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Letter from Caracas

Editorial | Private Eye

[No 1118 | 29 Oct / 11 Nov 2004] From our own correspondent – We were delighted to read recently in expensive, full page ads in the international press that our lives are improving “in ways that were never before thought possible”. Apparently poverty and social exclusion will soon be a thing of the past because oil wealth is to be distributed among all of us.

“Venezuela is for all!” is the new slogan. This is especially good news for the 20.000 or so that have been sacked from the state oil company because they disagreed with government policy or because they refused to sign statements denouncing their colleagues as saboteurs for having gone on strike. We’re convinced that, any day now, proving you didn’t sign the petition against president Hugo Chavez will no longer be a pre-requisite for a job in the public sector. Or a loan to start up a small business. Or to win a government contract.

To be honest we had been a little concerned. And we thought the world didn’t understand us. There was that open letter from those distinguished citizens of your country –Tariq Ali, Ken Livingstone, George Galloway and the nice Mr Pinter- entitled “If I were Venezuelan, I’d for Hugo Chavez”. The one in which they said Mr Chavez was “determined to apply the 1999 constitution”. And that the opposition consisted of “political and economic minorities”.

Didn’t they understand that by placing the armed forces at the service of the revolution, the president was violating article 328, which specifically sais that their loyalty is to “the nation”? Or that by tapping phones without a court order, and broadcasting selected highlights of private conversations, he was in breach of article 48, which guarantees the right to privacy? Or that… but why go on? Now we see how wrong we ordinary people were.

We should never have doubted Jimmy Carter when he immediately endorsed the results of the August referendum that kept Chavez in power before actually auditing the electronic voting process. We mistakenly thought the fact that the electoral authority had a built 3:2 government majority and had spent nearly a year inventing new rules and procedures to invalidate the three million signatures on the referendum petition was grounds for suspicion that they might have committed fraud. But that can’t be right because Mr Carter says it’s the electoral authorities in Florida who are not sufficiently impartial to produce an internationally certifiable result. So ours must be ok. What a relief! Because now we have regional elections coming up too.

Of course it was worrying when Mr Chavez hosted Robert Mugabe and praised him as a “warrior of freedom”. We took a look around –at spiralling crime, increased unemployment and poverty, conflicts over land tenure, a dysfunctional judicial system- and thought maybe our joke about Venezuela turning into “Zimbabwe with oil” wasn’t so funny after all. So that advertisement has certainly set our minds to rest.

We realise now that Mr Tariq Ali and Mr Livingstone and Mr Carter (not forgetting Mr Pinter) must have had a quiet word with Mr Chavez before the referendum. We’re guessing that he reassured them that he wouldn’t use the new supreme court law to appoint 12 sympathisers that now guarantees him control of the judiciary. And that the new media law, the new police law, the public order law, the reform of the penal code and so on wouldn’t be used to crack down on opposition. (Especially those 20 to 30-years sentences for “destabilising the social order”!) He almost certainly committed himself to instructing the national guard not to shoot or torture opposition demonstrators, and to insisting on a thorough investigation of hundreds of human rights violations of the past five years.

So, all in all, really good news. We just can’t wait for this new policy of tolerance and social justice to be implemented. Because, frankly, things are pretty unbearable right now.

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