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Venezuela’s Hostages: Preparing for the Vote 2006

By Alexandra Beech

14.07.05 | It was too good to be true. Even in the new sea of happiness. Months before the presidential referendum, the Chavez government offered nationalities to millions of illegal immigrants in Venezuela. Most flocked to obtain their new national id cards, or cedulas. With a legal status, they could access government benefits, and more importantly, they could obtain passports. For those who had been living illegally in the country for years, a new passport meant a possible visit to relatives in their countries of origin.

One friend who stood in line with her family told me that immediately after receiving her id card, she was given a voter registration card, and told that she was registered to vote. Even though she couldn’t sing the Venezuelan anthem, she was eligible to participate in one of the most important votes in Venezuelan history: the presidential referendum.

For the hundreds of thousands who obtained a Venezuelan nationality, voting for Chavez was a no-brainer. Here was a man who had built and staffed clinics in the poorest neighborhoods, where many of them lived. He offered educational programs, and food at lower rates than regular supermarkets. He seemed to be giving lots of stuff away, at least on television. Who wouldn’t support a government who was so concerned about the poor, the down-trodden, the illegal, the abandoned and forgotten? Venezuela, for a moment, seemed like the real Statue of Liberty.

Now, many may wonder whether voting for Chavez was such a great idea. Today, millions of new citizens are being held hostage by the same government that promised them a new life. Recently, the Chavez government decided that it would not issue passports to those whose national id cards surpassed the 22 million number mark. The measure applies to Venezuela’s newest citizens. For now, one of my sources told me after speaking to the authorities, “no one will receive passports until further notice.”

When those new citizens first applied for citizenship, they were forced to relinquish their prior nationalities. Without a passport, they cannot leave the country, with one exception: Cuba allows them to enter with a paper permit. Otherwise, they’re homebound.

Given the Chavez government’s tendency to use documentation for its own benefit, I expect the new passports to become available around the presidential elections in 2006, when voting for Chavez will be linked to a passport. Extorting or intimidating citizens, which is abhorrent in most civilized countries, is commonplace in Venezuela. Recently, Chavez openly admitted that the government had used petition lists to punish those who had exercised their constitutional right to a presidential referendum. I have a relative who still can’t find work because he signed.

For those so ready to defend the government, (and there are millions of you scattered around the world, far away from Venezuela), let me ask you a few simple questions:

1.) With oil prices at $60, why is the government running a fiscal deficit?

2.) With oil prices at $60, why has poverty increased under Chavez?

3.) With oil prices at $60, why does Venezuela have double digit inflation?

4.) With oil prices at $60, why does Venezuela have double digit unemployment?

5.) With oil prices at $60, why are there so many homeless people on the street?

6.) With oil prices at $60, why can’t the government afford to issue passports?

7.) Why did Chavez create so many new Venezuelans before the referendum?

8.) Why is the government forcing Venezuelans to stay in the country?

Those salaried by the Venezuelan government in Washington, via the Venezuela Information Office, and government-financed online propaganda machines want the world to think that Venezuela is the new sea of happiness, as Chavez once referred to Cuba. If Venezuela is a sea, then many are drowning, and neither the OAS, nor the UN, nor the Carter Center will come to their rescue. Venezuelans, both new and old, have learned to swim in a dark and turbulent sea. It is a sea of sharks and shattered dreams.

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