Skip to comments.Hugo Chavez - Venezuela
Posted on 04/14/2002 4:01:40 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
LINKS to Hugo Chavez's "government" June 2001 - March 2002
I'm keeping track of Hugoland formally known as Venezuela. Please LINK any stories or add what you wish to this thread. The above LINK takes you to past articles posted before the new FR format. Below I'll add what I've catalogued since that LINK no longer could take posts.
(March 1, 2002)-- Venezuela's strongman faces widespread calls to step down
By Phil Gunson | Special to The Christian Science Monitor
[Full Text] CARACAS, VENEZUELA - The man who won Venezuelan hearts three years ago as a strongman who could deliver a better life to the masses is now facing them in the streets.
More than 20,000 people turned out this week calling for the resignation of President Hugo Chávez, while some 2,000 supporters marched in a rival demonstration of support. The demonstrations come after months of building discontent with a president who has managed to alienate the labor class, the media, business groups, the church, political parties, and the military.
Four military leaders have publicly called for his resignation.
In November, Chávez introduced 49 "revolutionary" decrees. The package of laws - affecting everything from land rights and fisheries to the oil industry - unified virtually the whole of organized society in a nationwide business and labor stoppage that paralyzed the country on Dec. 10.
The protests this week have a note of irony, because they started out as a commemoration called by President Chávez. In his eyes, Feb. 27 is a milestone of his so-called revolution - "the date on which the people awoke" in 1989. That is when thousands of rioters and looters took to the streets in protest of an IMF-backed austerity plan, in which the government hiked gas prices.
In what became known as the caracazo, or noisy protest, thousands of rioters and looters were met by Venezuelan military forces, and hundreds were killed. Three years later, Chávez and his military co-conspirators failed in an attempt to overthrow the government responsible for the massacre, that of President Carlos Andres Perez. Chávez was jailed for two years.
"But the elements that brought about the caracazo are still present in Venezuela," says lawyer Liliana Ortega, who for 13 years has led the fight for justice on behalf of the victims' relatives. "Poverty, corruption, impunity ... some of them are perhaps even more deeply ingrained than before."
Chávez's supporters consist of an inchoate mass of street traders, the unemployed, and those whom the old system had marginalized. This, to Chávez, is el pueblo - the people.
"But we are 'the people' too," protests teacher Luis Leonet. "We're not oligarchs like he says. The oligarchs are people like Chávez, people with power."
On Wednesday, Leonet joined a march led by the main labor confederation, the CTV, to protest what unions say is a series of antilabor measures, including one of the 49 decrees dealing with public-sector workers.
Chávez won't talk to the CTV, whose leaders, he says, are corrupt and illegitimate. So he refuses to negotiate the annual renewal of collective contracts with the confederation, holding up deals on pay and conditions for hundreds of thousands of union members like Leonet.
Across town on Wednesday, a progovernment march sought to demonstrate that the president's popularity was as high as ever.
"For the popular classes, Chávez is an idol," says marcher Pedro Gutierrez.
Pollster Luis Vicente Leon, of the Datanalisis organization, warns that marches are no measure of relative popularity. "There is a lot of discontent among ... the really poor," Leon says, adding that so far the protests are mainly among the middle class.
But the middle class can be a dangerous enemy. It includes the bulk of the armed forces, and the management of the state oil company, PDVSA.
This month, four uniformed officers, ranging from a National Guard captain to a rear-admiral and an Air Force general, called on the president to resign, while repudiating the idea of a military coup of Chávez, himself a former Army lieutenant-colonel.
But senior "institutionalist" officers "are under severe pressure from lower ranks frustrated at the lack of impact" that these acts have had, a source close to military dissidents says. In other words, a coup cannot be ruled out, although the United States publicly denounces the idea.
Meanwhile, the president's imposition of a new board of directors on PDVSA this week sparked a virtual uprising by the company's senior management. In an unprecedented public statement, managers said the government was pushing the company "to the verge of operational and financial collapse" by imposing political, rather than commercial, criteria.
The political opposition remains relatively weak and divided. But in the view of many analysts, a president who offends both the military and the oil industry is asking for trouble. In the bars and restaurants of Caracas, the debate is no longer over whether Chávez will finish his term, which has nearly five years to run. It is when and how he will go - and what comes next. [End]
"No dictatorship can exist without external support but no dictatorship can be brought down either without external support," said Alina Fernandez, an exiled daughter of Castro, who will lead the trip. "We are asking the world to help us with the situation in Cuba," said Blanca Gonzalez, whose journalist son, Normando Gonzalez, was recently sentenced to 25 years in a Cuban prison. Tears streaming down her cheeks another dissident's relative said she would tell European leaders that "Fidel Castro is a murderer." "Until now, they have been blind and deaf to the tragedy in Cuba," said Isabel Roque, her voice choked with emotion.
Klayman also called for the ouster of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "Chavez is a terrorist, removing him in any particular way would probably be beneficial," he said. ***
Neither President Hugo Chávez nor Gov. Gray Davis has committed an impeachable crime. But both men's popularity has plummeted as a result of a sloppy or mismanaged economy, many voters' sense of betrayal and in Chávez's case, ever-deepening division among the electorate.
Is "recall" of a leader - elected by a majority for a fixed term but supported only by a minority - a good idea? Or should voters stare decisively at election returns and wait for retribution on a regular schedule?
First consider oil-rich Venezuela, long run by a corrupt oligarchy. Chávez and his populist party rode in on a wave of reform, captured the National Assembly and started packing the courts. His reach for greater power led to strikes, riots, capital flight, an abortive coup and, despite high world oil prices, an economy nose-diving by 10 percent a year.
Chávez is an ardent admirer of Fidel Castro. Like the Cuban dictator, he intimidates those who dare to oppose, encouraging violent attacks on his critics by thuggish supporters.
In a deal to permit re-election, he agreed to a referendum on his rule. But now Chávez is throwing up procedural roadblocks. His party is denying the National Assembly a quorum (an old Texas trick). Chávez is resisting a recall vote because he presumes that if the referendum to oust him succeeds, his currently divided opposition will unite against him in the election to follow.
California's governor, Gray Davis, though not a Castro follower, is in a similar position. Last year, as Republicans were about to choose a strong candidate in a primary to oppose him, he poured millions into TV advertising to tear down Mayor Richard Riordan of Los Angeles; when a weaker Republican candidate won, Democrat Davis easily defeated him. Picking one's opposition, though unprecedented, was considered a nifty trick.
Not so nifty was Davis's failure to disclose a looming huge deficit, necessitating nearly $40 billion in budget cuts or tax increases. Now that his heavy-spending chickens are coming home to roost, a bipartisan he-lied-to-us crowd is out in force and his approval rating is in the low 20's.***
"FAN and the people have the authority to reestablish the chain of consitutionality broken by the Government and to establish a provisional and temporary civilian-military government with a civilian president," they said, according to the Sunday edition of the paper.
They stated that they believed that Chávez would not allow a referendum to be held on the continuation of his presidency, and that the Government will "bog down the electoral process and continue to postpone it through inertia" until finally it is never held. The Bloque Democrático is made up of 34 military, business and labor groups that recently joined together and left the majority group, Coodinadora Democrática, which they accuse of "entering into a deal with the Government without realizing it."
With the aid of the Organization of American States and other international agencies, the Coordinadora Democrática negotiated with the Government several weeks ago to find an electoral solution to the national political crisis. [End]
The populist president regularly pillories the city police force, run by anti-Chavez mayor Alfredo Pena and known by its Spanish initials "PM," as a murderous, subversive band of coup plotters bent on trying to topple him. Other regional units controlled by opposition state governors, who under the Constitution can run their own police forces, are also viewed by Chavez as hostile. "If I have to take over these police again, I will. ... We, as the state, hold the monopoly of force," Chavez said recently. ***
Gunfire erupted in the center of Caracas when about 40 military police officers briefly overran the station and tried to force out a commander who a day earlier had arrested an army lieutenant, Caracas Metropolitan Police chief Lazaro Forero told Reuters by telephone.
"The metropolitan police faced off with them and rescued the commander," he said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries although four military officers were arrested, officials said. Local television showed images of an armored police van pockmarked with bullet holes.
It was not clear if the police had returned fire at the soldiers.
Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, has been rocked by political conflict for more than a year between Chavez and opponents who accuse him of amassing dictatorial power.
Friday's clash came seven months after President Hugo Chavez ordered the military to temporarily take over the metropolitan police run by anti-Chavez mayor Alfredo Pena.
Chavez, a former paratrooper who survived a coup in April last year, accuses his foes of using the police as a hostile paramilitary force.
Populist Chavez recently threatened to take over control of the 9,000-strong autonomous metropolitan force for the second time after they clashed with his radical supporters during a violent street protest.
Several rival police forces in the capital are run by municipal mayors -- both supporters and opponents of the president -- often leading to confusing law enforcement turf squabbles.
Chavez ordered the Metropolitan Police force to submit to military control last November. The Supreme Court overturned the takeover five weeks later but the Caracas force is still "policed" by army detachments in some of their major stations. [End]
Former PDVSA workers hailed the court ruling, but few seem to think they will ever work for the oil company again. Some say they don't want to.
"I wouldn't go back to work for this government, even if they called to offer me a job," De Freitas says.
Many executives from the company's upper echelons are now living off their savings while dedicating themselves to the opposition's push for a referendum on Chavez's rule, an effort that, they hope, will push him from office by the end of the year.
"Right now I'm unemployed, but I'm conspiring full time," jokes former PDVSA production manager Ignacio Layrisse, who collaborates with a group of former oil workers.
Many of PDVSA's fired mid-level managers and engineers now work odd jobs.
Jose Enrique Salazar, a former materials engineer, sells wooden picture frames in Caracas' street markets. Santiago Zerpa, an accountant employed by the oil company for 22 years, earns money by waiting in long vehicle registration lines for people who don't want do it themselves.
"I feel good about what I'm doing," says Zerpa, who also is involved with the opposition. "Fighting against this government keeps me going."
Many former PDVSA employees say they share Zerpa's spirit of resistance. Still, losing the prestige and security the oil company provided has taken its toll, many quietly acknowledge. ***
And the Bush administration is sending its special ambassador to Latin America, Otto J. Reich, to Spain, Italy and France next week to discuss the region's hottest crises, as well as lingering financial troubles in Brazil and Argentina, White House officials and Palacio told me.
Among the people who have been asked to meet with Reich is French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, the diplomat whose public criticism of the Iraq war so exasperated the White House. Others will be Spanish Ibero-American Cooperation Minister Miguel Angel Cortes and Italian and Vatican officials.
The most pressing issue on Reich's agenda will be Venezuela, U.S. officials say.
The administration fears that Venezuela's populist leftist President Hugo Chávez will renege on an internationally brokered agreement to convene a national referendum on the duration of his term, and that he will provoke a violent clash with the opposition in order to suspend constitutional guarantees and radicalize his ``Bolivarian revolution.''
''He is trying to create an incident where he can call out the military and say that democracy has been threatened,'' a U.S. official says. ***
They say at least 94 farms have been invaded by squatters, some with quasi-legal documents from the government; others with no paperwork. At three farms visited by Reuters, rural workers on the land had no deeds from the state or said they were waiting for one.
At Hato Viejo, farm administrators say peasants have forced them to abandon some pasture land and have starved cattle to death. But peasant cooperative leaders deny they are to blame and counter they have been threatened.
At the nearby La Batalla farm, where employees busily process milk into cheese, three men have taken over a small plot in a clutch of trees. Farmers say appeals to regional authorities that the land is in use have gone unheeded.
For some peasants, though, necessity takes precedence over law. A few yards from a desolate roadway that weaves through Barinas, Jose de la Rosa Lugo has taken over a plot of land near his shack to sow maize.
The leather-skinned 70-year-old appears to have little time for legal squabbles or politics forged in the distant capital.
"These people have so much land and they don't want to let people work," he said. "Everyone has to have a piece."
Seventy-four Cuban literacy experts were to train 100,000 Venezuelan teachers to give classes in reading and writing to 1.5 million Venezuelans -- nearly 9 percent of the population -- who are currently illiterate.
The Cuban participation is opposed by foes of leftist Chavez. They accuse him of ruling like a dictator and trying to replicate Communist-ruled Cuba in Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter.
In a video conference broadcast from Caracas to schools around the country, the Venezuelan leader praised the literacy program as a major advance in his so-called "revolution" to improve the lives of the country's poor.
"This has nothing to do with indoctrination," he said, dismissing allegations by opponents that the campaign would seek to impart Marxist ideology along with reading and writing skills.
The campaign, providing two hours of classes a day at teaching centers around the country, will be headed by Eliecer Otaiza, a Chavez loyalist and former chief of Venezuela's DISIP security police.
Chavez thanked his friend and political ally, Cuban President Fidel Castro for donating texts, videos and 50,000 television sets to help the Venezuelan literacy drive. The Venezuelan leader briefly visited Havana during the weekend for talks with Castro.
In a growing alliance that has irked the United States, the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil, several hundred Cuban doctors, sports trainers and farming experts have been working in Venezuela under a bilateral cooperation treaty.
Venezuela also supplies up to 53,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil to Cuba on preferential terms, making the South American nation the Caribbean island's single biggest trading partner.
Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and survived a coup last year, frequently praises Castro and Cuba but denies that he shares the Cuban leader's Communist convictions. [End]
Under Brazilian law, nonproducing property can be seized for agrarian reform purposes. But the government's latest official survey does not list Tres Marias as unproductive.
Such discrepancies between the MST's data and the government's are not uncommon, but regardless of who is right, the landowners say they are fed up.
"We are ready for what I am convinced is an imminent conflict," Sa told The Associated Press. "We will not attack, but we are more determined than ever to use our constitutional right to use weapons to defend our land."
Brazil's constitution gives landowners the right to bear arms to protect their property against encroachers. ***
Marxism (or socialism by any other name) will fail (is failing) for the simplest of reasons -- the vast majority of people like political freedom and economic prosperity. The tragedy, imo, is that this lesson has to be learned over and over by so many peoples in so many countries.
BTW, what's the latest news about the supposed referendum, which (supposedly) could be held as early as next August? Or, rather, what is Chavez' current tactic to forstall any such referendum? What is the condition of the opposition in Venezuala these days?
PS - I love your posts. You deserve a big THANK YOU from all us FReepers for your tireless work to bring us news from that troubled country.
Impressive. I hope they put this right to good use. Seems that this da Silva character, like Chavez, is following the same old Marxist script: gain legitimate political power, proclaim a 'revolution', then use the Presidential power to foment a revolution of have-nots against property owners (the real revolution). Once the masses run riot over most of the country and the propertied classes are subdued or driven into exile, cement the revolution with absolute power (ala Cuba's 'President-for-life' Fidel Castro).
Chávez is throwing up procedural roadblocks on the recall, just like everyone expected. The opposition is making inroads into Chavez's constituency, so he's started giving speeches again warning of a coup. That, along with Chavistas and the National Guard having a free hand to attack and disarm local police without consequence, as well as tortures, firings, arrests, murders of students, reporters, any opposition, he's pretty well stopped most mass demonstrations.
Er, is that a warning or a promise, Hugo?
It's heartening to hear that inroads into the Chaveztistas are being made. It seems more and more likely that this crisis will have to be resolved violently, yet I am certain that the democratic forces will prevail.
I have a special feeling for Venezuela because it is home to Winter baseball and because so many major league stars hail from that country.
I also feel that Chavez is one colossal idiot, politically. He will further destroy the economy and further alienate the 'masses' by importing Cubans to run their country for them. Venezuelans need Cubans to tell them how to teach Spanish to other Venezuelans? Then they can all be literate and happy, just like Fidel's 12 million happy subjects...
Under a recent pact brokered by the Organization of American States, Venezuela's opposition may seek a referendum later this year on Chavez's mandate, which runs to 2007. The deal was part of efforts to end chronic unrest destabilizing this key oil supplier to the United States.
The accord urged the National Assembly to quickly appoint the elections council to organize the vote and committed the government to provide funding. But on Thursday, Chavez supporters_ who control just more than half of the National Assembly's 165 seats - didn't attend a congressional session to discuss the council appointments. Acting assembly president Ricardo Gutierrez said no debate can be held until 29 lawmakers from both sides return from a trip to the United States.
Cesar Perez, a member of the Copei Social Christian opposition party, accused the ruling party of trying to delay the process.
Opposition lawmakers long predicted Chavez's downfall at the ballot box next month, or halfway into Chavez's six-year term. Yet several opposition parties can't agree on the first step - choosing an elections council - and time is running out for a vote in 2003.
"Without continued pressure from the international community and greater unity and strategy within the opposition, it isn't going to happen (this year)," said Michael Shifter, an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Opponents accuse Chavez, a former paratrooper who was elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000, of ruining Venezuela's economy, fomenting political violence and ignoring widespread corruption. Chavez - who survived a brief 2002 coup and a general strike this year - says a disenfranchised elite is committed to toppling him and his revolution for Venezuela's majority poor. [End]
"Jesse Chacon will be sworn in, probably tomorrow, as minister of communication and information," a government official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters on Wednesday.
Chacon, a computer systems engineer and retired army lieutenant, took part with Chavez in a 1992 botched coup. Chavez won the 1998 presidential election, and Chacon was named two years ago to head the state telecommunications regulatory agency CONATEL.
As chief of CONATEL, which is responsible for monitoring television and radio broadcasting in Venezuela, Chacon is one of the architects of a proposed law that would prohibit broadcasting of sex and violence during most of the day and evening in order to protect children.
The proposed bill also forbids broadcasting events and statements that "incite disruption of public order."
Opponents of the populist president say the Radio and Television Social Responsibility law before parliament is an attempt to muzzle criticism of the government by private media controlled by the opposition.
Broadcasters who repeatedly broke these rules would face large fines or could have their licenses taken away.
New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Chavez Tuesday to withdraw the broadcasting bill, saying that, if passed, it would have a "chilling effect on free expression."
Chavez and other officials have defended it, saying the government needs to counter what they call a campaign of "media terrorism" being waged by the opposition.
Chacon replaces Nora Uribe, a journalist who resigned as Chavez's information minister after technical problems disrupted a live presidential broadcast June 24. Uribe had served nearly a year in the newly created post. [End]
The lack of jobs was the biggest problem for 35.5% of the 1,000 surveyed in June, up from 26% in a similar poll last November, according to the report.
Unemployment is currently around 20%, compared with about 15% a year ago, as the government battles an enduring recession highlighted by the first quarter's 29% economic contraction.
The poll is bad news for Chavez who faces a recall vote after Aug. 19, the halfway point of his six-year term which runs through early 2007.
The left-leaning leader's critics fear he'll try to maintain his grip on power by delaying the vote until after Aug. 19, 2004. If he loses the referendum after that date, a vice president he appoints can finish out his term, instead of calling early elections. [End]
Alfredo Pena, mayor of metropolitan Caracas, is a fierce government opponent, who ironically depends for his financial resources on the central government. Caracas health officials say their budget has been cut by over 50 percent, with the result that their already over-burdened clinics are facing collapse. They suggest that this may be part of a plan to shift resources to the Cuban cooperation project.
Adding to the controversy are accusations that the Cubans are neither qualified to practice medicine nor familiar with modern pharmacology or treatment methods. There have been claims by Venezuelan doctors of serious malpractice that allegedly placed patients' lives in danger.
The Cuban personnel have not been required to validate their qualifications in Venezuela, and according to the president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, Douglas Leon Natera, they are operating illegally.
President Chavez dedicated most of his regular Sunday radio and television show to denying these allegations. He added that the plan was to bring in a thousand Cuban doctors in all.***
o Argentina's Kirchner, who campaigned against U.S.-backed free-market policies -- and made a point of not meeting the U.S. ambassador to Argentina during the electoral race -- has said he will end his country's ''automatic alignment'' with the United States. Instead, Argentina's new government says, it will side with Brazil on major foreign policy decisions.
o In Brazil, da Silva took office Jan. 1 as head of a proudly leftist government. A union leader who until only a year ago advocated not paying Brazil's foreign debt and rolling back his predecessor's free-market reforms, da Silva said during the campaign that a U.S.-backed hemispheric free-trade plan amounts to the ''economic annexation'' of Latin America to the United States. He gave a red-carpet welcome to Chávez and Castro on his first day in office.
o In Ecuador, Lucio Gutiérrez took office Jan. 15 after winning an upset victory with the backing of his Patriotic Society Party and Pachakutik, a leftist political movement that represents the country's marginalized Indians. A former army officer who led a failed coup in January 2000, Gutiérrez vowed in his inauguration ceremony to take strong steps against ``the corrupt oligarchy that has robbed our money.''
o In Venezuela, Chávez has gradually radicalized his ''Bolivarian revolution'' since taking office in 1999. In his first year in office, he proclaimed that ''Venezuela . . . is heading in the same direction, toward the same sea to which the Cuban people are heading: a sea of happiness, of real social justice, of peace,'' and added that he would turn over the government ''in the year 2013.'' Most recently, he has blamed the ''oligarchy'' for trying to topple him, and said he intends to remain in power until 2021.
o In Chile, Socialist Party leader Ricardo Lagos took office in 2000 as his country's first leftist president since the end of the rightist dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1990.
o Haiti is led by a leftist president.
o And Castro remains firmly entrenched in Cuba nearly 45 years after seizing power.***
About 30 soldiers in dress uniform lifted their rifles as priests and parishioners carried Velasco's casket outside the cathedral, circled around a plaza and returned to bury him inside. Velasco died early Monday after a long battle with cancer. He was 74. Several hundred National Guardsmen formed a line to keep back dozens of President Hugo Chavez's supporters, who shouted "the rats bury their rat" in one corner of the plaza. ***
The Landless Workers' Movement (MST) has launched a series of land invasions designed to pressure the government into speeding up agrarian reform. The group called a moratorium on such invasions during the election campaign late last year, but it abandoned the stay in March, turning up the heat by invading scores of farms, ranches, and government buildings in their most concerted series of actions in years. Some political analysts call the unrest the biggest threat to the popular president's nascent administration. "This is one of Lula's biggest problems," says David Fleischer, the editor of Brazil Focus, a political journal. "It's really stirred up a hornet's nest."***
The official peace negotiations come after a December cease-fire and six months of exploratory talks. The AUC is an umbrella paramilitary group that is accused of some of the worst human rights abuses in Colombia's 39-year civil war. It arose in the 1980s to counter extortion and kidnappings by leftist rebels in rural areas where government troops had little or no control.
"I believe that this can contribute to the country laying down the foundation for peace," President Alvaro Uribe said from the city of Arauca, where he moved the capital for three days. There was no immediate comment from the leftist rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The FARC has said it would join peace talks, but has demanded a safe haven and other preconditions the government refuses to accept. ***
The nationwide vote, the first election under the government of President Alvaro Uribe, will take place Oct. 26. The president took power last year promising to make Latin America's most violent nation safe again. "Those who register as a candidate for the election will be declared military targets. You and your families in any place where the FARC are found will subjugated to country's armed conflict," the letter read.
Commanders of Colombia's armed forces said they were aware of the letter and would guarantee security for all of the candidates, who must register within the coming weeks to be eligible. In mid-2002, the FARC threatened to kill or kidnap all mayors and municipal government officials in a move it said was aimed at destroying the state from the bottom up. The threat forced many politicians to take refuge in distant military bases, governing remotely. Twelve Colombian mayors were killed in 2002, and police blamed most of the killings on Marxist rebels. The FARC also kidnapped 12 provincial lawmakers last year. [End]
Former workers have a defense plan for their Los Semerucos housing complex, which adjoins the Amuay Refinery near Punto Fijo, 220 miles west of Caracas. Whenever Chavez supporters or National Guardsmen come to evict them, residents light fireworks and use portable radios to alert their neighbors. They set up barricades of burning tires. "We are not the violent ones. They are. But we are prepared to protect our families," said Victor Estrada, a 46-year-old computer technician fired in February. Chavez axed 18,000 PDVSA employees during the strike, including 7,000, from executives to mechanics, in western Venezuela's oil towns.
Most hang on in company housing. But PDVSA has asked the courts to evict them, and non-strikers are growing restless. Unapetrol, a union formed by strikers, has asked the courts to reinstate fired workers. It claims they didn't get severance pay and that new PDVSA managers have frozen their pension and savings accounts. Unapetrol attorney Aquiles Blanco says PDVSA owes the former workers $337 million. ***
Tourists who prefer more stable destinations have deserted Venezuela's pristine beaches, Andean peaks and rain forest. Their absence is especially felt in Sinamaica, a lagoon of Wayu and Anu Indian towns built on stilts north of Maracaibo. Tourists used to crowd boats to see Sinamaica's "palofitos," or wood and palm-thatch homes. Now boatsman Juan Cardenas spends his days just killing time. "On a Saturday or Sunday, I used to do six or seven boat tours," said Cardenas, who charges $15 for a one-hour tour. "Nowadays, I'm lucky if I do one."***
Although Mr. Santos does not represent the Colombian government and Colombian officials tried to stay out of the fray, his words risked further deterioration of the already strained relationship between the two nations.
Bad blood between these countries, sharing a 2000-kilometer border, is legendary. But things have gotten decidedly worse since Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made it clear that he believes in promoting Fidel Castro's armed struggle on the South American continent and that he sympathizes with Colombian guerrillas. The MiG issue could take relations to a new low.
The problem for Colombia is not simply a question of Venezuelan air superiority. The purchase could put pressure on Bogotá to engage in an arms race when the country has more immediate and destabilizing threat: the internal guerrilla conflict. Moreover, Colombian alarm at the prospect of Venezuelan MiGs must be considered in light of a steady stream of reports that Venezuela has been accommodating the Colombian rebels.
A little short on diplomatic skills, the Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia, Carlos Rodolfo Santiago, immediately answered Mr. Santos's assertion by calling him a "cynical and irresponsible liar." He also reportedly denied the existence of the letter that the former Colombian official had cited as proof of his assertion. "The only thing that has happened is that during a visit of Russians to Caracas, it was asked how much that could be worth," he said. "But that is not to say that there was a tender offer or something similar." Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton accused Mr. Santos of links to coup-plotters.
As to the letter, Mr. Santos seems to have been on solid ground. Colombian security analyst Alfredo Rangel Suárez tells me he has seen the text and in a column last week in Colombia's El Tiempo, he described its contents. Contrary to Mr. Santiago's claims, it was not a casual inquiry.
"The request from Venezuela to the Russian factory is very specific: Fifty combat aircraft, with multifunctional Zhuk-M liquid crystal 6X8 inch radar, with navigation and weapons control systems that insure the use of six types of air-to-air missiles, three classes of guided air-to-surface missiles, in addition to bombs and 30 caliber guns," wrote Mr. Rangel Suárez. "Additionally, it asks that ten of the planes be delivered within 18 months of the contract signing and also that it include a tailor-made maintenance center for MiGs in Venezuela." The letter was sent to the director general of Russian MiG Aeronautic Corporation, Nicolai Nikitin and signed by Venezuelan Air Force commander Régulo Anselmi, according to an El Tiempo report.
Mr. Chavez cashiered Mr. Anselmi not long after April 11, 2002, which means that the letter is more than one year old and the Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. says that the only orders pending are for four Russian-made reconnaissance helicopters. It's thus uncertain whether the idea of buying MiGs remains alive.
Venezuelan sources differ on the question, with some sure that there is no budget for such extravagance and at least one reporting that the signs suggest a Russian deal is in the works. But Mr. Rangel Suárez tells me that he has verified that the Venezuelan order to the Russian factory "was made official by foreign minister Chaderton some two months ago in a visit to Moscow. The contract would be signed next year and initially they would deliver two flotillas of eight planes each. Later they would make delivery of the remaining planes that were ordered."
Why Venezuela might want so many high performance fighter planes remains a question. Its unlikely that even the cocky Mr. Chavez is misguided enough to think he can mix it up with the U.S. Air Force.
This is not surprising given the fact that the Venezuelan military has been gutted of its professional staff and turned into an armed brigade, infused with Cuban consultants and a heavy dose of militia, and is now dedicated solely to enforcing the Bolivarian Revolution.
Add to this Castroite agenda Mr. Chavez's personal political ambitions, the fact that the economy is a basket case and that his popularity hovers at only 30%, and its not hard to envision him picking a fight with a historical nemesis to stir up nationalism. ***
Hardline opponents, backed by fiercely anti-Chavez private media, shrilly proclaim that the Cuban doctors are political commissars of Cuban President Fidel Castro doling out Marxism-Leninism along with medicine. "They aren't doctors; they're professional political activists," said Douglas Leon Natera, president of Venezuela's Medical Federation. He argues the Cubans are working in Venezuela illegally and stealing the jobs of local doctors. ***
Back then, the Venezuelan motto was Está barato; dame dos -- "It's cheap; give me two."
It's that level of affluence and the pride Venezuelans have in their country -- beautiful beaches, beautiful mountains, beautiful women -- that contributed to the perception of Venezuelans as the most arrogant of Latin Americans. And it's their recent history -- soaring crime, inflation, poverty, a crippling strike, a failed coup -- which has deflated that conceit.
"We were the paradise of Latin America. Now we're just another third-world country struggling economically and politically," Rodriguez said. "It's very hard for Venezuelans to deal with that."
...........For the expatriate community of Venezuelans in Orlando, paradise became a prison under Hugo Chavez.
"You don't feel safe in the streets. You don't want your kids playing in the streets or they might get kidnapped," Roche said.
About a fifth of the nation is unemployed. An estimated 80 percent are poor. In the first quarter of the year, the economy shrank 29 percent. Inflation is approaching 35 percent.
And so they come here, a place where Venezuelans can earn a living, raise their children, walk the streets without fear, and live inside houses with glass doors. ***
Chavez was elected president in 1998 and re-elected in 2000 after pushing through a new constitution that he called a cornerstone of a revolution to end social injustice. Venezuela's opposition wants a referendum this year, accusing Chavez of grabbing power, ruining the economy with leftist policies and ignoring corruption in his government. But in his Sunday address, Chavez said opposition leaders couldn't hand in signatures to demand a referendum until the National Assembly appoints a new elections council. Venezuela's opposition is seeking a referendum this year to force Chavez from office. [End]
Rafael Ramirez said no Iraqi official would be allowed to attend any OPEC meeting until an "internationally recognized" government is in place. "They can't attend the OPEC meeting," he said. "Perhaps some Arab states might meet with them informally." Venezuela is the world's No. 5 oil producer. President Hugo Chavez's government condemned the U.S. invasion against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"There will be no official contact between Venezuela and Iraq," Ramirez said. Representatives from OPEC nations were to discuss global oil markets at the Vienna meeting and consider possible adjustments to current production levels of 25.4 million barrels per day. Ramirez said that world oil supply and demand are balanced. "We are in equilibrium," he said. [End]
He or she must also have a fair sense of what is wrong with Venezuela beyond the current squabble. Ever since oil was discovered in the early part of the 20th century, Venezuelan military leaders and democratic politicians have promised citizens a socialist caretaker state without ever promoting individual enterprise or broad public participation in governance.
Former President Carter, who often found good things to say about some of the world's worst dictators, is not be the best person to sniff out the truth. His own willingness to excuse leftist governments that try to guarantee citizens economic privileges in place of political rights may also blind him to the wreckage that populism has left in this oil-rich but poverty-stricken nation.***
In a message dated Sunday and posted on the Web site of the AUC, as the group is known by its initials in Spanish, the paramilitary chief claimed his fighters prevented guerrillas from taking over Colombia. "We are not seeking gratitude," Castano said in the message. "We are satisfied with the results of our struggle." Members of the AUC must "face up" to their actions either collectively or individually, Castano said. But he added: "No one here can summarily send the self-defense forces to jail." ***
The court stated that under articles 148 and 149 of the Criminal Code, people can be imprisoned for insulting "by speech or in writing" the president, the vice president, the president of the legislature, the chief justice and numerous other government officials, or by showing them "lack of respect in any other way." Article 150 prohibits anyone from insulting the legislature, the judiciary and the cabinet. Human rights activists pointed out that the court's decisions disregarded, not only democracy and the right of free speech, but also article 13 of the American convention on human rights and censorship. In 1995 the Inter American Commission of Human Rights published a report on 'insult laws' with the conclusion "the special protection desacato laws (laws endangering freedom of the press) ... is not congruent with the objective of a democratic society to foster public debate."
The Chavez administration saw the Supreme Court decision as vindication of their ongoing vocal, at time brutal, attacks on the media. They assumed the media should and could be reined in. Decisions made by the government prohibited television and radio from reporting on violent demonstrations and riots. As the world's human rights communities were sounding the alarm, the president and his top ministers did not yield.
The most alarming move by the president and chief of staff team is the plan to create a reserve territorial army, apparently following the Cuban model. The army will introduce the new units as operational by June 24, 2004, when the territorial reserve force will include 250,000 men, comprised of soldiers and volunteers. The first units were introduced as they paraded with the army on the last Armed Forces Day. The opposition reacted immediately with criticism claiming the Chavez plan was intended to enable the government to declare a state of emergency whenever it suited its purpose.
Western intelligence officers are convinced the new territorials are being formed and trained with direct Cuban involvement. Cuba is also seen as being behind Chavez's friendly overtures to the Colombian left-wing guerrillas.***
Step 1: Buy a business, a franchise if you can. "Once the deal is closed, the buyer will feel the sweet sound of the cash register announcing cash flow in his favor, without losing time," the article says. But also: "Be happy with what you have while you go after what you want." It is timely advice for the Venezuelans flooding into Florida these days. Driven by political and economic instability in their homeland, many prosperous Venezuelans accustomed to visiting Miami as weekend tourists are putting down roots here. In a slow and sometimes painful settling-in, they are investing in real estate, starting businesses and establishing cultural institutions.
Many of them say how long they stay depends on whether they can oust leftist President Hugo Chavez. But others have decided to settle here. "I won't go back to Venezuela," said Manuel Pita, owner of a gas station and El Arepaso, where recent immigrants stop for arepas, or fat corn tortillas drenched in margarine and filled with meat or cheese. Pita said Venezuela is no longer livable, and adapting to the United States is not hard: "You just have to keep your head about you and work." The 2000 Census estimated there were 41,000 Venezuelans living in Florida, more than half of them in Miami-Dade County. Some experts speculate the population has increased by as much as 80 percent since then. ***
Noriega's confirmation came after a long delay because Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., had been blocking the vote for months in an effort to force a Senate vote on his proposal for easing restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba. ''We had all been waiting for so long that we stopped watching,'' said Ana Navarro, a longtime Miami lobbyist and friend of Noriega, the current U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.
Until Tuesday, the Senate had refused to confirm a series of nominees for the State Department job, in charge of relations with Washington's hemispheric neighbors, since 1999 because of a string of political disputes. The post had been held since then on an interim or appointed basis by four officials.The unanimous approval on a voice vote, as Congress headed toward its summer recess this week, drew praise from Latin American officials as well as U.S. supporters. ***
"I have to remind the U.S. one more time that they have no right to express their opinion ... we are an independent country not a colony of North America," the president told thousands of cheering supporters during a street rally.
Chavez, who survived a coup in 2002 and later outlasted a two-month opposition strike, now faces a campaign for a recall referendum from foes who accuse him of dictatorial rule in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.
The outspoken ex-army paratrooper elected in 1998 has often riled Washington with his fierce populist, anti-capitalist rhetoric and close ties with states such as Communist Cuba.
His comments followed remarks made by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urging the government and opposition to respect an accord they signed in May on the possible referendum on Chavez's rule.
The Venezuelan constitution allows for a referendum on the president's rule after August 19 -- halfway through his current mandate. But the opposition says Chavez is trying to block and stall the vote.
Government officials have said they will accept a referendum but only after the opposition has completed the legal requirements. They say the National Assembly or the Supreme Court must first appoint a new National Electoral Council to oversee the vote.
Boucher said Tuesday a decision on the referendum lies "with the courts, the National Electoral Council and the people of Venezuela, rather than with the executive branch of the government."
He also said the United States expected the government to investigate the kidnapping of former Tachira State governor and opposition leader Sergio Calderon. The opposition charges the government is involved in his disappearance from his farm at the weekend. Officials say they are still investigating. [End]
"In lots of cases, teachers forbid their students to discuss politics, but the solution to the problem is not to sweep it under the table," says Mr. Perrera. "Children, just like adults, need to learn how to communicate in ways that are healthy."
In the absence of a nationwide effort, child-welfare organizations have joined with educators and child psychiatrists in an ad hoc effort to depoliticize the classroom. CECODAP sponsors workshops for students as well as teachers. >[? A handful of nonprofit groups are at work training teachers around the country in the basic tenets of dispute-settlement: focus on the problems, not the participants; learn how to listen; look for "win-win" solutions that are free of judgment. Role-playing is suggested, and instructors are encouraged to incorporate peacemaking into their curricula.
At Alberdi elementary, where children play soccer in a dusty field next to a mountain of rusted chairs and desks, values are taught every day.
In a drab second-floor classroom, sixth-grade teacher Danny Camaripano stands in front of his 60 students, pensively rolling a piece of chalk between his fingers.
"What would you do if someone wanted to fight you?" he asks the classroom.
Norma Acosa, a beaming extrovert, raises her hand.
"I wouldn't do it," she says.
"What would you do?" Mr. Camaripano asks her.
"I'd talk with him, and find out what the problem is," Norma says.
Over the course of the 50-minute class, Camaripano lectures about values and peppers his students with hypotheticals, coaxing tentative answers from quiet types and back-row pranksters alike.***
Analysts say the vote is the last hope to push the South American nation out of the political crisis, which is expected to shrink the economy by at least 10 percent this year. But as the stalling continues, Chávez gains ground. He has tightened his grip on the National Assembly, the courts, the state oil company and the military as the opposition runs out of steam.
By law, the recall drive can begin Aug. 19, half way through Chávez's six-year term. But Chávez loyalists argue that the millions of signatures already collected in February are invalid: They were collected too soon.
Chávez this week also insisted that only people who voted in the 2000 election can cast ballots for the referendum -- a key issue because it was widespread absenteeism three years ago that allowed Chávez to sweep into power.
The National Elections Council will eventually decide both matters, but the National Assembly, responsible for naming members of the council, has deadlocked on theboard's fifth member. Two of the members are pro-Chávez and the other two came from the opposition ranks. The supreme court has given the assembly a 10-day deadline, saying it will pick the fifth member if the legislature can't. The government insists that opposition leaders are deliberately creating controversy.***
The country's top tribunal moved to break the long-running political deadlock between supporters and opponents of Chavez,which has raised doubts about when, or even if, the referendum will be held.
"We will name a National Electoral Council if the Assembly does not do so in 10 days," Supreme Court President Ivan Rincon told reporters. He said the court would give itself 10 days to appoint the council if it were required to take that step.
In the National Assembly, lawmakers loyal and opposed to the leftist president have been haggling for weeks over the composition of the 15-member electoral body.
Without it, no elections of any kind can be held. The court had declared the previous National Electoral Council unfit to organize an election.
Under Venezuela's constitution, a referendum on Chavez's rule can be held after Aug. 19, halfway through his current mandate. Chavez has ruled the world's No. 5 oil exporter since winning a 1998 election,
Foes of the populist Chavez, who survived a brief coup last year, say he and his government want to avoid a vote. They accuse him of trying to implant Cuban-style communism and of ruining the oil-rich economy with left-wing policies that increase the role of the state. ***
Ramirez suggested the resumption of the practice that existed during the reign of the USSR, when Soviet companies supplied oil to Venezuela's partners in Europe, while Venezuela, in its turn, exported fuel to other countries, partners of the Soviet Union. The minister said Russia could take part in a number of Venezuelan projects for oil and gas extraction and transportation and their supply to third countries, Tass reported.
Yusufov stressed the importance of completing work on a bilateral agreement on cooperation in the area of the fuel and energy complex, to be signed shortly. He said the document "will serve as the basis for the development of the dialogue on energy." The Russian minister welcomed including into this process representatives of the business community, and proposed holding a business seminar, Tass reported.
The sides also discussed the situation in the world petroleum market and its possible change in the near future. They said it is important that Iraq be brought back into the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries again, according to Tass. [End]
Sergio Calderón, the former secretary general of the COPEI party, has not been heard from since he was abducted July 25 by five gunmen who wore hoods covering their heads but not their faces. The snatching of the popular opposition leader known as ''El Cura'' -- the priest -- has sparked fears that it signals a critical turn in Venezuela's 16-month political crisis.
All the boxes of voter petition signatures were challenged as invalid, and the Chief Executive issued directives to delay their counting. Strings are being pulled to circumvent the rules of law and the state constitution.
And all during the months this has been happening, the Leftist Chief Executive and his apparatchiks have spewed propaganda denouncing the recall effort as illegitimate and politically smearing the reputations of those leading it.
Despite the close resemblance, this state executive is not Democratic Governor Gray Davis. The state is not California, named by Spanish explorers for the land of fabled Queen Califia, ruler of a magical island filled with talking animals.
The state depicted instead was by Spanish explorers named "Little Venice," Venezuela, after the homes its native people had built on stilts above the waters around the oil-rich Lake Maracaibo basin.
The executive depicted is Hugo Chavez, the brutal Marxist thug President who keeps his friend dictator Fidel Castro afloat with Venezuelan oil exchanged for Cuban I.O.U.'s that everybody knows will never be paid.
Polling finds that in a recall election 69 percent of Venezuelans would vote against Chavez, an overwhelming repudiation similar to what polls say California voters would deliver to Gray Davis.
The response of both these Leftist rulers has been an attempt to postpone or prevent any such election, to stifle the democratic voice of the people.
Chavez and his Marxist government allies have prevented the counting of petition signatures, an estimated four million of which remain locked away in 64 boxes in four-foot-high stacks.***
"In his first year of government, he has not only shown a seriousness of purpose and a capacity for work without precedent, but he has also given rebirth to hope in a country whose morale was at rock bottom," noted an editorial last Sunday in El Tiempo, Colombia's most prominent newspaper
According to the Defense Ministry, kidnapping has decreased by a third since Uribe took power a year ago Thursday. Terrorist attacks targeting population centers are down 78 percent it reports, and murders have declined by 16 percent. In a country that has seen 39-years of brutal civil war between leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries fueled by drug money, that is welcome news.***