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All eyes on Venezuela

Editorial from El Universal

* Jorge Valero, Venezuelan Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), believes the electoral observers of the hemispheric body are to respect the National Electoral Council (CNE) during August 15 presidential recall vote. "The mission of electoral observers headed by Brazilian Ambassador to OAS Walter Peki Moreira is going to contribute so that international observers respect the electoral bodies," he said. Valero reiterated that Chávez' administration is to respect the results of the recall, and added he hoped the Venezuelan opposition adopted the same stance in the next few days.

* The U.S. Carter Center has accepted to participate as an electoral observer in the recall vote under regulations of the CNE that will prevent the non-governmental organization from making public statements during the process. The Carter Center -which has taken part in the latest elections in Venezuela as an observer- signed with the CNE an agreement governing the activities of the foreign electoral observers during August 15 vote. "Under this agreement, the Carter Center has undertaken to respect the national sovereignty and, in this sense, they are to avoid expressing their opinion on internal affairs of Venezuela," the top electoral body claimed in a press release.

* However, Francisco Diez, representative of the Carter Center, said that formal observers such as his organization would continue issuing information communiqués on the presidential recall referendum. Diez informed that the Organization of American States held a meeting with the European Union ambassadors to explain the observation terms, while the Carter Center has maintained contact with several ambassadors to Venezuela. "We are in permanent communication in order to inform the EU on the observation task," Diez added. "Our intention is not to give our opinion. We are going to issue our informative statements, following the National Electoral Council rules to maintain the general public informed on our task." He added that two press conferences with former president Carter are scheduled for August 14 and August 16. * U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar on Tuesday claimed the European Union should be invited to participate as an electoral observer in the revoking referendum on President Hugo Chávez' mandate. "The more observers the better," Lugar said in a press release as quoted by Reuters. "For the United States, Venezuela is too important to ignore," said Lugar. "The values and practices that make the United States an example of democracy are at stake in Venezuela, a nation with deep cultural and economic bonds with us." On July 22, the EU decided not to authorize electoral observers to Venezuela, mainly because the CNE did not send the corresponding invitation, according to Pietro Ducci, the head of electoral observer missions of the European Parliament.

* The European Union Tuesday stressed that August 15 recall vote is "an important step" in the path to find a constitutional and democratic solution to the protracted political crisis in Venezuela. In a statement from its Rotational Presidency, currently held by the Netherlands, the EU urged the parties concerned to take all the necessary steps to conduct the vote in a "clear and transparent way, in accordance with the international standards, and amid peace and moderation." The EU 25 members said they hoped Venezuelan voters to participate actively in the process and that the results are accepted by all of the parties concerned. The EU also "regretted" the fact that it could not deploy a mission of electoral observers in Venezuela, as the Venezuelan electoral authorities have not provided the conditions for the EU to send electoral observers under the EU methodological standards.

* The United States expressed its concern for Venezuelan democracy, particularly for the alleged loss of independence of the judicial power and the military forces, according to an official document. However, the document, obtained by news agency Reuters, also admits that the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez' administration is cooperating in some areas of common interests with the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar posted 26 questions late June to Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, and U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, John Maisto. The answers, handed over last week, reflect the concern of White House for the future of Venezuela - the world fifth oil exporting country. Even though the report criticises Chávez, it also expresses the U.S. will to cooperate if the current president wins the recall referendum in a transparent manner.

* Miguel Angel Rodríguez, elected OAS Secretary General, and Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General, met to discuss efforts intended to solve the crises facing Venezuela, Haiti, and Colombia. The recall vote in Venezuela took a significant place in the interview, especially because of the important role both the current OAS Secretary General César Gaviria and the U.S. Carter Center have played in sorting out the Venezuelan crisis. For Rodríguez, it is very important that -after August 15- both OAS and UN may collaborate to help the Venezuelan people to coexist in peace despite their differences. "Coexistence is the reality of democracies around the world, and therefore it is necessary to achieve governability agreements in Venezuela beyond the differences as to political thoughts," he added. He claimed he is sure the vote is to be conducted in a fair and free way, but stated that the most important thing is that both the government and the opposition respect the electoral results, no matter what they are.

* Charles Shapiro, U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, hopes that all Venezuelans "cast their vote (in the presidential revoking referendum). I am talking about participative democracy, let everybody participate." The diplomat was accompanying several fellow parliamentarians who are members of the Boston Group and met Wednesday with their Venezuelan counterparts. Shapiro stressed that the goal of democracy and referenda -as set forth in the Constitution- is to have the citizens to express their opinion.

* U.S. Republican representative Cass Ballenger said that president Hugo Chávez promised the Boston Group to respect the results of the presidential recall referendum. Upon invitation of the Venezuelan Head of State, the Boston Group could participate as observer in the recall vote. Boston Group representatives, U.S. congressmen Williann Delahunt, Gregory Meeks and Cass Ballenger, met with their Venezuelan counterparts in an encounter led by deputies Pedro Díaz Blum (opposition Proyecto Venezuela party) and Calixto Ortega (ruling party MVR) to talk about the political climate ahead of the recall referendum.

Different opinions

* According to Samuel Moncada, a leader of Comando Maisanta, the electoral campaign command supporting President Hugo Chávez, the U.S. State Department has designed a campaign to undermine the legitimacy to the presidential revoking referendum, and he attributed the move directly to Condoleeza Rice. Moncada stressed the claims that the Venezuelan Ambassador to OAS, Jorge Valero, made on Monday saying that the OAS mission that was in Venezuela for several months was paid by the U.S. State Department.

* Venezuela's political opposition may not accept a defeat in August 15 recall vote on President Hugo Chávez peacefully, warned the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a U.S. research organization based in Washington, news agency DPA reported. "It would be an increasingly desperate opposition that will resort to illegal means to thwart the outcome," said the group in an analysis published Tuesday. According to the analysis, Chávez has manipulated the Venezuelan Constitution to defend his own interests, but if the opposition gains power, it will also manipulate both the political system and the government to prevent future populist movements. According to COHA, the recall will not solve Venezuela's political crisis, but it will only further polarize the nation. The document added that a Chávez victory "would likely be followed by a vast exodus of the middle-class" to Miami.

* "Just as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez' political future is riding on an upcoming recall vote, so is the fate of his closest ally, Cuban President Fidel Castro, " says a feature published by The Miami Herald. The two presidents are "united in their anti-American rhetoric and differing degrees in their leftist policies," says Richard Brand in the paper. He explains that Venezuela provides Cuba "with tons of oil," whereas "Cuba, in turn, has sent Venezuela thousands of doctors, teachers, sports trainers and a suspected horde of intelligence and political advisors." According to the Herald, it is an alliance so close that "some analysts say each leader has become nearly dependent on the other for survival."

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