Adamant: Hardest metal

'I'm Ugly but No Communist' - Venezuela's Chavez

Sun June 8, 2003 04:01 PM ET
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez described himself on Sunday as "ugly" and "sometimes uncouth" but said he was not a communist and did not believe communism could work in his oil-rich country.

Defending his turbulent rule in the world's No. 5 oil exporter, the populist leader dismissed criticism of his appearance, behavior and politics.

"I'm ugly ... black mixed with Indian, that's me," he said, referring jokingly but proudly to his mixed-race ancestry which he shares with most of Venezuela's population.

"I'm a little uncouth sometimes. What can I do? I'm not going to change," Chavez added, speaking during his weekly "Hello President" television and radio show.

Chavez rose from obscurity to become a national figure in 1992 when he tried to seize power in a botched coup. Launching a political career after two years in jail, he won a landslide election in late 1998, promising a self-styled "revolution" to help his country's poor majority.

But his opponents, who have waged a determined campaign of protests and strikes against him, accuse Chavez of ruling like a dictator and of trying to install Cuba-style communism.

"I am not a communist ... if I was, I would say so," Chavez said. He added this distinguished him from Cuban President Fidel Castro, with whom he has forged a close alliance that has irked the United States, the main buyer of Venezuela's oil.

"Fidel Castro, my friend and brother, is a communist, but Venezuela's project is not communist," Chavez said. "At this moment in Venezuela, the program cannot be a communist one."

A truce in Venezuela

The Washington Times

The Venezuelan government and opposition members committed to a cold peace Thursday, by signing a deal that establishes cooperation guidelines for easing tensions. The deal has been largely billed as benefitting Hugo Chavez. But the government's need to sign such a deal highlights the domestic and international pressures it is under. Those pressures on Mr. Chavez's ability to govern will continue to prevail, demanding from the president some ostensible conformity with democratic norms.   

The long-anticipated agreement between the Chavez government and opposition forces reinforces the public's constitutional right to hold a referendum on the holding of new elections after Aug. 19, but fails to set a date for such a referendum. Many observers of Venezuela fear that Mr. Chavez will rob the people's right to such a referendum by some technical slight of hand, such as stonewalling on the establishing of the necessary electoral body to confirm the validity of signatures. Leading opposition members downplay the potential for such an outcome.   

"There shouldn't be any problems," said Rafael Alfonso, one of the six opposition members to sign the agreement, adding the government has plenty of time to establish the electoral body. Mr. Alfonso also noted that "the circumstances that aggravated this very complicated social and economic situation remain current, even aggravated."   

The president may have a limited ability to prevent the public from holding the referendum, enshrined in Venezuela's new constitution, which was established, in effect, by Mr. Chavez himself. The president is therefore especially beholden to the public's new constitutional rights. By signing the pact, Mr. Chavez has further entrenched himself in this constitutional framework. Should he later try to break the rule of law, Mr. Chavez would have to answer to the Venezuelan street.   

And then there's the international pressure on the Venezuelan president. The Bush administration and Latin American leaders are viewing with concern Venezuela's ability to export instability in an already vulnerable region. Venezuela is a key provider of oil to the United States and borders violence-ridden Colombia. The truce signed on Thursday was mediated in large part by Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, but was born, to a large degree, of the energetic and calibrated engagement of the United States, Brazil and other governments.   

There are still some obstacles to holding a referendum. Most importantly, the government and opposition haven't agreed on the political makeup of the electoral body that would oversee a referendum and potential election, according to Mr. Alfonso. While the government insists on having a political majority on the body, the opposition has reasonably insisted that the government and opposition get two representatives each, with a fifth member being neutral. "They are accustomed to holding a majority. They already dominate all institutions and can't accept not having another majority on the" electoral body, said Mr. Alfonso. Since the final makeup of the electoral body must be approved by two-thirds of the legislature, the opposition's more neutral proposal for the body seems most fair.   

The recent agreement is a step in the right direction. It also attests to the positive reforms that Mr. Chavez established for holding government more accountable. The president should abide by these advances that he pushed forward. The international community, particularly the United States and Brazil, continues to have some important work to do in terms of closing gaps between the Mr. Chavez and the opposition. Now is the time to intensify engagement. 

Venezuelan Gov't, Opposition Sign Agreement to End Feud Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Friday, May 30, 2003

The Venezuelan government and the opposition signed an agreement on Thursday aimed at paving the way for ending the 14-month political crisis in the country.

The Venezuelan government and the opposition signed an agreement on Thursday aimed at paving the way for ending the 14-month political crisis in the country.

The signing ceremony, in a Caracas hotel, was presided over by Secretary-General of the Organization of American States Cesar Gaviria, the main architect of the agreement.

Gaviria hailed the accord as "a good agreement for every Venezuelan, the democratic institution, and the future of every citizen."

"Through the signing of this agreement you're taking a definitive step to prevent the proliferation of political violence," he said.

Ambassadors of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and the United States, the countries that helped mediate the reconciliation, were also present at the ceremony.

In the 19-point agreement, a result of seven months of negotiations and reached last Friday, the two sides agreed to holda possible constitutional referendum on President Hugo Chavez's presidency after August 19, the mid-point of his six-year term, todecide whether Chavez should step down.

The opposition Democratic Coordination had demanded a binding referendum on Chavez's continued tenure, while Chavez wanted the opposition to use a constitutional measure that allowed the recallof the president once he had served half his term.

The political crisis erupted in April last year when Chavez wasbriefly ousted by a coup.

Although Chavez was not present at the signing ceremony, he expressed in a nationally televised message his appreciation of the opposition's acceptance of the mechanism to take him out of power by constitution.

It meant that a government could not be changed "through a coupd'etat, murder, or perverse plans to stop the economy and destabilize the country," he added.

The agreement failed to set a poll date, but Gaviria told the press on Wednesday that such a referendum could be held around November.

Venezuela is facing a deep recession, high inflation and unemployment following the two-month opposition-led strike at the end of last year, which suspended oil exports of the world's fifthoil producer and slashed government revenues.

An Agreement at Last

Inter Press Service News Agency
Humberto Márquez

The Venezuelan government and the political opposition signed an agreement Thursday aimed at overcoming the country's political crisis through a popular vote on whether or not the president and other elected authorities should finish out their terms.

CARACAS, May 29 (IPS) - The Venezuelan government and the political opposition signed an agreement Thursday aimed at overcoming the country's political crisis through a popular vote on whether or not the president and other elected authorities should finish out their terms.

If certain obstacles are surmounted, the referendum on populist President Hugo Chávez's mandate could be held before the end of the year.

The electoral agreement put an end to the talks facilitated since November 2002 by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General César Gaviria with the backing of the Carter Centre of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and a group of friendly nations.

That group, made up of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and the United States, issued a statement that underlined ''the importance of the accord for strengthening a climate of peace and understanding'' in Venezuela.

''We are satisfied,'' said Gaviria, a former Colombian president, after the signing of the 19-point pact. ''The agreement amounts to the kind of solution that we have been seeking: peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral, in accordance with OAS Resolution 833.''

Six representatives of the governing coalition and six delegates of the Democratic Coordinator opposition alliance took part in the ceremony.

But analyst Alberto Garrido, who is opposed to Chávez, told IPS that ''there is an accumulation of economic, social and political conflicts in the country that are heading towards a...crisis, and the sides disputing power are unlikely to resolve, through a referendum, the kind of system in which they want to live.''

After the document was signed, Chávez delivered a nationally broadcast speech in which he stated that he was ''happy, given the sense of optimism. I reiterate our utmost willingness to work day after day to ensure that the agreement is not in vain. Tolerance has triumphed.''

The opposition representatives signed the agreement reluctantly, because the document did little more than restate provisions of the 1999 constitution, and failed to set a date for the referendum on the president's mandate, which was left up to the electoral authority, the National Electoral Council (CNE).

The constitution -- which was promoted by Chávez and approved in a popular vote -- stipulates that a recall referendum can be held halfway through any elected official's term.

One major obstacle for holding a vote on Chávez's mandate is the fact that the five-member CNE has not even been appointed yet, because agreement must be reached by at least 110 of the 165 members of the legislature.

Parliament, made up of 86 ruling coalition and 79 opposition lawmakers, has failed to agree on which side will hold a majority -- three out of five -- of the seats in the CNE. The decision may be left in the hands of the Supreme Court.

The OAS, the group of friendly nations, and Nobel Peace Prize- winner Carter -- who sent a message that was read at Thursday's ceremony -- urged the country to promptly appoint the members of the CNE.

According to Gaviria, ''The main achievement of the agreement is the 12th point, which invokes article 72 of the constitution.''

Article 72 states that the mandate of elected officials can be revoked halfway through their term -- Aug. 19 marks the halfway- point of Chávez's six-year presidency -- by means of a referendum requested by at least 20 percent of all registered voters and convoked by the CNE.

''The accord does not satisfy all of the opposition's aspirations, but it is a step forward towards the objective of an electoral, peaceful and democratic solution to Venezuela's crisis of governability,'' Social Democrat Timoteo Zambrano, the Democratic Coordinator's top representative at the negotiating table, remarked to IPS.

If the members of the CNE are designated swiftly, referendums on the mandate of the president or other elected officials could be held by year-end, said Gaviria.

Leaders of several opposition parties and business groups complained that the agreement would allow the ruling coalition to make sure votes on municipal and regional officials were held prior to a referendum on cutting the president's term short.

''The government is going to muddle and delay the process,'' said Carlos Fernández, the head of Fedecámaras, the country's most influential business association, which is staunchly opposed to the government.

Governors Eduardo Lapi and Henrique Salas, who are also anti- Chávez, said they backed the agreement ''only to avoid destroying the unity of the opposition movement.''

Edgar Paredes, the head of Gente del Petróleo -- the union of managers of the state-owned oil company PDVSA that helped lead a failed two-month business and labour shutdown against Chávez in December and January -- said he was opposed to the accord ''because it puts an end to the talks before solutions to other problems have been negotiated, like the dismissal of 18,000 oil company workers.''

Gaviria underlined that ''the accord does not resolve the country's problems, does not totally satisfy the points of view of the parties to the talks, and depends on the good faith of both sides. But that's what political agreements are like: they pave the way for settling differences.''

''Fortunately, sensibleness prevailed in the Democratic Coordinator,'' said analyst Teodoro Petkoff, director of the daily newspaper Tal Cual. ''Those who tried to sow chaos and have not stopped hoping for a military coup d'etat don't want an agreement; they want Chávez to resign.''

In Garrido's view, ''The Coordinator signed the agreement from a position of weakness. A year ago, it had rivers of people in the streets, the managers of the oil company, and dissident military officers. Now it has none of that,'' he said, referring to the waning of the enormous opposition protests demanding that Chávez step down, which were countered by huge pro-government demonstrations in this divided nation.

But ''the situation is not predictable,'' he added, alluding to the armed forces, for example, most of which remained loyal to Chávez in April 2002, when the president was briefly removed from office by a coup staged by the opposition movement and dissident military officers.

The analyst also mentioned ''the appalling economic crisis (Gross Domestic Product fell 29 percent in the first quarter of 2003), sky-high unemployment (19.7 percent), and unrest in the countryside.''

The crisis ''could lead to outcomes before a referendum is held,'' Garrido warned. ''A revolutionary scheme like Chávez's (social revolution) is unlikely to stake its survival on a single popular vote.'' (END)

Accusations Fly Ahead of Venezuela-Colombia Summit

Mon April 21, 2003 04:00 PM ET
By Pascal Fletcher

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela on Monday dismissed renewed charges by Colombia that it was sheltering leftist guerrillas, intensifying a dispute over border security just two days before a bilateral presidential summit.

President Hugo Chavez and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe are due to meet on Wednesday in eastern Venezuela to try to defuse the controversy over the frontier and shore up ties battered by economic and political problems in both countries.

Relations between the two Andean neighbors, who share a rugged 1,400-mile border, have been strained by accusations from Colombia -- denied in Caracas -- that Chavez's government is allowing Colombian Marxist rebels to operate from Venezuelan territory.

"Venezuela gives no shelter to criminals of any nationality," Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said in an angry response to charges from Colombian Attorney-General Luis Camilo Osorio.

Osorio said at the weekend Venezuela was becoming a "haven for Colombian delinquents" and urged Venezuela to help rid the border of rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and drug-traffickers.

Rejecting Osorio's comments as "a provocation," Rangel said in a statement: "If Colombian delinquents have come into this country, then this is more the result of negligence and complicity by the Colombian authorities, rather than by us Venezuelans."


In a war of words in recent weeks, Chavez's government has accused the Colombian army of backing right-wing paramilitaries and allowing them to penetrate into Venezuela.

The latest heated exchange set the tone for what could be a prickly April 23 meeting between left-wing paratrooper Chavez and Uribe, a lawyer who has set himself the task of trying to defeat the Marxist rebels and bring peace to his country.

Uribe, whose father was killed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has appealed to neighboring governments to denounce the FARC and a smaller rebel group as "terrorists" and act firmly against them.

But populist Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and has declared a self-styled "revolution" in favor of his country's poor, has refused to label the Colombian rebels as "terrorists." He says he wants to maintain a neutral position to be able to contribute to a negotiated peace in Colombia.

His critics accuse him of having ideological sympathies for the Colombian guerrillas.

Chavez has denied the criticism, saying his armed forces will repel any illegal incursions into Venezuelan territory, whether by rebels, paramilitaries or the Colombian army.

"Venezuela, its government and people, want to have the best relations with Colombia ... we hope the Uribe-Chavez meeting in Puerto Ordaz will be fruitful," Rangel said.

Also on the agenda for the talks in the industrial city of Puerto Ordaz will be trade between the two neighbors, who are major commercial partners.

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