International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

December 23, 2002

December 23, 2002





** Venezuelan media insist on sustained citizen pressure to force Pres. Chavez to step down, praising the streets for "defending democracy" and denying charges of "coup-mongering."

** Writers across the spectrum claim to support a peaceful solution with some looking to the Armed Forces to "contain" a president who, they warned, may resort to an "auto coup."

** Outside observers, alarmed by the "deteriorating" situation and the impact on oil exports, agree that a coup would be unacceptable and censured the "extremism" of both sides.




Pessimists see 'war of attrition,' Chavez 'desperate' to stage 'auto coup' a la Fujimori-- In addition to intoning a now-standard anti-Chavez mantra, Venezuelan columnists warned of the danger of an "auto coup" by which Chavez would replace the current government with a dictatorship.  While sparing no invective for Chavez, writers extolled the virtues of the "democratic opposition."  Critics insisted that Chavez, "a megalomaniac lost in the delirium of power," did not understand the meaning of democracy.  An op-ed in liberal national daily-of-record El Nacional charged that Chavez had tried to convert the republic into a "medieval state subject to his whim."  Seeing no end to the crisis in sight, some papers appealed to the Armed Forces.  Insisting that the government was determined to "impose its will" on a "majority that aspires to a peaceful and democratic solution," conservative popular, anti-government 2001, averred that "in such critical times, the Armed Forces' presence--but not...a coup d'etat--is as necessary as that of the rest of Venezuelans."


Elections best way for Chavez to recoup legitimacy--  Most outside observers, while acknowledging Chavez's faults, concluded that a coup would be the "worst way" to change the government.  Many feared that time was running out for a peaceful solution and suggested that Chavez would be smart to accede to early elections--thus, in the words of an Argentine editor, "placing the ball in the court of a divided opposition."  Underscoring the dilemma, Toronto's leading Globe and Mail held, "Distasteful as Chavez may be, he was elected by popular vote and should not be deposed by a marching mob." 


Some advocate need for less 'extremism'--  Although many, particularly conservative voices, blamed Chavez for "radicalizing" the situation, a growing number of liberal outlets faulted the "putsch-friendly elite" for fomenting extremism and the Venezuelan media for "contaminating" information and contributing to the "conspiracy."  While chastising Chavez for "exposing the country to unprecedented economic deterioration and violence," Colombia's leading El Tiempo nevertheless called upon the opposition "to revise its irrational stance."  Caracas' mass-appeal, government sympathic Ultimas Noticias lamented that elections, whatever the outcome, "will do us little good if this tense climate of pugnacity, conflict and bitterness is not alleviated."

EDITOR:  Irene Marr

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This analysis is based on 59 reports from18 countries, Dec. 15-23.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed by the most recent date.




VENEZUELA:  "The Cleansing Operation"


Liberal national daily of record El Nacional commented (12/23): "Chavez's obsession has contaminated other people in his government, including certain eleventh-hour revolutionaries who are trying to play catch-up with extremist positions, such as that minister [Planning Minister Felipe Perez] who announced on state television [12/21] that after the 'cleansing' of PDVSA will come the 'cleansing' of the media....  This 'Operation Cleansing' is the grand design of the Chavez revolution.  In clear terms, it has one name  the annihilation of the other, the establishment of totalitarianism as the end.  It would be worth it to know how they are going to carry out this 'cleansing' of the media.... The hour of truth is coming.... The arbitrary use of force only angers the population, stimulating and feeding the civil resistance.  No one in the government is capable of understanding this, and thus they bang their heads against a wall.  It is a government dominated by the obsession to destroy."


"An Exceptional State Of Exception"


Historian Jorge Olavarria argued in an op-ed in liberal national daily of record El Nacional (12/23): "The Supreme Court's Constitutional Court knows it has issued an impossible order [calling for an end to the oil strike].... Through this ruling, the court has declared an exceptional state of exception.... The court has decreed a state of exception in giving the Executive unlimited powers to take whatever measures the situation requires, without the limitations on states of exception established in the Constitution.  This means that the measures the State could take will be 'legally' unconstitutionally."


"Let Santa Bring Us Some Sense"


In an op-ed in conservative national daily-of-record El Universal former presidential candidate and 1992 coup participant Francisco Arias Cardenas reflected (12/23): "The extremists have things in their hands, and this makes the events of the coming days very dangerous.... The extremes of both sides are doing so much damage to the country.... I hope Santa brings us some sense."


"Critical Days"


Conservative, anti-government popular 2001 editorialized (12/23): "The coming days are crucial for Venezuela.  On one side is a rebelling majority, peaceful and civil, without arms, demanding a political solution; and on the other, a regime lost in its labyrinth, given to violence, determined to impose its will on a great majority that aspires to a peaceful and democratic solution for all Venezuelans....  In such critical times, the Armed Forces' presence - but not in the shape of a coup d'etat - is as necessary as that of the rest of Venezuelans, since we are all citizens of the same nation, and all of us have a part to play....  The spirit of civil society will not be broken, and is still awaiting a response from the government."


"Venezuela On The World Agenda"


Mass-circulation, government-sympathetic Ultimas Noticias ran a column by editor Eleazer Diaz Rangel entitled (12/22): "You have seen the many statements from the UN, OAS, European Union, etc, all expressing their concern, condemning any coup attempt and calling for peaceful solutions; others go farther and demand that the solution be peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral.  Less coverage has been given to other statements favoring the government, including those by European parliamentarians, Colombian, Argentine and Ecuadorian labor unions, the French Green Party, U.S. intellectuals and artists, Uruguayan intellectuals, etc.... Elections, no matter whether Chavez or the opposition candidate wins, will do us little good if this tense climate of pugnacity, conflict and bitterness is not alleviated.... The media have accepted Gaviria's request to help contribute a climate of calm... But this is insufficient.  Without the effort of everyone, beginning with the TV, it won't be possible to create this climate of, if not harmony, then peaceful civic relations..."


"Let Them Regain Their Dignity"


Mass-circulation, government-sympathetic Ultimas Noticias ran  op-ed by columnist Miguel Thodde (12/20): "It seems, fortunately, that the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council have finally awoken.  If we have to ask Santa for something, please, it is that those who have lost their dignity react and awake and regain it."


"The Negotiations And Christmas"


An op-ed by William Ojeda in mass-circulation, government-sympathetic Ultimas Noticias held (12/20):"The [Gaviria-sponsored] negotiations are an indication of the terrible parliament we have.  If we had a politically effective legislature we wouldn't have to seek outside help to establish a space for political discussion.  The natural stage for public debate is the National Assembly, but this has given signals of atrocious inefficiency.... Venezuelans deserve respect, so we demand concrete, tangible, and serious results from the negotiators."


"To Urge A Decision For Peace"


Conservative, popular, anti-government 2001 editorialized (12/20): "The Venezuelan crisis deepens every day and there is no solution in sight, since while an active, majority opposition is in the streets expressing its discontent with President Chavez's government, the government turns deaf and blind and shows no need to reach a solution. Time passes and the national civic strike, far from weakening, grows stronger, making desperate Chavez and his group.  But there is not one sign of approaching the adversary, perhaps because he is not interested in doing so because this would clash with his so-called 'revolution's' objectives.... Venezuelans, President Chavez, are a family that wants union and peace.... We are happy, not resentful, and we did not know hatred until you were elected.  Correct your behavior...and for the good of the country and its future, allow there to be an urgent solution."


Centrist Caracas El Globo published a brief editorial comment (12/20) that read in full: "Time is running out for a political deal.  The doors to anarchy are beginning to open."


"To Aggravate The Conflict"


Liberal national daily-of-record El Nacional asserted in an editorial (12/20): "The idea of democracy is far from the president's mind.  He doesn't understand it.  He conceives only of a regime where generals disobey judicial rulings, board ships, take over private property, and try to militarily resolve social conflicts.... The country is paralyzed.  After three weeks of civic strike, militarization has shown that it is not the answer.  Nor is confrontation as the only alternative.  The government is undertaking a test of strength, recurring to measures incompatible with the legal order.... To think that one can put an end to this via an "order" might just be another conflictive element to those already listed.  Threats are not the way.... Venezuela will awake to this year's Christmas condemned to uncertainty and chance."


"Defeat The Extremism Of Both Sides"


Afternoon Tal Cual ran an editorial with the assertion (12/19):  "The Supreme Court ruling returning control of the Metropolitan Police to the Greater Caracas mayor... and Attorney General Rodriguez's reproval of Chavez's call to ignore court rulings...are significant, because they reveal that, contrary to what the prophets of extremism say, in the country there is appreciable room to face and defeat the illegalities committed by the government within institutions, the law and the constitution. In the street, the opposition has waged some of its best battles.  It has won when its impressive mass and overwhelming marches and concentrations have united a correct determination to avoid violence, including in cases like this week's march toward the National Pantheon, where its overwhelming majority would have crushed without problems the tiny pro-government group gathered around Bolivar's tomb. On the other hand, the opposition actions by small groups that violate the rights of the population, such as in the mean street blockades, have a counterproductive result.... For us to find a negotiated solution, it's important to defeat the extremism of both sides."


"Between Civilization And Barbarism"


Liberal national daily-of-record El Nacional carried an op-ed by Hector Faundez stating (12/19):  "Just when we thought this government couldn't surprise us any more, during his Sunday program, President Chavez ordered Armed Forces officers to ignore public prosecutors and investigators and not obey decisions of courts that could interfere with the execution of some presidential decree.... As of Sunday, Venezuela is no longer a republic of citizens, because, with his attitude, Hugo Chavez has tried to convert it into a medieval state subject to his whim above the law, and where the courts can decide anything, as long as it doesn't contradict the will of the ruler.... When this nightmare is over, the democratic opposition will have the obligation to show how it is different from the current government.  We will have to respect the rights of the minority, protect their exercise of those rights, and show that tolerance that the current rulers lack.  We will have to replace an authoritarian project with a democratic one that excludes no one.  That is how we will differentiate ourselves.... Venezuela cannot stand another fraud or another failure. What Chavez has said is a new violation of the Democracy Charter.  But he crossed that line long ago....  He has no democratic spirit, he does not care about institutions, and he is not willing to follow the constitution."


"Unfeeling Government"


Popular, anti-government 2001 ran an editorial (12/19):  "Civil society has not gone into the streets whimsically.  There is very little that works in this country, and added to that are the pretentions of an authoritarian government that acts outside the constitution and wants to become a dictatorship.  The government is insensitive to the demand of millions of Venezuelans who do not want President Chavez any more, who want him to listen and abide by the will of the people.  He uses the OAS negotiations not to solve this situation, but to play for time to obtain the political objectives of his project.... Society is not coup-mongering nor terrorist.  It is fighting for its democracy and for the future of a Venezuela in which even the Chavista minority can benefit, a Venezuela with room for all of us, and not the classless, marginalized 'utopia' Chavez aspires to."


"The Hour Of The Soldier"


Caracas governor Antonio Ledezma commented in mass-circulation, government sympathetic Ultimas Noticias (12/19):  "The citizen participation in the current events in our country is simply exceptional.  The presence of citizens from all sectors, of all ages, in public demonstrations, is the true engine of this struggle without precedent in the political history of Venezuela.... What is extraordinarily significant in all of this is to know that they are defending our democracy.... That is why we protest against a president who violates the rule of law, ignores the rules of democracy and attempts to impose his desires on a society that refuses to give in to the whims of a dictator.... He must be contained by our Armed Forces who, in these circumstances, must make him respect the constitution and the laws of the republic.  The auto-coup must be stopped."


"A Trial Is The Fastest"


Former presidential candidate Claudio Fermin commented in an op-ed in centrist El Globo (12/18): "The most important leaders of the government try to ignore all the complaints and present them as evidence of political resentment or, in the worst case, conspiracy against the constitution and the people.  This is buffoonery.  Nobody believes this, not even them..... They are afraid of the voice of the people and so sabotage the people's right to express themselves.... If one thing is clear with all these demonstrations, it's that the majority of Venezuelans are tired of the president....  They are aware that there is no more time  for him and they are aware of the irreversible damage that violence and the sowing of hatred are doing to the country.... The pressure must continue, with an eye toward elections..... There's no other way - unless the Supreme Court takes out of its desk drawers the accusations against Chavez for misuse of billions of dollars from the FIEM or for having received foreign campaign contributions.  If this happens, all this will be resolved, because a criminal cannot be President."


"A Decision For Liberty"


Conservative, anti-government popular 2001 ran an editorial (12/18): "The OAS resolution will be encouraging for those Venezuelans who believe in democracy and freedom, since we are faced with the brazenness of a government that tries to ignore the seriousness of the crisis in Venezuela.  We refuse to believe that the regime has no idea of this seriousness; we do believe that its attitude responds to the interests of Chavez's political project. The situation the country finds itself in is not the fault of the opposition nor of the civic actions it has undertaken - national civic strike, marches, demonstrations, pot-banging - so that Chavez will either convene elections or resign.  The fault is that only of the government that refuses to allow a democratic, peaceful, electoral solution."




Mass-circulation, government-sympathetic national Ultimas Noticias ran an op-ed by political leader Pedro Ortega Diaz (12/18):  "We were surprised by Gaviria's energetic rejection of the just popular protest against the aggressive and unfair position of the media against President Chavez and his government.  In Venezuela the media, with few exceptions, have completely lost their course and have stopped being true informers and have become politically partial, with all the errors and crimes of the Venezuelan opposition.... The peaceful and legal protest by the vanguard of our people that occurred December 9 was not only fair and legally permitted, but also served as a type of catharthis and satisfaction for popular sectors.  We believe that Mr. Gaviria's public statement was not correct...and that you should advise the media owners to try to find once again a path of information policy that is more objective."


"To Your Own Business"


Editor Rafael del Naranco published a column in afternoon El Mundo  (12/18): "Army Commander General Garcia Montoya issued a statement saying there is an effort underway to overthrow the government... You're right, General, but - and it's a big 'but' - this political and industrial face-off is done by civilians and forms part of the national context....  Do the Democratic Coordinator, the CTV and Fedecamaras want to overthrow Chavez?  Very true. This is the valid game of democracy and its primary appendage: politics. Does the President use all the resources of power to stop this effort?  Does he scream to the skies and before the gates of hell and emit six-hour speeches against 'the treacherous petroleum managers?'  That's valid, too.... The fight is without rifles, mortars or cannons; it's politics, within the wide, solid, always productive game of democracy.  May the best man win."


"The Rupture Of Legality"


Liberal national daily-of-record El Nacional editorialized (12/18): "Legality, the rule of law, has been systematically violated from the beginning of Chavez's government.  His verbal intemperance and unmeasured demands when one of the other branches of power did not please him, as happened with the Supreme Court, unleashed campaigns of slander and moral annihilation never before seen in Venezuela....  If we had independent branches of power, none of this would have reached this point.... When the president, in one of his dictatorial rants, ordered his generals to ignore judges' sentences, he confessed what he had planned and previously kept private.  Now he breaks appearances and preaching of invoking the constitution.... The alarming presidential aggression shakes the very foundations of the government.  No one can keep silent any more about such a violation of the nation's judicial order.... Those who tried to be 'understanding' about Venezuela's situation in the OAS, a minority that drew out the discussions and sought subtleties and 'safeguards,' did not have time to calibrate the breaking of the rule of law in Venezuela that moved--at last --the Attorney General to speak out."


"The Degradation Of The Rule Of Law"


Conservative national daily-of-record El Universal commented in an editorial (12/17): "We face the daily contradiction between a conceptual government, its lack of coherence as far as governability, and democratic principles.  An authoritarian government leaps over the impediments of the constitution and the laws in an emergency; a democratic one plans, decides and acts in accordance with legality.  The consequence is a dangerous degradation of the rule of law.  That is why the opposition, whose majority status is indisputable, has to defend, with all means at its disposition, the system of freedoms, counting on the Democracy Charter.  A radical strike could be resolved via democratic instruments and negotiation, sitting down to discuss differences in a civilized manner....  With Venezuela's active strike, the exact opposite has occurred: the government has thrown fuel on the fire and defied its adversaries.... In this context, the government has invaded private property without search warrants, forcibly expropriated fuel transport trucks, deprived the owners of their property, and ignored the constitution....  The rule of law has been mortally wounded, since the state organisms charged with overseeing and punishing abuses of power show an absolute submission to the executive branch, and impunity is the rule (even justifying the murderous action in Altamira Plaza)."


"The Leader Is US"


Influential journalist Roberto Giusti argued in conservative national daily-of-record El Universal (12/17): "So far - and we are in the final rounds of this fight - civil society is winning this battle between democracy and dictatorship.  Although one shouldn't oversimplify the crisis to one basic dilemma, at the end this is all about the will of a megalomaniac lost in the delirium of power, against the will of an entire people who, without firing a shot and religiously tied to its own strength, are on the verge of seizing a historic victory....  At some point soon, the decent military, who are the great majority, will join the movement.  The same will happen with the sensible Chavistas in the Congress and the Supreme Court, though I fear inertia and cowardice will continue to reign in the Attorney General, the People's Defender and the Comptroller.  They all know that there is still time, that they can join the bandwagon in time to avoid what only Chavez and his Talibans want.  If they do it in time, they will be vindicated.  If not, they will pass into history as sad accomplices of a criminal hallucinated by power."


"This Is Why We're Going To Die And Kill?"


Columnist Jorge Olavarria pointed out in liberal national daily-of-record El Nacional (12/17): "In the Venezuela governed by Chavez there has never been and there is not now separation of powers, no independent judicial organs, no democratic state of law.  It is all a farce, a lie and a deceit.  In the name of this constitutional legality, our Armed Forces officers ask us to kill and die, and puts its arms at the service of a demagogic usurper who has destroyed Venezuela?"


"Going Crazy"


Afternoon Tal Cual commented in an editorial (12/16):  "Yesterday the President had another screw come loose.  He ordered garrison commanders and governors to ignore judicial decisions.  It seems like Chavez and his Talibans no longer know what they're doing....  Everything he is doing is a naked and open use of force as the ultimate reason of his power.... While circumstances advise him to understand that he can no longer govern democratically an angered country, that it is not going to obey him, and that day after it demonstrates this with a massive presence in the street - an arena that Chavism no longer appears - and that the politically sensible thing to do is make a political arrangement that allows an escape to this generalized state of political disobedience - Chavez and his crew accelerate their movement toward the definitive loss of all constitutional and legal legitimacy.  The call to ignore judicial decisions, with an aside threatening governors of the opposition, are elements of a coup - or better said, an auto-coup.... How the hell can he be so stupid as to not understand that to deny a political solution today condemns him to govern outside the law, and that this path will lead the country to a disaster?"


"From Bad To Worse"


Afternoon, government-sympathetic El Mundo published a column by editor Rafael del Naranco asserting (12/16):  "It seems like good sense, consideration and good judgment are disappearing from the mind of the head of state to a worrisome degree.  It's no longer just furious attacks on the opposition and its spokesmen, something normal in political rhetoric, especially since most of the time his opponents are no less aggressive and fire heavy attacks against him, the Bolivarian Circles and the government.... But yesterday during his talk was the last straw by the president as far as sense is concerned.  Jesus!  What happened to Hugo Chavez?  Has he lost all sense?  Has he forgotten that he is supposed to be the guarantor of the Bolivarian constitution he himself wrote during his months in jail, and which was approved thanks to his charisma, gift of persuasion and rhetoric?....  It's difficult for us to understand his reaction....  In calling for the military to ignore judicial decisions... he erred, and left the blatant sensation that he is interfering in one of the three pillars of democracy, the judicial power."


"A Christmas Bonus For Venezuelans"


In an op-ed for conservative national daily-of-record, former presidential candidate Francisco Arias Cardenas wrote an op-ed in El Universal (12/16): "Venezuelans need to give ourselves the gift of an agreement that, during the first months of 2003, we will go to the polls and vote on a constitutional amendment that lets us choose the government as soon as possible."


"The Kicking Of A Drowning Man"


Leading liberal national daily-of-record El Nacional said in an editorial (12/16): "When the OAS Permanent Council meets today, it should consider President Chavez's order yesterday that the Armed Forces 'not obey the courts' under any circumstances....  The Venezuelan government appeals to the OAS, hoping it will give it carte blanche as 'a legitimate president.'  No one has ever denied this,r eally; but we're not talking about the government's origin now, but rather its actions and abuses that have annulled its legitimacy.... The OAS representatives have a clear choice, if they want to effectively contribute to resolving our political crisis: openly back the mission of SG Gaviria....  The GoV is advancing in its stubborn effort to impose its will by force, violating national and international laws.... Not even under a state of exception could the abusive actions taken by the government be justified.... The government is kicking like a drowning man.  It makes us appear before the whole world as an uncivilized country where every act of force is legitimate.  This happened in response to the most extraordinary demonstration ever seen in the world.  The hemisphere saw this Sunday [during Chavez's speech] more evidence of the type of regime that has imposed itself on Venezuela.  It is rejected by the entire nation with reason."


"After Saturday's Mega-March"


An op-ed for centrist El Globo by former President Herrera Campins pointed out (12/16): "The Venezuelan people continue to give proof of civics and courage even in the most difficult circumstances, when it faces with unique fearlessness and tenacity the totalitarian threats of the autocracy in power.  No one denies Chavez's election legitimacy in 1998.  But the incorrect and arbitrary use of power, with multiple violations of the constitution and the existing legal order, have de-legitimized him."


"Early Elections"


Popular, mass-circulation Ultimas Noticias ran a column by pro-government editor Eleazer Diaz Rangel (12/15): "I trust that there will be a consensus here and that soon the National Assembly will discuss matters that include the issue of a constitutional amendment, which is the fundamental question as far as cutting short the presidential term, fixing dates for elections, choosing the National Electoral Council, etc....  Where is the resistance to this proposal?...  On the government side... it appears that the hardest positions are beginning to cede.  The greater resistance is among the opposition... The hawks have declared that the strike is until Chavez falls, and they dismiss any electoral solution.... What makes more difficult an agreement right now is not the lack of will on the part of the negotiators at the talks, but rather the extremist positions that have surely not played all their cards.  Anything could happen.  One supposes that the Armed Forces are ready."


ARGENTINA: "Venezuela: Food and Oil Shortage, Anger and Sadness in Christmas"


Daniel Juri, on special assignment in Caracas for leading Clarin opined (12/19): "Caracas is overwhelmed, and its people are eyeing each other with distrust, from one street to the other. The equation is simple: here, you're either with Chavez or against him. Chavez is everything or nothing. He's good and evil. The best and the worst that could occur to this country. And, amidst this never-ending division, growing tension rocks and corners the city, as if a barrel of gunpowder had started to roll down the hot pavement.  Everybody knows: it can blow up any minute. The strike launched by businessmen and labor unions together with some political parties and NGO's has been going on for seventeen days now.... Looks like the government of Venezuela wants the atmosphere of chaos to continue, amid its political self-centeredness: yesterday, its Minister of Interior said the strike doesn't exist and that despite the current situation in the country 'it's not the government that's affected, but the people.' The truth is that even though Chavez' people deny it, the strike is directly affecting Venezuela where it hurts most: practically blocking its entire oil production... It's also affecting the domestic oil market and leading to the shortage of food, but also of beer and cigarettes in a country where smoking and drinking are almost a national sport. Everyday life in Venezuela has turned into a nightmare."


"Violent Clashes In Caracas?"


Michael Soltys, liberal, English-language Buenos Aires Herald's executive editor, wrote (12/17): "Last week, the U.S. forced the pace of events in Venezuela by pressing for early elections or a referendum.... Inhibited by memories of April (when it moved too quickly to recognize the exit of Venezuelan President Chavez after massive protests and bloodshed, only for Chavez to be restored two days later by loyalist troops), the State Department has reacted slowly this time but things are clearly running out of hand when a country like Venezuela has to import oil. After all, 14% of the U.S. market is supplied from Venezuela with a Middle East conflict looming. While opting for early elections, the U.S. has yet to find consensus among Organization of American States (OAS) colleagues. But time is running out fast for a peaceful solution. The vital oil industry is 90% crippled as the conflict between Chavez and his opposition escalates with the ex-paratrooper relying increasingly on military intervention while strikers vow not to stop until Chavez is out.... Beyond oil, tension is mounting. Over a million marched in Caracas last weekend.... The press is being attacked on both sides, mostly the private media opposing Chavez but also government mouthpieces by the opposition.  Perhaps the smartest thing Chavez could do in this context would be to accede to early elections, thus placing the ball in the court of a divided opposition."


"Army Backs Chavez and Condemns Economic Chaos"


Ludmila Vinogradoff, filed from Caracas for leading Clarin  (12/17): "Venezuelan army's top brass gave its support to President Chavez and warned the opposition it won't tolerate a collapse in Venezuela's economy, after 15 days of a general strike launched by the opposition in an attempt to obtain Chavez' resignation. The army's declaration was issued on the same day the opposition announced it's 'ready to take over Caracas through a series of simultaneous rallies' summoned for next Thursday and Friday.... From Washington, the White House declared its support for a referendum regarding the continuation or not of Chavez as Venezuela's president, moving away from Venezuela's opposition, which demands his immediate resignation and calls for early elections - an issue which violates the country's constitution. Spokesman Ari Fleischer said the U.S. backs a referendum 'to listen to the people's will' and made clear that 'we're not calling for the introduction of amendments' to the Constitution."


"Army Supports Chavez"


Liberal, English-language Buenos Aires Herald observed (12/17): "Venezuela's army yesterday threw its weight behind efforts by President Chavez to break an opposition strike, describing the shutdown of the nation's vital oil industry as an attack against the state..... General Montoya urged representatives from both sides of the political divide to settle the crisis in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.... The opposition strike, which started December 2, has rattled oil markets and fuelled tensions in the sharply divided South America nation.... The White House again urged Chavez to call early elections, but seemed to modify its stance by stressing - as Chavez has insisted - that those elections should come only under the rules spelled out in Venezuela's Constitution. Chavez has rejected demands for his resignation in early elections, saying the Constitution doesn't allow them until August, the midway point in his current six-year term."


"Washington Changes and Moves Away From Venezuelan Opposition"


Business-financial Ambito Financiero stated (12/17): "Yesterday the U.S. announced it supports a referendum on Venezuelan President Chavez, moving away from its previous declarations and from the opposition which calls for his immediate resignation and early elections. On Friday, the White House had increased international pressure on Chavez by saying that early elections were the only possible solution to Venezuela's crisis.... But yesterday, White House spokesman Fleischer told the press that the U.S. supports a referendum 'to listen to what people have to say', although he didn't specify a date."


BRAZIL: "Paper Conspiracy"


Liberal Folha de Sao Paulo political columnist Clovis Rossi reported from Caracas (12/21): "The Venezuelan media's behavior vis-a-vis the crisis is perhaps an unprecedented scandal in the not-always-noble history of Latin America's press. The five principal private television channels and nine of the ten major dailies have been transformed into a battering ram [designed to] overthrow President Hugo Chavez.... Chavez has been accused by the opposition of trying to introduce into Venezuela a Cuban Castro-like regime.  But to use the lines [in front of Venezuelan gas stations] to suggest the comparison is in unbelievably bad faith. The lines in Cuba exist due to lack of goods. They exist in Caracas today because of a political strike being conducted by the management of the state-owned oil sector.... The worst thing [about this state of affairs] is that the media's view is contaminating information going overseas."


"Dare To Do, Dare To Win"


Liberal Folha de Sao Paulo political commentator Clovis Rossi observed from Caracas (12/20): "Venezuela is involved in an extremely serious crisis about which it is difficult to obtain reliable information, because the local media is part of the conspiracy against Hugo Chavez.... What helps make [Lula's initiative] so visible is the fact that the U.S., traditionally the nation that creates and/or resolves problems, has pursued an erratic policy in Venezuela. It has left a gap that only Brazil, due to its importance in the region, can fill."




Right-of-center O Globo says in its editorial (12/19): "It would only take a sign of flexibility from President Chavez to undo Venezuela's impasse--and save the country from the abyss' edge. But he has preferred to continue to radicalize the situation as if he needed an excuse to take over all power in the name of order and legality.  He doesn't realize that he will be isolated if he falls into the temptation of a coup.... At this delicate moment the common sense of General Raul Isaias--head of the country's most important military unit--is comforting.  He told 'O Globo' that if the Armed Forces are forced to intervene it will be to re-establish order and to defend the Constitution, never to take over power.  Statements like these demonstrate that military insubordination is not one of the crisis' fuses.  All this should serve to show mediators that the best way out is to change Chavez' thinking.  First, convince him that even with the Constitution on his side he doesn't have a monopoly over common sense.  And also that advancing elections is not a defeat, but rather a tactful withdrawal to relieve tension--especially when polls indicate he would be re-elected."


"The Way Out For Chavez"


Respected center-left Jornal do Brasil editorialized (12/17):  "The [American] Continent today breathes the pure oxygen of democracy and any attempt to change this status should take that into consideration. Constitution is the way out for Venezuela.  Any other alternative has little chance of succeeding. Chavez is stuck in an institutional corner.... The U.S. is doing a "mea  culpa" for its recent disastrous diplomatic performance and has pointed to  the plebiscite as the constitutional way out.  Moreover, the U.S. must be  careful to prevent itself, under the pretense of an institutional solution, from even the slightest intention to intervene. This would a  worst disaster, not only for Venezuela but for the whole Latin American continent. Chavez's chess-board has few pieces left.  The main one is OAS - which  should act as the judge in Venezuela's impasse.  There is also the U.S.  and Brazil...Brazil has great political importance in the region, in addition to sharing borders with Venezuela.... Venezuela's example serves to reflect on the power of the presidential regime in young democracies. Unlike the parliamentary system, it concentrates power in the figure of the president and makes crises more  difficult to control.  That is the case with Chavez.  He should seek a  plebiscite to determine whether he should remain in power.  If he doesn't, it will just be a coup."


"Dangerous Path"


An opinion piece in right-of-center O Globo asserted (12/16): "It's evident that President Hugo Chavez is incapable of lifting  Venezuela from the crisis alone.  Everything he does stimulates misunderstanding and radicalization -  for example, the recent military guidelines to ignore Judiciary decisions which are contrary to the Executive's decrees. It is as if Chavez foments dissention purposefully in order to have an  excuse to seize total control with military support. Confrontation is the formula to split Venezuela - partly as a result  of the President's authoritarian style.  Ultimately [the formula] of civil  war."


CANADA: "Venezuela Drifts Toward Anarchy"


The liberal Toronto Star opined (12/19): "Hugo Chavez may be Venezuela's freely elected president, but he is fast losing his people's confidence.  A million took to the streets this week demanding his resignation and fresh elections. Two million have signed a petition to that effect. For every Venezuelan who compares him to a saviour, there's another who calls him a dictator.... Put simply, Venezuela's elite is having a hard time accepting the most basic tenet of democracy: Whoever wins an election has the right to govern for a full term. The rebellion has dark implications for all of Latin America's fragile democracies. Canada and the other OAS countries should insist on a peaceful, lawful resolution to this crisis. Chavez may be autocratic, but is no tyrant.... Chavez would be smart to recognize that he needs to re-establish his legitimacy, and agree to early elections.  But if he does not, Venezuela's putsch-friendly elite should wait until August, before demanding a vote. Whatever damage they fear Chavez may do to their interests between now and then will be nothing compared to the damage they will do to democracy and civil order, if they oust him lawlessly."


"Here's A Plan To Stop Venezuela's Descent Into Chaos"


Columnist Paul Knox commented in the leading Globe and Mail (12/17): "Distasteful as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may be, he was elected by popular vote and should not be deposed by a marching mob....The strike and associated protests have created South America's latest political crisis and posed a stark question to other governments of the Americas: You say you want constitutional democracy to be the norm throughout the Western Hemisphere. Does that mean all the time, or just when it produces the right result?... [Mr. Chavez] is the classic demagogue, seeking to remould corrupt and feckless institutions by the power of his own speeches and personality. He has little talent for conciliation -- and that is one reason why the threatened middle and upper classes have managed to unite in opposition to him.... What's the solution? Here's one possibility: The OAS could seek agreement from both sides to install a commission of observers in Venezuela. This body, headed by a respected Latin American figure, would be able to receive reports of abuses of the rule of law or constitutional procedure, investigate them and issue a monthly summary of its findings.... In return, the opposition would end the general strike. Mr. Chavez would agree to submit to a recall vote as provided in the constitution, and call new elections if he lost. This plan would build on the principle of election observation.... Democracy, we are frequently reminded, is more than just ballot boxes. Why, then, should observation missions be limited to elections? Somehow, Venezuela's descent into chaos must be stopped without further bloodshed, and without yielding to the authoritarian temptations that are evident on both sides."


MEXICO: "Chavez Loses Initiative"


Angel Guerra Cabrera wrote in far-left Jornada (12/19):  "The battle currently facing Venezuela pits Hugo Chavez, the majority of poor people, and the army against a coalition of forces subordinated to Washington--the so-called Democratic Coordination.   This group is made up of classes and sectors that have benefited from the rent-seeking oil economic model--a group that maintains its economic power, even though it has been discredited by the government…it turns to the middle classes…in which it finds a receptive audience for hysterical messages of the mass media, controlled by the oligarchy.  The fascist ideology of the opposition coalition was evident before, during, and after the failed April 11 coup, which was orchestrated by the Bush administration under the supervision of then AS WHA Otto Reich, and the Cuban counterrevolution in Miami.  (This group) calls, on one hand, for all or nothing--the resignation of Chavez--while it pretends to negotiate with the government.  The resistance of the Venezuelan people against military coups has prevented the triumph of the opposition until now, but it can’t quash this initiative on its own…this can only be achieved by Chavez’s administration if it decides to take two types of steps: 1) to utilize all of its powers within the rule of law to defend the nation from illegal and subversive actions; and 2) to move ahead, without hesitation, on the project of emancipation contained in the Constitution and the nation’s laws."


COLOMBIA:  "Chavez: Without Gas?"


The lead editorial in top national El Tiempo asserted (12/18):  "It is appropriate to ask whether President Hugo Chavez administration is running out of gas necessary to keep going or even to continue without making at least one concession that would calm the civil unrest climate in the country....  Events...oblige Chavez to rethink his position.  Holding on to power without showing signs of opening up to the opposition--an opposition which should also revise its irrational stance--means exposing the country to both unprecedented economic deterioration and violence with unpredictable consequences." 


CHILE:  "OAS Questionable Intervention"


An editorial in leading-circulation, popular La Tercera judged (12/20): "Venezuela is going through one of its worst crises.  To the 18-day strike and the inability of Hugo Chavez' government and his opponents to find a democratic solution, one might add the questionable role of the OAS....  The statement issued by the OAS was weak...  It was a declaration of principles that did not help solve the crisis.  Once more the efficiency of the organization to resolve hemispheric conflicts is in doubt... The OAS cannot limit itself to simple condemnations or statements of principles.... It must take action and promote peace and democracy using all means.  The organization's inefficiency reflects the lack of determination of its members.  It is the job of the OAS and its member states to engage more and with more determination.  Said differently, perhaps the U.S will be the one to stop a catastrophe in Venezuela, and not regional organizations."


GUATEMALA: "Chavez, The Beginning Of The end" 


Leading, moderate Prensa Libre said in its main editorial (12/17):  "While the president ignores the definite demonstrations against him, as well as the charges made by the international community, and trusts he may continue with the support of a still considerable segment of the population, Venezuela is heading to chaos that will take a long time to recover from, even after (Chavez) accepts reality and abandons power."


PANAMA: "Venezuela, Another Victim"


Conservative El Panama America ran an op-ed by Carlos David Abadia (12/19):  "I believe that the exit of this Venezuelan crisis will be bloody, there is no way in which this individual can abandon the power in a civilized way.  Some will say he should end his period because he was elected for it, but I believe that by his doings he lost the legitimacy of the vote.... From the Venezuelan crisis we should get some learnings.  First, the vote must be respected...second, people should react with intelligence and not with passion...we should not believe in false Messiahs...we should participate more in the political life in order to obtain knowledge.... We should reflect seriously because the Chavez's and Fujimoris, and others, are patrolling the political arena to take advantage of the situation.  As Gandhi said, 'When decent men do not participate in politics, the corrupt take advantage of it, therefore the decent men will have to keep silent'"


"Venezuelan Crisis: Between The Process, The Person And Petroleum" 


Independent La Prensa's Washington correspondent Betty Brannan stated(12/15): "Few in Washington have noticed the crisis in Venezuela.... The White House, the Department of State, and the U.S. editors have kept almost total silence on the subject.  This silence is part of the fact that the war against terrorism and other problems are keeping the Bush administration forgetting about Latin America....  It also partially responds to the errors made back in April, when the Bush Administration took actions to support the attempted military coup against President Chavez.... It is my opinion that if the Venezuelans elected Chavez, they will have to put up with him (tough luck).... Those opposed to Chavez may have found the correct formula to ask for a 'consultive referendum'...but it is not clear if this referendum could be done immediately or they'll have to wait until August.... Essentially, is that the opposition and the government will have to abide to the procedures stated in the Constitution and that the United States keep loyal to the democratic principles."


PERU: "The Crisis in Venezuela is Becoming more Acute"


Reliable business Gestion stressed in its editorial (12/20): "The crisis in Venezuela has become more acute... The economy is seriously affected by the disruption of...oil production and export.... The actions taken by the government to ensure... the provision of oil and food...may become part of...a series of measures...that represent a threat to private property in Venezuela.... The situation, together with the concern about a war against Iraq, has caused an increase in...the price of oil.... The concerned about the threat it entails for its...economic recuperation....  Latin America and the world...are focusing their attention in the development of the crisis, which affects the fifth major oil producer in the world... The most viable solution seems to be a...referendum early next year."


"Venezuela At The Breaking Point"


Straightforward, flagship El Comercio observed (12/18): "The Venezuela is really critical... In the face of such a deep political crisis, the OAS has urged the parties to decide for a 'peaceful, constitutional and electoral solution' which...the U.S. supports.  Formally, the Chavez regime agrees to this...initiative, but in practice, it persists in showing a confrontational attitude....  In such a difficult scenario...the parties are reestablish dialogue.... It is urgent that  both the opposition and the government, but especially the government, demonstrate their good will...before the crisis becomes unmanageable."


TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: "Chavez's Challenge"


In its Opinion Column the liberal Trinidad Express newspaper-of-record (12/18): "Trinidad and Tobago and the other countries in Caricom can hardly afford to back-pedal in their support for the embattled administration of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.  The world's only remaining super-power may be becoming increasingly lukewarm towards Mr. Chavez, to put it mildly, but he is the duly elected leader of the world's fifth largest petroleum producer.   In fact, it is open to question just how much of Mr. Chavez's present problems has been fuelled by the imperialistic tendencies the United States has always had towards Latin America, given that America has been found to have played an embarrassing hand when Mr. Chavez was almost overthrown in an attempted coup earlier this year.....  It is difficult to understand, then, why the American president, George Bush, should be insisting on early elections unless his Republican administration wishes to be seen to be serving the interests of Venezuela's upper classes to which it may feel itself more ideologically aligned.  The abiding democratic question, though, is what is to be done to improve the quality of life of the Venezeulan majority?  Or to direct the question to the rich and comfortable in our big neighbor next door - what guarantees does Caricom and, indeed, the rest of the world have that a president and administration of their choosing would share President Chavez's concern for the downtrodden power? The truth is, however, Venezuela can hardly forever be careening from side to side.  Saddled not least by his own mistakes, Mr. Chavez may have to quickly perceive that it is far more difficult to bring revolutionary change to a country than to stage a coup."




BRITAIN: "Paratrooper Paranoia" 


An editorial in the conservative Times stated (12/16): "Venezuelans poured into the streets demanding the resignation of a President whose adventurism, and misrule have brought one of Latin America's potentially richest countries to the verge of economic collapse.... Chavez has lost the confidence of the middle classes, scared away investors, antagonized the Americans, undermined the economy and resorted to ever more desperate measured to bolster his fading image as a champion of the poor....  The former army paratrooper's record since his landslide election victory in 1998 has been one of failure...  The country is beginning to weary of his antics.... [The US] depends heavily on Venezuela for oil, and cannot afford a sudden interruption in supplies in the run-up to a possible war with Iraq.... The difficulty is a constitutional ban on snap elections....  A coup is the worst way of changing governments....  Venezuela's politicians must be persuaded that, if the country is to avoid further disaster, they must find a way for Chavez to be voted out of office as swiftly as possible". 


GERMANY: "Protest Activities...Will Reach A Critical Point"


 Erik-Michael Bader stated in an editorial in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (12/21): "In Venezuela, we can see where it leads to, once opposition groups call upon the people to 'go on the warpath' against a regularly elected government that has embarked upon a worrying course.  Slowly but gradually, the protest activities organized by a broad coalition of opposition groups, will reach a critical point.  If the opposition heeded the order of the Supreme Court to suspend the strike until it has made a decision on the legitimacy of the strike, the impetus of the protest rallies would be gone.  If it continues to disregard the Court's order, it will considerably weaken its own legitimacy.  For the United States, the paralysis of one of its most important oil supplier, shortly before a looming war in the Mideast, comes at the worst time.  The United States shows the first signs of unease."


"The Right Verdict, The Wrong Judges"


Hinnerk Berlekamp argued in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (12/20):  "Venezuela's Supreme Court handed Hugo Chavez a damper.  The judges made Chavez understand that he should accept the limits of his power and respect them.  They are right.  But it is a different story whether the verdict can help contribute cooling the heated-up atmosphere in Venezuela.  The opposition will now even intensify its campaign to oust the president after the judges backed their efforts with such a ruling. Among government supporters, however, the Court lost its credibility in August already when the same judges acquitted the leaders of a failed coup attempt presenting flimsy arguments.  For them, the latest ruling is only a further attempt that justice authorities continue to play the game of the old oligarchy that Chavez deprived of its power."


"A Country Is Collapsing"


Carl Goerdeler had this to say in an editorial in center-right General-Anzeiger of Bonn (12/19): "With his verbal immoderateness, his inflated gestures, and military nepotism, President Hugo Chavez has managed to ruin the oil nation Venezuela in a record-breaking pace.  He now even wants to use foreigners to replace striking oil workers.  In the end, Chavez must search for a different people.  It is not certain that Chavez will find enough supporters to come out as the winner of new elections, which the opposition demands and Washington recommends.  That is why he is shying away from such elections.  He insists on the Constitution that does not require a vote of no-confidence.  Hugo Chavez wants to sit out the trouble, while the opposition wants to push him out of office.  If there were elections tomorrow, Chavez's opponents would have the majority but no convincing candidate.  Thus the deeply divided Venezuela is heading for an abyss, even for a civil war."


"No Solution For Venezuela" 


Hildegard Stausberg noted in an editorial in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (12/16): The situation of Venezuelans has never been as bad as it is now; according to UN statistics, some 80 percent live below the poverty level.  President Chavez has exploited the country, as did the other elites before him.  Cesar Gaviria, General Secretary of the OAS, has not been able to negotiate a solution.  Neither the opposition demanding Chavez's departure nor the president clinging to power shows any interest in reconciliation.  There appears to be no way out of this dilemma, and civil war or an assassination is becoming more and more likely."


RUSSIA: "Chavez Is No Allende"


Boris Volkhonskiy held in reformist business-oriented Kommersant (12/20): "It is unlikely that Hugo Chavez will hold out if he acts as Allende, who, in his commitment to the Constitution, did not flinch even in the face of death.   This means that the Venezuelan President has little choice, having either to fight on to stay in people's minds as a hero and martyr or turn off onto the path his other idol [Fidel Castro] has been treading the past 50 years. The former is out since Hugo Chavez is certainly not the idealist Salvador Allende.  The latter seems far more plausible.  The trouble is that Chavez the president costs a lot more than his Cuban counterpart.  Just as Venezuelan oil costs more than Cuban sugar.  Nobody would put up with an undisguised dictatorship in a country that ranks fifth in the world in oil exports.  So it appears that Chavez has no choice at all.  With some 60 lives taken in an aborted coup last April, he can't really hope to retire and get away with it.   It is too late.  Many people inside Venezuela and outside it will only be happy to place entire responsibility on the incumbent.  Come to think of it, the only way open to Chavez is that of Slobodan Milosevic."


IRELAND:  "War, Famine And Murder, Glory Be!"


A comment by Vincent Browne in the liberal Irish Times noted (12/18): "Last week the U.S. administration intervened openly for the first time in the crisis in Venezuela. Unsurprisingly, it intervened to support the calls of the opposition groups for early presidential elections there. Apparently the Americans are worried about a democratic deficit in Venezuela....  Now an administration led by a President who got half-a-million fewer votes than his rival expresses concerns about the constitutional legitimacy of Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela! There was an abortive coup in April against Chavez, and the Americans were caught red-handed in the coup plot. Now they are at it again, stoking up the powerful business interests, supported by an elite among the working class - primarily those engaged in the oil industry - to oust a leader who has defied the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy and challenged the US's self-appointed pre-eminence in world affairs."




INDONESIA: "Greater Unrest Threatens Venezuela"


Leading independent Kompas (12/16) commented: "Chavez is still considered as the most popular leader although his image has dropped sharply.... It is probably for this reason that Chavez still maintains self-confidence, unaffected by U.S. pressure or internal protests.  His confidence was fostered, among other things, by his success to evade a coup d'état in April....  The social and economic unrest has also affected political life. The opposition groups are using the economic chaos as an opportunity to demand Chavez' resignation.  The combination between economic and political crises will only worsen the situation, and will in turn cause greater vulnerability and danger.  In fact, Venezuela's economic and political infrastructures are among the strongest in Latin America."


THAILAND: "There’s Trouble In The Pipeline”


The lead editorial in independent, English language Nation read (12/18): “Should the position in Venezuela continue to deteriorate and oil prices continue to rise, the impact on the world economy will be serious.  Higher oil prices have played a part in every economic downturn since World War II and it would be almost impossible for America, the world’s main economic engine, to bounce back quickly from its current slump if crude prices rise further… What is needed is compromise and negotiations.  The only peaceful and politically viable way out of Venezuela’s crisis is some form of popular say on the situation, be it a confidence vote, referendum or election.  The opposition groups need to allow Chavez some time to regroup and organize, at the very least to save face.  Chavez needs to realize that he can’t keep an angry population at bay for nine months.  Venezuela’s neighbors and the foreign community also need to keep a closer watch on the situation.  Much is at stake.”




SRI LANKA: "Venezuela, Threatened By Country-wide Strike"


Independent Sinhala Lakbima, commented (12/19):  "Because President Hugo Chavez has connection with Libya and Iraq--he visited both countries recently -- America wishes his downfall.  Some allege that America is behind the coup that took place in Venezuela in April, although Washington denies the allegation....  Meanwhile the U.S. claims that the strike is reasonable and that President Hugo Chavez should immediately resign and hold elections." ##

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