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The Agreement

(The signature of the agreement was suspended due to the lack of an appropriate venue)

By Alberto Quiros Corradi
Translation by Aleksander Boyd

National and international attention has been brought upon an agreement to be signed between the Venezuelan government's representation at the Negotiating Table and the opposition. Surprisingly, some sectors of the opposition are engaged into minimizing the importance of such document, which was proposed originally by OAS Secretary Mr Cesar Gaviria. Its acceptance ought to transform it into law among the parties.

Concepts and drafts have been aggregated by the parties involved and none of them can violate their commitment to it without incurring in huge political losses. The most generalized criticism that has been made to the document is that it only reflects what has been established in the constitution and that it was not necessary for the Negotiating Table to have "wasted" almost five months of work. These beliefs derive from the conviction held by some that we have accepted what the government proposed at the beginning of the negotiation, i.e. the revoking referendum.

Both allegations fall on emotional visions of the process rather than in objective analysis of what has been achieved to date. Furthermore, the document's content is broader than what has been established in the constitution. With respect to the argument that the government has favored the revoking referendum from the start and therefore we have "fallen" in their trap, allow me to plead firstly that no government -in its rightful thinking- "favors" a revoking referendum to be removed from power. Secondly, the revoking referendum is the only electoral process whereby the president is not challenged by another candidate but confronts the will of the opposition to end his mandate and thirdly, the government's unique reason to have proposed the referendum at the start of the negotiating process was that a greater period of time would have to elapse before reaching the midterm in Chavez' mandate, sin equa non condition for the celebration of said process. Moreover, the political risk of a non binding referendum on Feb. 2nd was too big to be even consider by Chavez for a loss would have been very difficult to surmount.

In light of this, August 19 looks dangerously near for the government. Therefore a document ,such as the one agreed upon, in which on point "12" the government ratifies the "eventual celebration of a revoking referendum on the president's mandate" is extremely important for it blocks the government's options to manipulate further or propose with ill intentions another electoral alternative before the opposition presents its petition for the referendum to the National Electoral Council (CNE) on August 19.

It has been suggested that Hugo Chavez could request the CNE to call a referendum to approve a Constitutional Amendment which will trim the mandates of all the chosen officials, including him, and the celebration of fresh elections days before August 19. This of course would change the rules established in the agreement. Had this agreement not exist the president would have had more room to maneuver. It is of paramount importance then to clarify that the revoking referendum does not respond to the demands of the present admin. It is the decision of the opposition to exercise this constitutional option (included in the agreement too) which will be signed and agreed upon on the 22nd of April (Cesar Gaviria dixit).

The Document

The following is a resume of the 22 clauses of the document. (Observations in brackets).
1) The commitment to resolve the problems affecting the country and the conviction by both parts of the necessity of finding democratic, electoral, peaceful and constitutional solutions respecting plurality principles and the participation of all political forces is ratified. (It is reckoned that there are problems. "Normality" therefore is non-existent and the solution includes an electoral process, clearly mentioned for the first time by the government).
2)"Complete adherence and respect for the constitution" and any changes to be made shall respect the proportionality and plurality principles of political forces is expressed. (It is admitted that changes could be made and to request "proportionality and plurality" is an admission that the government may not be the majority).
3) It is stated the tolerance and equality of opportunities.
4) It is stated the democratic conviction of the citizenship.
5) Venezuela needs "the concurrence of all to continue its road in peace and in democracy".
6) It is expressed adherence to the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the separation of public powers and the fight against poverty
7) It is expressed adherence to the OAS charter.
8) It is ratified the content of the "Declaration against violence and the support for peace and democracy" agreed upon on Feb. 18 2003. (Reinforcing what has been agreed)
9) "The police forces' functions will be directed by civil authorities that exert its command, police corps shall not be used as a disproportionated and arbitrary repression instrument" (Amen)
10) Disarmament of civil population.
11) The National Assembly's political factors are exhorted to establish an "Investigating commission" for the 11A events. (Commitment to be reminded daily).
12) Comments on this point have already been made.
13) Hugo Chavez' mid-term is August 19. (Ruling of the Supreme Court on Feb.13 2003)
14) It is required to summon the CNE promptly. Support will be given to expedite all the operating instances of the electoral council. (An important compromise to not delay the appointment of the new board).
15) The Negotiating Table is ratified as the most efficient instrument to improve the political and electoral climate of Venezuela. (The government refers to the Negotiating Table as the most important instance and accepts that political and electoral climate must be improved).
16) It is agreed upon the commitment to freedom of expression and the willingness to join efforts with the media to inform the public opinion about the political options emphasizing on a sense of equity and impartiality. (Astounding recognition without disqualifying the media).
17) The government agrees to grant the necessary funds and tactical support for the celebration of the referenda, provided these abide the legal dispositions. (Worth noting that when referring to referenda in plural a suspicion arises. By insisting in celebrating the regional referenda, postponing the presidential or by requesting to have them all at once, the government could be trying to diminish the impact of a presidential revoking referendum held alone).
18) It is ratified the necessity and will of accepting international technical assistance to ensure the pristine conditions of the electoral process.
19) It is requested to immediately identify which areas will require electoral assistance. (Extremely important for it recognizes that international help will not be limited to a mere observation the day of the referendum or the presidential elections. Technical support will be present along the entire process during and before the electoral act).
20) The date of the revoking referendum will be determined by the CNE, in the periods corresponding to the previsions of Art 184 of the Political Participation and Suffrage Act without delay. As such, both parts accept that said Act will govern the execution of the referendum and the norms regulating the process of referenda will not be modified. (This is critic. It eliminates one of the possible dilatory tactics of the government, deeming impossible potential changes that could be made to these rules).
21) The Negotiating Table will monitor all the aforementioned clauses and those that are inherently related to what has been exposed. (I consider very positive the fact that the "Table" will constrain the discussion to these issues, all related to the elections and the conditions necessary for its execution. It prevents other themes to be brought to the argument, which could well delay the first and foremost priority, namely the timely celebration of the revoking referendum).
22) The OAS, the Carter centre and the PNUD, in accord to their respective mandates and based on what has been stipulated in their operative systems will act as guarantors of this agreement. (Very positive indeed for the opposition, the government agrees to and the international community commits to guarantee the observance of the agreement).

I think that after an objective scrutiny of the document and a retrospective analysis of the opposition's obstacles in its quest for constitutional and electoral solutions to the crisis it must be concluded that this agreement to be signed on April 22 constitutes a gigantic step in the right direction. With the the assistance of the international community and for the first time it is established that:
-There will be a referendum.
-The government will not change the current electoral rules.
-The government accepts international technical support to enforce the electoral process.
-The government accepts the necessity of the appointment of a fresh CNE directorate and the restitution of all its powers.
-The government accepts the "Table" as the ideal instrument to reach an agreement.
-The government ratifies its will to defend the freedom of expression.
Understandably, many citizens already frustrated by the continuous violations characteristic of this admin have doubts about this agreement expressing that it means nothing and that the government will violate it whenever it wishes. I am not so sure; the government can manipulate the revoking referendum without tarnishing its image. Secondly, for the first time there is a commitment between government and opposition to produce an advanced resolution to the crisis. Thirdly, the international community are the explicit guarantors of the agreement.

I firmly believe that this document is a triumph of the Negotiating Table and Agreements and its broker. What worries me is the government not signing the agreement when the time comes. What sort of reactions would this stance produce on Mr Cesar Gaviria who has already announced the agreement?

The failure to sign a document that has been announced to the world with great fanfare would represent a tremendous and grave defeat for the Hugo Chavez' government worldwide. It would demonstrate, once and for all, that he will not cede to an electoral process that will surely end his mandate. From that hypothetical moment onwards, the rules of the game would change in Venezuela and abroad. We must not be impatient, this document is the best constitutional cornering instrument that we have devised to date. We must wait till April 22, not disqualifying the most intelligent effort made by the opposition.

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