beloved lawmaker who had been ill for many years. Armas, who was considered a presidential contender for the post-Chavez transition, had withdrawn his support for Chavez in 2001. On Sunday, many attended his wake at the Democratic Coordinator headquarters. His body was to be cremated at Cemeterio del Este. Our condolescences to his family.

Chavez has been on the campaign trail almost non-stop. Over the weekend, he threatened to "intervene" CANTV, the country´s privately owned telephone company in charged of providing telecomm assistance during the recall referendum. Chavez said that he had a contingency plan to take over the company if it takes part in any fraud on August 15th. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said that the government was continuing negotiations with the company´s president Gustavo Roosen, adding that the government is concerned over the presence of pro-opposition economist Ricardo Haussmann on its board of directors. (I am more concerned with the three pro-government directors on the country´s electoral board.)

Chavez also said that he would deny the Democratic Coordinator the right to take over the government. More bark than bite, but that bark may cause others to bite in the future, so it´s noise worth monitoring.

I have not so great news for the proud bondholders of Petrozuata, a joint venture between Conoco Philips and PDVSA. A good friend of mine who works for the company told me that the government is signalling that it plans to replace key Petrozuata managers with its own people. As we´ve observed in PDVSA´s experience, the government tends to place underqualified military officers in key positions whose sole qualifications are loyalty and subservience to Chavez. I don´t know how the American counterpart feels about the change, but I hope that they are aware that while PDVSA has lost its international reputation, Petrozuata is still considered by creditors as a safe and lucrative investment. Tainting it with PDVSA´s problems, even at the perception level, could be devastating for the oil company.

A group of Venezuelans are investigating what legal recourse Venezuelans abroad may have in the cases in which they are being denied a right to vote. According to respected analyst Miguel Octavio, the electoral authorities only registered 5% of the voters who registered during the past few months. In addition, embassies and consulates around the world have created huge and unconstitutional roadblocks, such as requiring that voters prove their legal status in their countries (elections law only requires that they provide identification.) Venezuela´s ambassador to Switzerland made up his own rule, saying that Venezuelans who showed up to vote with a double nationality would be forced to relinquish one. In addition, many Venezuelans abroad have been required by the registry to vote in countries far from their residence, Red Venezuela head Elias Santana told me today. One voter in Europe, for instance, was asked to vote in Indonesia. While Santana´s group, affiliated with the Democratic Coordinator, was prepared to lodge a complaint with the electoral authorities on Monday, another group was considering organizing a class action suit against the government, holding each violating diplomatic officer responsible for the rights violation.

According to Argentina´s newspaper La Nacion, provincial lawmaker and piquetero (protestor) Luis D’Elía admitted that the Venezuelan government had paid his expenses during a recent visit to Venezuela to campaign in favor of Hugo Chavez. The La Nacion Editorial wondered why a local politician was participating in Venezuelan political affairs. Apparently, the Bolivarian government doesn´t mind external interference, and even finances it, as long as it doesn´t come in red, white, and blue...

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