Adamant: Hardest metal

Venezuela Detains Technicians as Chavez Silenced, Nacional Says

June 25 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuela's police detained six technicians from the country's largest private television and radio stations after President Hugo Chavez's nationwide speech commemorating the Battle of Carabobo couldn't be transmitted because of technical problems, El Nacional reported.

The six were held for questioning for two hours and then released, the newspaper said, citing officials from the stations. Private television officials said the blackout was caused by technical problems with the state television company, which was re- broadcasting the signal to its private counterparts.

We don't have complete information,'' Information Minister Nora Uribe was cited by the paper as saying.We are investigating because this never happened before.''

Chavez's frequent and lengthy televised speeches have come under fire from critics, who say they intentionally disrupt regular programming for political purposes. The Battle of Carabobo was the decisive battle in Venezuela's fight for independence from Spain. All government offices, banks and markets were closed yesterday for a national holiday.

(EN 6/25 A1) To see El Nacional's Web site, click on {NCNL<GO>}
Last Updated: June 25, 2003 08:41 EDT

Caracas Police Force Ducks Bullets and Politics

Mon June 23, 2003 08:06 AM ET
By Pascal Fletcher

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Outgunned by criminals, dodging bullets, stones and fireworks at protests, Caracas' Metropolitan Police are under fire from another enemy: the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Left-winger Chavez is threatening to take over control of the 9,000-strong autonomous force for the second time in seven months after officers used tear gas and shotgun pellets June 13 to disperse a violent stone-throwing mob of Chavez supporters.

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.

Venezuela's police and security forces have been sucked into the political maelstrom over Chavez's rule that has kept the world's No. 5 oil exporter in turmoil for over a year.

Opponents of the soldier turned politician, first elected in 1998, have attempted a coup, a grueling two-month strike and waves of street protests to try to unseat him. They accuse him of amassing dictatorial powers in a bid to install a Cuban-style communist regime.

In this topsy-turvy world of polarized politics, Venezuela's police and security forces often appear to operate as rival armies instead of allies in preserving law and order.

'OUT OF CONTROL'

Chavez ordered the Metropolitan Police force to submit to military control last November. He accused Pena of running the force as a private army and blamed city officers for shooting dead several Chavez supporters during protests.

Opponents condemned this militarization of the force as a move by the president to neutralize hostile armed groups in the wake of an April 2002 coup that briefly toppled him.

The Supreme Court overturned the takeover five weeks later but the Caracas force is still "policed" by army detachments embedded in their stations. Police officers say their vehicles and heavy weapons have been confiscated, leaving them with only revolvers to confront heavily armed criminals.

"I think the initial move by the government may have been justified because the Metropolitan Police were a bit out of control and had weapons like heavy machine guns and even rocket launchers. But now the government may be going too far," one European diplomat observed.

Chavez's foes say that while he targets the Metropolitan Police, he uses the army, National Guard and DISIP security police to quell opposition protests and pursue political foes.

With the rival security forces all nervously eyeing each other instead of fighting lawbreakers, crime has increased by 30 percent in Caracas, already one of Latin America's most violent cities. Killings, kidnappings and robberies are rife.

"The people on the government side hate us, attack us, injure us and even kill us. ... The government is fighting us, but we are not fighting them," Caracas Metropolitan Police chief Lazaro Forero told Reuters.

Opponents of the firebrand president hail the Metropolitan officers as their only guarantee of protection against violent attacks by pro-Chavez mobs.

Forero denied his force acts as the "opposition police" and said that if his officers did not intervene to keep feuding government and opposition activists apart, there would be heavy bloodshed.

At least 50 people have been killed and several hundred injured in political violence over the past 14 months that has turned parts of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities into virtual war zones.

WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?

On June 13, Caracas city officers repelled a group of pro-Chavez militants who were threatening to attack an opposition rally in a poor east Caracas neighborhood.

As National Guard troops stood by and did nothing, the pro-Chavez demonstrators threw stones, bottles and firebombs at the police and destroyed a police post, demolishing its plaster walls with clubs and setting it on fire.

"This gives the impression that the National Guard unit was protecting the government supporters," Forero said.

But Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel had a different view: "The National Guard ... acted to protect a group of citizens who were being attacked by the Metropolitan Police," he told reporters.

Rangel said nine people were injured by police gunfire. Police spokesmen said their own officers came under fire and at least one was injured.

The government condemned the holding of the opposition march in a pro-Chavez zone as a provocation.

Caracas, California

OP-ED COLUMNIST
NYT, By WILLIAM SAFIRE
E-mail: safire@nytimes.com
WASHINGTON

Voters of Venezuela and California have this in common: a growing number of disgusted voters are determined to upset, through referendum, the election of their chief executive.

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.

Seizing on what has been aptly called "voter remorse," the wealthy Republican Representative Darrell Issa is financing a recall campaign to dump the term-limited Davis. Bettors on the left coast tell me that with enough money, a million signatures could be collected in initiative-happy California to indict a ham sandwich (on whole wheat toast, of course, with alfalfa sprouts). If enough voters are egged on by TV advertising, talk-showboating and Weblog fury, the governor's recall will be on the ballot along with a separate list of potential successors.

Speculation centers on G.O.P. opponents like Issa, Riordan, previous opponent Bill Simon and "Arnold" (whose last name, Schwarzenegger, is too long for headline writers but somehow fits on a movie marquee). Democratic candidates such as Senator Dianne Feinstein are too shy to come forward lest they be considered backstabbers.

Thus, if Davis is afflicted with total recall, a replacement with as little as 15 percent of the total vote could be the next California governor. Is this any way to run a state as large as Iraq, to reverse a favored comparison?

With the world's fifth-largest economy and the world's fifth-largest oil exporter both in such a fix, a pundit should take a consistent stand. Thus:

Venezuelans should be given their right to oust their power-expanding president, because Chávez would then have the right to run in a subsequent race against the choice of the opposition. If that bunch cannot unite, they deserve their Castroite bully.

But Californians should suffer Gray Davis for three more years, voting like grown-ups not as penance for their mistake last year, but to uphold the principle that election results are final for a fixed term and officeholders should not be removed merely when ratings fall.

Wait — is it inconsistent to root for ouster of Chávez while espousing the retention of Davis? Walt Whitman: "Very well then I am inconsistent." Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. . . . With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do."

Miami D-J's claim they fooled Castro

Miami-News Channel 15-AP -- Two radio show hosts who tricked Venezuela's president into thinking he was talking to Cuba's Fidel Castro now claim they've pulled the same prank -- in reverse.
The two D-J's at Miami's W-X-D-J F-M say they tricked Castro into thinking he was talking to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Joe Ferrero and Enrique Santos say they were able to do so by playing disjointed parts of a conversation Chavez had with them earlier this year.

After a few moments of pleasantries between Chavez on tape and the man identified as Castro, one of the announcers comes back on the phone line.

The man on the other end catches on to the prank after he is called an assassin and the conversation disintegrates into him denouncing the caller with a stream of obscenities.

Cuban officials had no comment while a Venezuelan spokesman calls the act "irresponsible and unethical."

Chávez seeks geopolitical integration without pondering economic effects

YOLANDA OJEDA REYES
EL UNIVERSAL

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez attended a presidential summit of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) for the second time as a special guest. This move shows that Chávez is determined to speed up Venezuela's incorporation to the regional trade bloc, leaving aside his country's historic integration with the Andean Community of Nations (CAN).

During President Rafael Caldera's administration, Venezuela took the first steps towards integration with Mercosur, but economic analysts warned that the southern giant could gobble Venezuela's industrial sector. At the time, the country needed an increased industrial maturation. Now, such considerations are not included in Chávez' agenda. Under his rule, politics has prevailed over the opinion of experts warning that an integration pact with Mercosur may be harmful for Venezuelan companies.

International analyst Elsa Cardozo states that Brazil is basing its relationships with Venezuela on two grounds: geopolitics and economy. Regarding the economic field, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's administration is actually pondering the strengthening of Brazilian economy as a result of a wave of imports made by Venezuela from Brazil "in order to finish up the Venezuelan private sectors, which will have a favorable impact on the trade balance" of Brasilia.

In this sense, healthy moves to make the Venezuelan industries rebound "are not included in the model of President Chávez." Cardozo believes that a likely association between Argentina and Brazil -which represent 90 percent of Mercosur- may lead to a conjuncture favoring Venezuela's entry to the regional bloc. "They are thinking in business terms: how much am I going to sell to Venezuela?" She also believes that before attending Mercosur summit in Paraguay, Chávez' administration conducted a fierce campaign to show off its bonds with Brazil.

President Chávez has a negative opinion about CAN. Recently, the body's secretary general suggested that, given the slowly progress in negotiations with Mercosur, CAN may rather start talks with the United States. Chávez did not love the idea. But that is not the only reason for Chávez' attitude against CAN. When his government chaired CAN, Venezuela sought its integration with Mercosur unilaterally, leaving Colombia -a long-time trade partner- aside.

"He (Chávez) lost interest in CAN long time ago. He is interested in Mercosur, but not for economic reasons. He is looking at a geopolitical integration, because he believes that a Latin American integration made this way may be helpful to stop the progress of globalization and neoliberalism."

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