International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

December 5, 2003

December 5, 2003





**  Most Venezuelan media deny "mega-fraud" charges, tell Chavez to "recognize he has lost."


**  Pro-Chavez writers claim the opposition is deluding followers with promises of victory.


**  Latin neighbors portray Chavez's threat to "disavow" the results as an affront to democracy.


**  Some urge opposition to await verification process and ask who would replace Chavez?




'How dare' the president accuse the opposition of 'cheating'?--  Independent Venezuelan media treated President Chavez's claim that the opposition had committed electoral "mega fraud" with indignation and sarcasm, accusing his "despicable regime" of "clinging to power."  To "speak of fraud" before any results have been issued was, contended liberal Tal Cual, an act of "irresponsibility" and, according to liberal El Nacional, an admission that the ruling party is "not emotionally prepared to face this test."  Papers asserted that the opposition had no reason to cheat or to "take the coup-plotting path," which, as conservative El Universal held, was only an option for those who "know they have lost," not for those "confident in a victory."


Pro-Chavez writers discredit the 'reafirmazo' as 'useless'--  The response of the chavista media, though far less prolific, underscored Venezuela's polarization.  A pro-government paper accused the "old politicians" of pre-empting the National Electoral Council's (CNE) verification process and for attempting to "impose themselves through fraud and violence."  Anti-Chavez editorials had hailed the "torrents of people" and the "high turnout" as a victory for democracy and a rejection of the Bolivarian plan.  Diario VEA countered that the long lines were where "rich families" lived and where the "political, social and racist hatred against the Bolivarian Revolution" has been unleashed.  Despite their advantages of money and "use and abuse" of the media, another pro-government writer taunted, "everything proved useless."


Latins say Chavez is not playing by 'democratic rules'--  Though regional commentary was limited, editorials in Brazil, Chile, Guatemala and Argentina worry that if Chavez defies the recall results, Venezuela would find itself "straying" even further from the road to democracy.  They echoed liberal Folha de Sao Paulo's admonition that instead of "bravado," Chavez should "accept the results of the recall with serenity" and if he wants Brazil's support, "remain within the limits of the law."  Even less forgiving, Guatemala's influential El Periodico declared: "Without a doubt, Chavez is no democrat, nor does he genuinely believe in the rule of law."


It's too early for the opposition to celebrate and 'still unclear a referendum will be held'--  Papers advised the opposition to "remain cautious" until CNE verification.  Stressing the need to "wait for the results," Caracas's El Universal counseled:  "We must avoid triumphalism and any desire for vengeance."  Citing the lack of a clear presidential hopeful in the opposition, the liberal Buenos Aires Herald suggested that "Mendoza & Co." might "sit this one out," since a recall not only requires an "unpopular incumbant," but also a "ready-made replacement." 


EDITOR:  Irene Marr

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This analysis is based on 49 reports from 6 countries, November 3-December 4.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed form the most recent date.




VENEZUELA:  "Mega What?"


The Daily Journal ran an English version of liberal, afternoon Tal Cual's editorial stating (12/3):  "When there have been electoral frauds, it has been the government that has committed them, for they are the ones who have all the tools for this.  Throughout the world, history has shown us that there has never been an electoral fraud committed by the opposition.  What the government cannot control is what the people, inside and outside the country, perceive.  The strategy of the government is to pressure the CNE and the Supreme Justice Tribunal; a game of legal appeals and accusations and threatening and cynical speeches.  When Chávez talks of mega-fraud he is accusing his own partisans who acted as observers.  The verification will leave everything clear.  If there were not enough valid signatures collected, the verification will show this." 


"Attacking The OAS" 


Leading liberal El Nacional judged (12/3):  "Chávez called victory and claimed, once again, that the opposition had committed a gigantic fraud.  He accused Gaviria of 'spending most of his time with the opposition' and of not wanting to talk to him.  This is not true; the secretary general did make a request for arranging a meeting with him.  Responding to hasty denouncements on the part of the Venezuelan president before a rally of his supporters last Monday, the secretary general said the 'OAS is impartial.'  Chávez is upset about having observers witness how Venezuelans turned out to cast their signatures.  Chávez must recognize that he has lost." 


"The Unworthy Death Of A Despicable Regime" 


Political analyst and university professor Aníbal Romero commented in leading liberal El Nacional (12/3):  "The main leaders of the current regime have recently demonstrated their despicable nature as well as their absolute blindness to the possible consequences of their intention to cling to power and to disregard most of Venezuelans' democratic will.  The opportunity for this government to find a successful way of ending its term seems to get farther away.  An irresponsible president, sinking as a result of his slipping approval rating, announces a 'mega-fraud.'  The mediocre chair of the National Assembly finds no better option than call on their supporters to 'arm themselves to defend the revolution.'  An unfortunate foreign affairs minister states that 'there is a risk of a civil war,' and tries to defend the despicable acts of the regime with the pretext that it is focusing on the 'social justice.'  How dare rulers that have done nothing but multiply poverty, unemployment and the number of street children, destroy our productive infrastructure that we had left, decapitate the oil industry and darken for years the future of our youth talk about 'social justice'?  I'm afraid that no matter what they do, any kind of redemption is out of the question.  However, some voices that confuse reconciliation with impunity are beginning to be heard....  Chavismo, as a radical political movement, an enemy of the representative democracy, can NOT have room in a new democracy, unless it fully abides by the rules of coexistence and tolerance of any civilized society.  Chavez's charisma has collapsed.  No charisma is endless and has to be based on deeds and respect."


"Announced Impugning"


Leading conservative El Universal editorialized (12/2):  "Speaking of a mega fraud, active defense and preparation to fire have a military, offensive and belligerent connotation when citizens have simply exercised a constitutional right with their pens and fingerprints in a massive and peaceful way.  One thing at a time:  the signatures have to be submitted to the CNE, with the observation of the OAS and the Carter Center, and then wait for the results.  If the millions of signatures gathered by the opposition are to be challenged, it can only be done by writing and with proofs submitted to the CNE.  We reaffirm our confidence in the arbitrator, but society must watch over it."


"Distortions And Lies"


Chavez's chief ideologue, director of the Revolutionary Political Command, Guillermo Garcia Ponce commented in his regular column in pro-government tabloid Diario VEA (12/2):  "Yesterday, the old politicians, openly defeated, started the anticipated plan.  They announce their 'victory' and refuse to accept the verification of the CNE.  Yesterday, the noise of horns and firecrackers, revealed their purpose to bypass the legislation and try to impose themselves through fraud and violence."


"What To Expect After Chavez?"


Quasi-pro-government, recently back in circulation El Diario de Caracas editorialized (12/2):  "Where is the leader of the opposition?  In other words, who is going to propose innovative ideas to face the agenda of sacrifices, especially in quality of life, Venezuelans have ahead of them over the next 20 years?  If the leaders of the Democratic Coordinator do not know what may come after Chávez, what we can expect--quoting philosopher Massimo Dessiato--is 'sheer ungovernability,' the vacuum of power.  The time for proposals and the leadership of the day after has come, because the possibility of having it come true is around the corner."


"Own Goal"


Journalist Argelia Rios advised in leading conservative El Universal (12/2):  "There are no reasons to worry: the accumulated experience is useful.  The success of the signature drive is the best proof that Chávez is not the invulnerable figure many people think he is.  El Reafirmazo has debunked that myth, whose effects occasionally crushed the spirit of fight of the democratic society.  It has been demonstrated that the triumphs of the president have stemmed from the errors of the opposition.... No matter what the government will do, the electoral way out is on the way."




Political analyst and author Alberto Garrido commented in leading conservative El Universal (12/2): "Chávez's call for an 'active defense and preparation to fire' can be interpreted in two ways.  First, Chávez reaffirms his conviction that the Bolivarian revolution is a civic-military-armed one (not electoral).  And second, he calls on the followers of the 'Process' to defend the power of a State legitimated by the Inter- American System, without which his official international project collapses.  A project that intends to confront the United States strategically through the creation of the 'Southern Bloc' with Mercosur-CAN and Petroamérica at its core and the formation of a Confederation of Latin American States with its own 'NATO,' shared by Lula.  What chavista ranks-and-file members will do to defend their boss is as predictable as imagining how the opposition followers will react if the opportunity to remove Chávez is blocked.  As for the Armed Forces, it remains to see what a sector of it means by being constitutional."


"The Fraud Of The Coup"


Journalist Roberto Giusti commented in leading conservative El Universal (12/2): "A fraud is generally committed by the governments or by those who have key positions in the electoral body, and that is not the case of the opposition.  Besides, it would be unnecessary because the high turnout of the people during el reafirmazo leaves no room for doubt.  Nobody who is confident in a victory in the elections would dare take the coup-plotting path.  On the contrary, that is an option of those who know they have lost.  There's nothing they can get from the elections, and they know a lot about coups because that is their specialty."


"The Challenge of Justice"


Primero Justicia's representative at the National Assembly, Julio Andrés Borges commented in leading conservative El Universal (12/2): "Reconciliation means that this opposition that wishes to become an alternative, allows the country to present agreements by which the people decide on a future candidate of national unity.  Not to decide on a messiah, because that would mean that we haven't learned anything at all; not even on a leader, but on a leadership to which we can give this map and with which we can walk along the path that will take us to a united Venezuela."


"Yeah Right!"


Daily tabloid El Nuevo País asserted (12/2): "How dare the President say that the opposition is cheating at the elections?  It is up to the government to control that.  This would be offensive to Ismael García [Ayacucho command chief, in charge of serving as pro-government witnesses during the signature gathering].  He had it all.  He must be so stupid to allow others to deceive him.  If it is true that the opposition cheated at the signature gathering...then it is true that the president is knocked out."


"En Este Pais"


Journalist Rafael Poleo commented in his regular column in the daily tabloid El Nuevo País (12/2): "Chávez's latest statements demonstrate his capacity to provoke serious disturbances to block the recall vote.  By doing so he might bring the opposition to a negotiation to exchange peace for forgiveness.  You either forgive me or I unleash the civil war Chaderton is talking about.  Chávez's megalomania is too big for the Presidency of Venezuela.  His intention is to succeed Fidel Castro as a leader of the Latin American left and achieve what Fidel could not.  To outdo his beloved master, Chávez counts on the oil as a political resource.  The two signature collection events obviously debunk the myth of Chavez's being the beloved popular leader.  He will need to negotiate."


"Calm And Collected"


The Daily Journal ran an English version of the editorial of afternoon Tal Cual stating (12/1): "This is not the time for provocative language.  This is not the time for tomfooleries on television or the time for statements such as those by the president about a 'mega fraud.'  When the president speaks, it is not just the head of government who speaks, but also the leader of his political party, and his words carry considerable weight.  The president must be aware that his statements and his call to take to the streets to fight against 'fraud' could open the gates to regrettable happenings.  To speak of 'fraud' before any results have been issued is an act of irresponsibility, and even a dishonest way of eroding the CNE's authority."


"Monday, The Last Day Of The Opposition Signature Collection"


Political analyst and columnist Manuel Malaver opined in economic Reporte Diario de la Economía (12/1):  "It has been impossible to contain the avalanche of people wanting to sign, since the early hours of Friday, to express the single will that Venezuelans do not accept an authoritarian government....  It was disclosed when Hugo Chávez broke the electoral promise of guiding the country in accordance with the fundamental principles of the democratic system that had prevailed since the 50's and, when unconstitutionally, he decided to establish a regime based on exclusion, intolerance, incitement to hatred and division and little or complete disrespect for the Constitution, the legislation and human rights.  It's in the so-called 'pretty or Bolivarian revolution,' a sort of graft of all populist and socialist experiences that plagued some countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa with misery, inequality, repression and backwardness.  An attempt to bring the kingdom of God down to earth that has always ended up in hell: the excuse caudillos and self-proclaimed saviors use to establish terrible and harsh dictatorships.  This is what the Venezuelan people have just rejected with their high turnout at the signature drive that is about to end.  They are survivors of an experience they did not either want or ask for, but that was imposed on them in a fraudulent way because they were never told that along with Chávez was coming the attempt to take Venezuela back to the XIX century."


"The Beginning Of Something"


Augusto Hernández commented in Ultimas Noticias (12/1):  "I will take the liberty to consider that this Monday is the beginning of the last month of the year we, Venezuelans, are the beginning of something.  For some, today could be the beginning of the end of the government headed by Hugo Chávez Frías.  For others, this Monday could mean the consolidation of Hugo Chávez as the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.  It would be the time to stop the sabotage of the opposition and start working to recuperate private businesses, battered by strikes, labor stoppages and campaigns of ill-intentioned rumors.  Whatever is going to happen should happen now, respecting the rules of the democratic game and in peace.  In that way we will know if the end of the government begins or the beginning of the revolution ends."


"The Next Step"


Leading conservative El Universal editorialized (12/1): "The ruling party officials started their rosary of statements the very first day of the signature drive of the opposition.  They flocked to the media to report a fraud.  Chávez said yesterday that 'they are preparing a mega fraud.'  The people will not allow it to happen.'  Well, at least the horizon is clear: what seems to be coming is the disregard of the results based of the already trite excuse.  A strong CNE, working non-stop on the verification process, like one its directors said, is the key to avoiding this new obstacle in the way.  Gaviria was clear and straightforward.  The CNE already made its statement.  That's it."


"And How About Tomorrow?"


Omar Estacio commented in leading conservative El Universal (12/1): "Friday, Saturday, Sunday and today showed Venezuelans' rejection of this government.  But, how about tomorrow?  Foreseeing the overwhelming turnout over these four days, some say that Chávez has his plan B.  When it comes to the actions of the government to disregard the results, many point at the infiltrated Cubans.  It's a total of 10,000 false doctors, reading and writing facilitators and sports trainers that would turn into 'rambos' and would take over 'Fuerte Tiuna' and do the work for the President.  Others talk about an auto coup.  It would be like him.  After all, the spent 20 years of his personal resentment, planning to the power by force, including the assassination of then president Carlos Andrés Pérez.  The less pessimistic ones anticipate legal maneuvers.  Any loophole in the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, that document that has turned into the laughing stock of the juridical international community.  However, we have to keep calm and avoid any act of triumphalism and any desire for vengeance as a result of the last five years of the sowing of hatred."


"The President's Mega Fraud"


Leading liberal El Nacional editorialized (12/1): "As it was expected, president Chávez has already started to develop his strategy to try to conceal the magnitude of the major setback it suffered over the last three days.  The serious thing is that the President of the Republic sent signals of a great nervousness yesterday afternoon.  He was about to say that the signatures 'would equal a coup d'état.'  He should change his trite rhetoric.  Such a civic event should not be disrespected.  He was so excited that he spoke of a mega fraud before the end of the event, whose home stretch is this Monday afternoon.  Speaking of a mega fraud is a demonstration that the ruling party is not emotionally prepared to face this test.  Nothing is more absurd.  The President of the Republic forgets that the OAS secretary general is in Caracas as well as the representatives of the Carter Center, numerous foreign observers and journalists.  And why does the President report a mega fraud when the signature recollection centers have not closed yet?"


"The Last Chance"


Chavez's chief ideologue, director of the Revolutionary Political Command, Guillermo Garcia Ponce commented in his regular column in pro-government Diario VEA (12/1): "The old politics was left with the last chance.  It was used in the suicidal attempt to cut Chávez's presidential term.  They had everything, even more than what the revolutionary organizations had.  They had a lot of money, provided by the large businesses, the banks and the American Embassy.  We cannot deny that they had plenty of advantages with the use and abuse of the TV channels; the radio stations, and the traditional print media.  Everything proved useless. They are defeated.  They could not succeed in collecting the number of signatures required by the legislation to call for a referendum on Chávez's term."


"A New Defeat"


Chavez's chief ideologue, director of the Revolutionary Political Command, Guillermo Garcia Ponce commented in his regular column in the pro-government tabloid Diario VEA (11/30): "The first reports submitted by the observers indicate hundreds of irregularities during the signature drive to call for a referendum on President Chávez.  It's true that there have been long lines in some residential areas in the east of Caracas.  It was foreseeable.  In those areas the political, social and racist hatred against the Bolivarian Revolution has been unleashed once again.  The rich families have establshed their residences there.  Their aim is to recapture the years of abuse of power and the looting of the budget or the profits of PDVSA. The opposition leaders have made a new mistake.  They have led their followers to a new defeat."




Leading conservative El Universal asserted (11/30): "The CNE must enforce, as it has done so far, the authority it has as an independent branch of power.  Yesterday, the abuses of some military officers, who have misunderstood the Republic Plan, the aggressions against some people in line in some signature centers by some pro-government groups, the ruling party spokesmen's statements openly violating the norms, the confusion created by some pro-government groups at the CNE with the blast of firecrackers, are clear signs of sabotage.  And they are part of a virtual reality."


"He Who Has Eyes Should See"


Leading conservative El Universal noted (11/29): "The purpose of ruling is to educate the people, to improve the political culture, and to implement social programs and those policies to create jobs, as well as to eradicate violence and to build a country with the help of all the sectors: that is, the democratic dynamics.  The revolution that has been sold to us is verbal, anarchic, and with tinges of an unjustified revenge.  The opposition has had the endurance and the capacity to rectify itself into a stabilizing force.  The democratic route always prevails.  Actions to discredit others, intimidate and improvise plans, squander resources of the State, wind up revealing the real face of the revolution.  The caudillo, among all of his tactical mistakes has said: If I legally lose the recall vote I will leave (?)  It is the recognition of the most powerful weapon citizens have wielded, a simple pen hard to confiscate and to accuse of coup plotting.  The time of reconstruction, of the structural and permanent attention to the needy and the rectification of the mistakes committed is approaching; because that is the essence of democracy.  He who has eyes should see."


"The Signatures Of The Truth"


Leading daily liberal El Nacional expressed (11/29): "To defend itself, the Government has frequently used the trite argument of the media's manipulation of most of the people in order to hide the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution.  Again and again, the pro-government spokesmen try to convince those who want to listen to them of the existence of this perverse plan.  They also add that in popular sectors and in parts of the middle class the perception of the 'process' is different and, of course, very positive regarding governmental plans.... Therefore, it is a very interesting exercise to observe how the international news services viewed the first day of the signature drive to call for the recall vote on the presidential term of Hugo Chávez, and to compare those views with those of the spokesmen of the government....  The first day of the petition drive presented two evident features: on the one hand, the great enthusiasm, discipline and the civil spirit of the people who turned out to sign throughout the country, and on the other, the nervousness of the spokesmen of the Government, determined to keep a hostile posture and object to every action of the opposition, demanding that others show perfection when they have committed all kinds of mistakes themselves.  Venezuelans still have three days to submit their signatures to call for a recall vote on the term of the President of the Republic.  Everybody has to do it, without haste, but non-stop."


"Mending Venezuela: Where to Start?"


The English-language Daily Journal editorialized (11/29): "Venezuela is divided because its social fabric is torn to shreds, and the kinds of institutions that help hold a society at peace--weak to begin with--are ripped apart.  It will take years to pull this country together, and many will not live long enough to see Venezuela recover.  Mending Venezuela must begin by accepting that, from now on, getting ahead in the real world comes from working hard and respecting other people's rights.  The problem is that once the bubble burst, we wasted two full decades blaming others for stealing away our dream.  From being a tension-free society we became a powder keg.  No one outside our immediate circle is to be trusted, and democratic institutions are not in place to protect our rights.  Democratic institutions cannot be built overnight.  Citizens must begin by learning to accept each other, no matter what our social background or political views may be."


"Torrents...Torrents Of People"


Afternoon El Mundo editorialized (11/28): "Caracas is a magnificent spectacle.  We can see the emotion to sign everywhere.  It's a feast, the feast of democracy.  The day has come for the Opposition.  The signatures have been collected twice and it was not possible to activate the referendum as a way out of the political crisis that has driven the country crazy for the last two years.  Now we'll see if the efforts were worthwhile.  The eyes of the world are watching us.  CNN opened its newscast with the second part of the petition drive.  What is at stake is Chávez's term in office. Venezuelans will decide on the destiny of a revolution that has drawn the attention of the whole globe; that has served as an example for some segments of the left that, after the fall of the Soviet Union, was agonizing.  It is also the evaluation of the confrontation, of the President's TV and Radio cadenas, of the Bolivarian circles and their 'hot spot' (a corner where pedestrians who oppose the government are insulted and assaulted...)  This shakeup should lead us to better times.  The fundamental thing is that our democracy has withstood everything and it has strengthened."   


"Signing up Is the Democratic Way"


The Daily Journal (12/1) runs an English version of the editorial of afternoon daily Tal Cual (11/28):  "The time period that began on Friday is one of the culminating moments of a stormy process.  During this process, a force has been growing that shows a will to offer democratic and peaceful solutions to the long, destructive and dangerous political crisis that the nation is undergoing.  History has shown us that any solution that is not the product of the will of the Venezuelan people expressed by means of the vote will be a case of the medicine being worse than the sickness.  The constitutional right to a recall referendum permits an appeal to the will of the majority of Venezuelans.  The signature collection process does not constitute a voting process nor does it substitute for the voting process. The extreme tensions of a crisis of such extremely opposed and dilemma-filled viewpoints requires that the country again establish what is the desire of today's majority, without this implying that all minority positions be relegated to some political ghetto.  Signing is what denies undemocratic temptations.  And both the government and the opposition should come to understand this."


The 'Bolivarian' Gulag"


Carolina Jaimes Branger commented in leading conservative El Universal (11/24): "Professionals, tremble! I have just received a copy of an interview with deputy congressman and candidate to chair the College of Engineers of Venezuela.  Considering the experience of the nationwide strike supported by PDVSA professional employees, he suggests invalidating the degrees of those professionals as a special sanction.  They would be disqualified to work in Venezuela.  A PDVSA engineer, who is a friend of mine, after reading the interview, draws a similarity with the system of forced work established in the Soviet Union, depicted in the novel Archipelago Gulag.  Lawyers have already been threatened.  Now, it's the engineers' turn.  If they don't join the revolution, their degrees will be invalidated."


"Hauled Votes"


Leading liberal El Nacional editorialized (11/24): "The government has desperately had to invent the 'hauling' operation to fish last-minute signatures that it could not collect in the first two days of the signature drive called by the CNE.  MVR leaders and the president himself are the ones that should be blamed for the low turnout during the pro-government signature drive.  They wanted to turn the 'pre-recall process' into a sort of mother of all battles, into a matter of life of death, where a bunch of samurais sacrifice themselves to achieve the political survival of the highest leader of the Bolivarian revolution.  President Chávez does not accept the idea of being voted out by the majority of Venezuelans and that another administration, with a wider and more tolerant attitude, takes the charge of leading the country to modernity, the combat against poverty and the reactivation of the economy.  If the turnout is high next Friday 28th, the government will have the violent circles go out to sabotage El Reafirmazo.  They want to scare people away.  They will not do it."


"Top Of The Ninth Inning"


Afternoon liberal Tal Cual editorialized (11/21): "Last Friday saw the beginning of the collection of signatures for the recall of 38 opposition parliamentarians.  The reasons behind this effort have little to do with how these deputies have acted and a lot to do with the political confrontation and polarization that these signify.  In other words, this signature-collecting process, just like the one that will be held this coming weekend to recall the president, is a part of the crisis, one of its faces.  The opposition is attempting to recall Chávez?  Then the government will try to recall half of the opposition deputies in the National Assembly.  At this time it is not the results of the signature collection that is keeping the government sleepless, but rather the counter-recall as a political action by the masses, the ability to mobilize people.  Later on we will see if the signatures are sufficient to enable the recall motion."


"A Course Of Protocol"


Leading liberal El Nacional (11/19): "The Foreign Ministry in Santiago called its ambassador to Venezuela 'for consultations.'  The reason: Chávez's reiterated interference in the old affair between Chile and Bolivia over the loss of the crucial stretch of coast that now constitutes much of northern Chile.  What has disturbed the Chilean government the most is the violent and provocative tone of the Venezuelan president every time he refers to this thorny issue.  Chávez also attended the Alternative Social Meeting, organized by his alter ego, the leader of the coca leaf farmers, Evo Morales.  Chávez forgets that he is the Venezuelan Head of State.  He has lost all sense of perspective, forgotten what he represents and ignored the most elemental norms of foreign policy.  Impasses with the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and now Chile: our foreign policy had never gone through these embarrassing incidents."


"Nobody Like You"


Journalist Roberto Giusti commented in leading conservative El Universal (11/18): "Alleged moderate opinion leaders currently want to sell us the idea that the people don't support either Chávez or the opposition because all of them, deep down, are the same.  They say that with another president the situation would be exactly the same or even worse than the one we have now.  Therefore, there would be no point in signing first and voting afterwards in order to change things because that would not happen.  With all their defects, vices, selfishness and tricks, any of the possible candidates of the opposition, independent or not, young or old, from the fourth or the sixth Republic, is preferable to this calamity of contradictions that wants to impose us the idea of chaos, impunity and misery as the definitive political system."


"Time For The Referee To Zip Up!"


Afternoon liberal Tal Cual asserted (11/18): "The enforcement of the rules for campaigning during the signature collections and referendum is a decisive challenge for the National Electoral Council. The most important part of this challenge is how to make the president obey the law.  This gentleman has no sense of proportion, and his verbal incontinency leads him to commit true outrages, which during a political campaign can be terribly damaging.  The presidential abuse in calling for network broadcasts and the heedless manner in which he insults his adversaries, coupled with the fact that for obvious reasons the president is the most prominent player on the political field, and the weight of his word is much greater than that of any other political leader, require that the Electoral Council pay special attention to his electioneering actions. Respect for the rules and games' referee are necessary at this stage to assure a peaceful and democratic solution to our muddle, and to establish the foundations for a less-neurotic future than that inspired by this insane polarization."


"The Left in Latin America: Between John Lennon and Fidel Castro"


Fernando Luis Egaña commented in weekly journal Quinto Día (11/14-21): "The new rise of the regional left can be recognized from Mexico City to Montevideo.  But, one thing is the democratic and civic left (Leninist after Lennon), led by Lula, Lagos, Kirchner or Garzón, and another thing is the authoritarian and militaristic one that still hails Castro like the saint and patriarch of the revolution.... In the formality of the statements and the deeds of the governance, the new democratic left represents a triumph of the political civility over the orthodoxy, the neo-militarism and intolerance.  It is against the dominant values of the old dogmatic left.  It stresses innovation over atavism, social equilibrium over class pugnacity, inclusion over subjugation, dialogue over division.  This formidable tendency has a civic and reformist character that is incompatible with the hegemonic caudillo.  Its consolidation will broadly depend on the capacity to build social development with economic growth.  The future of the democratic left lies in the success of the governmental agenda of Planalto, La Casa Rosada, La Moneda or the Bogotá city hall.  It is the best alternative to Miraflores' old authoritarianism, Zócalo's conservative liberalism and the anarchy of the guerrilla fronts."


"The Conspiracy Of The Media"


Humberto Gómez García commented in pro-government tabloid Diario EVA (11/13): "The vulgar and rough reaction of Ambassador Shapiro, saying that pro-government deputies' accusations of the participation of the CIA in Venezuela are just hot air, shows his little respect for the Venezuelan people, his imperial arrogance and behavior as a colonial praetor, but also the fact that the denouncements hit on the right target. The ambassador unabashedly covers up the activities of the members of the CIA, because he is one of the heads of the ongoing subversive plan.  The list of evidence on the destabilizing and terrorist plan in the making is quite long.… Shapiro knows about it, but he pretends not to understand it, because he longs to be the chief of this country, which is nothing more than a joke; but, watch out, the nation already knows about it and is completely aware."


"He Told Chávez NO With a Straight Face"


Liberal afternoon tabloid Tal Cual editorialized (11/12): "The respected Domingo Maza Zavala, a director of the Venezuelan Central Bank, famous for his firm but moving-right-along style, on Tuesday said that the Central Bank would be delighted to cooperate with the government, but while it grieved him to do so, 'we cannot violate the law to do things that the law prohibits.'  It is obvious that it is impossible for the bank to comply with the far-fetched request of the president unless the directors want to end up in the Public Patrimony Safeguard Court. And should Chávez take the issue to the Supreme Justice Tribunal, he will be handed his head, because the Constitution as well as the laws are clear and precise, and will not admit any shyster interpretation that could twist things so as to allow for the whims of Him. El Supremo.  In his electioneering efforts, Chávez has been playing the role of champion of the downtrodden, facing functionaries that are insensitive to the needs of the people and who put legal formalities above these needs.  He wants to be seen as the leader preoccupied with the poor, who is not allowed to do the right thing by the bureaucrats.  Chávez knows that he is not going to get that billion dollars, but he thinks that he will come out smelling like a rose.  It's not my fault, he will say.  And he will dump the blame on others.  The farmland crisis will be the fault of the Central Bank."


"The Act Of A Barbarian"


Liberal afternoon tabloid Tal Cual editorialized (11/11):  "The president's last brainstorm can only be classified as an absurdity, or as an action of extreme irresponsibility--unless it was the result of great ignorance.  Asking the Venezuelan Central Bank to hand over 'an itsy-bitsy billion' dollars from international reserves for one of his supposed agricultural plans places Chávez at the same level as Abdalá Bucarám.  But let us not be fooled, this was a calculated action.  Counting on the average citizen's limited knowledge of the ways of the financial world, Chávez wants to pick a fight where he appears again as the defender of the poor confronting 'insensitive bankers' who deny funds to the 'people.' Pure electioneering bunk.  It is necessary that this supreme demagogic action be exposed for what it is, because more than one unwary person will be tricked into believing that Chávez is right 'because if the dollars belong to the nation, why can't the government use them?  This is impossible, and it is easy to imagine the chaos that this would cause in the overall economy and most especially in the foreign exchange and Venezuelan debt-holder's markets if it were to be perceived that the government, one as spendthrift and wasteful as this one, can put its hands on the nation's international reserves. The foreign exchange rate, controls and all, will go to the devil almost instantaneously, as well as the country-risk rating."


"Fujimori And Chavez"


Economist and former PDVSA director Jose Toro Hardy commented in leading conservative El Universal (11/11): "The legitimacy of the performance of president Chávez and his government is seriously questioned, due to the constant violations to the Constitution.  We can just mention some cases: a) His permanent and public interference in the decisions of the other branches of government; b) the case of the FIEM (fovernment economic stabilization fund); c) the case of the oil agreement with Cuba; d) the 49 enabling laws;e) the violations of the human rights and the freedom of speech; f) the lack of compliance with the rulings of the Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ);...etc.  All indicates that democracy in Venezuela is dying, chiefly in the National Assembly, where the precarious ruling party majority, which stopped representing the popular will long time ago, is trying to pass a TSJ organic bill that would be the death certificate of our democracy....  Unlike Fujimori, Chávez has nothing to show.  He has provoked the worst economic and social crisis recorded in our half-a-century history.  Besides, Fujimori did not speak; he acted....  In democracy, a ruler may lose popularity, but if he keeps legitimacy, he usually keeps power.  Now, if apart from destroying that legitimacy, he also destroys the economy, divides society and loses popularity, his power is living on borrowed time."


"Why Venezuelans Reject This Revolution" 


Military general and former PDVSA president, Guaicaipuro Lameda Montero commented in leading conservative  El Universal (11/5):    "The grave mistakes committed by the leaders of the  'Bolivarian revolution' have prompted most of the Venezuelan electorate to reject the concept of direction and social organization they promote.  It is true that the current president of the Republic won in two elections with the majority of the counted votes, but it is also true that the number of votes he obtained was lower than the abstention in both cases.  Therefore, saying that the 'revolutionary' movement has the support of most of the nation is a big mistake, and even bigger if we consider that a large sector of the electorate voted for the current president to express their interest in a deep change or, simply, to punish traditional political parties.  So, the majority was never aligned with the revolution, but now the majority rejects it.  Most Venezuelans reject the revolution because its leaders embody what they consider to be anti-values: disrespect, insolence, dishonesty, intolerance, exclusion, lying, hypocrisy, violence, blackmail and revenge."   


A Nation Of Beggars"  


Leading liberal El Nacional editorialized (11/5): "Since the start of his term, he has done nothing but deepen the problems of the Republic.  Unfortunately for Venezuela, Chávez, rather than fulfill his promises and give concrete answers to the problems of the country, has dedicated himself to increasing the calamities, deepening the social drama and suffering of the popular sectors.  Instead of sowing hope, he has filled the streets of the country with beggars.  Chávez's revolution has been the great concubine of poverty.  Unemployment is about20%.  However, Chávez behaves as though he were the president of the happy country, where debts have been paid off, all the problems have been solved,  and the only thing that matters is to finance his whims, including buying votes and opinions."         

"Time Of The Signature Drive" 


Fernando Luis Egaña, former Information minister during Caldera's term commented in sensationalist 2001 (11/4): "The success of the signature drive lies in the collection of at least 20% of the signatures of the 12 million voters registered; that is 2,400,000 valid signatures. Opinion polls allow us to anticipate a success.  But, we have to realize that this event is only a step in the right direction and not the definite goal.  I don't share the idea that the Chavista regime will crumble away after the signature drive is over on December 1.  Let's keep in mind that it has political and legal consequences.  It will show the world that Venezuela's political reality is openly against the 'Bolivarian revolution' and its success will lead to the holding of the recall vote."


"The Month of Difficult Decisions" 


Editorial of liberal, afternoon tabloid Tal Cual (11/3): "The nation is passing through schizophrenic times.  On the one hand, the CNE is getting organized for the collection of signatures.  On the other hand, the language of both sides, most especially that of certain sectors of the opposition, is becoming more dreadful and is frightening/inhibiting hope for the referendum.  One can understand a desire on the part of the government to sow skepticism and discouragement when it comes to the new signature drive, but that the opposition does this is truly attention-grabbing.  Do those who see traps in every decision by the CNE, those who continuously predict a bloodbath, really believe that this is the way to motivate people to sign up?  It is just the opposite: They motivate abstention. They are aiding the government forces, for which abstaining to sign up for the recall and abstaining during the recall referendum is a valid option. To promote a lack of confidence, or worse, a feeling of fear, for the possible results of a recall referendum is to conspire against the prospect of a democratic and peaceful solution of the political crisis." 


"Colin Powell's Warning"


Political analyst and former ambassador Armando Durán commented in his regular column in leading liberal El Nacional (11/3) :  "All suggests that in four weeks, millions of Venezuelans will sign to call for a recall on President Chávez's term.  An event whose real aim is not to remove Chávez from office because of the oligarchy's blind and brutal revenge, as he claims, but to prevent Venezuela from changing.  Powell's warning goes in that direction.  The novelty of Chávez's regime has been his capacity to play on two board games at the same time: dictatorship and democracy.  His only obsessive purpose is to stay in power for a long time.  As Venezuela enters the frightening final stretch of the recall, Chávez is increasinly tempted to spoil the rules of the democratic game.  In his calendar, the magical date continues to be the year 2021.  The millions of signatures in El Reafirmazo (signature drive)  will shatter that revolutionary dream.  That's why Colin Powell gave Telemundo an exclusive interview, unthinkable in times of normalcy, to warn Chávez and Venezuelans of the upcoming risks."


ARGENTINA:  "Arnie, Wanted In Caracas"


Michael Soltys, executive editor of liberal, English-language Buenos Aires Herald noted (12/2):  "As Venezuela concluded its four-day recall referendum against President Chavez, there was every indication that the opposition might have the necessary votes but the question remains begging:  Do they have Arnie?  In other words, the recent Californian model would suggest that a successful recall referendum not only requires an unpopular incumbent...but also a ready-made replacement along the lines of California's new governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  And the fact is that nobody bulks as large as Schwarzenegger in the Venezuelan political firmament--and certainly not larger than Chavez himself, whose personal popularity...quickly reaches 40 per cent once he starts splashing oil money around....  The possibility of beating Chavez is not the only factor these hopefuls (like Mendoza...) must weigh--many constitutional experts think that anybody displacing Chavez can only be a caretaker president filling out the rest of his term until 2006 (very much like Duhalde here).  If that interpretation become established, Mendoza & Co. might very well decide that they would rather be Kirchner than Duhalde and sit this one out--the field might then be very much like the Democrats in the U.S. in the immediate flush of Gulf War victory in 1991."


BRAZIL:  "Chavez's Law"


Liberal Folha de S. Paulo editorialized (12/4):  "Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has signaled that he may not accept the result of the popular call for a plebiscite that will decide if he remains president....  He is expected to undergo a referendum probably between March and April 2004 that may shorten his term, originally scheduled to end in 2007.  Instead of bravado, President Chavez should accept the results of the call [sic] with serenity.  After all, it is a constitutional provision he himself proposed and that was approved by both the Congress and the population....  The solution for this situation is neither in rhetoric nor in force, but in the acceptance of democratic rules....  Chavez must remain within the limits of the law.  It was only because of the fact that he is the legitimate Venezuelan president that he received Brazil's support when he needed it.  And Brazil should only support him under such circumstance."


"Respect For The Law"


Rio de Janeiro's center-right O Globo noted (12/3):  "Venezuela...has a recall system that allows Venezuelans to get rid of an incompetent or unpopular president or both.  The Venezuelan recall is a common plebiscite, foreseen in the Constitution....  The outcome will be known in 30 days.  If the National Electoral Council accepts the petition, a plebiscite can be scheduled for March or April.  If any irregularities are found, the president's adversaries will have to wait until upcoming 2006 regular elections.  The opposition has been accusing the president of dividing the country with his demagoguery and his authoritarianism, and of ruining the economy with his administrative incompetence, impoverishing a country rich in natural resources and where the majority lives in hardship.  Chavez meanwhile denounces his detractors for disrespecting the people's will, trying to cut short the mandate of a legitimately elected leader who goes against powerful interest groups.  The fact is that both government and the opposition have already demonstrated their irreconcilable differences.  In more than one occasion, as in the coup attempt of April of last year, the dispute led the country to the edge of an abyss.  Therefore, the political stability of Venezuela and of the rest of the region depends on the respect of constitutional democracy that Chavez and his adversaries should demonstrate by accepting without subterfuges the decision of electoral authorities on the plebiscite."


CHILE:  "Chavez And The Referendum"


Leading-circulation, popular La Tercera remarked (12/3):  "The organizers of the referendum to recall Venezuelan President Chavez released initial figures indicating that over 3.6 million people had signed the petition...fulfilling by far the 20 percent required by the constitution to validate the referendum....  Past experience, however, suggests that the opposition should remain cautious until the National Electoral Council (NEC) validates the petition....  Although as an institution the NEC is respected by all political sectors, President Chavez's allusions to a 'mega fraud' in the process indicate he has little intention of acknowledging the results....  Chavez's latest decision to close Venezuela's frontier with Colombia and his open criticism of the countries that form the Group of Friends of Venezuela...are not good omens for the country's institutionality....  If Chavez were to disavow the recall referendum, something that many believe is a given, Venezuela would find itself straying even more from an increasingly weakened road to democracy."


GUATEMALA:  "Without Underestimating Hugo Chavez"


Luis Fernando Andrade, weekly columnist for business-oriented Siglo Veintiuno, stated in his op-ed (12/3):  "Chavez is facing a process in which (Venezuelans will vote) to end his presidency...and although it is probable that the opposition will oust Chavez, the challenges that presidential hopefuls will face will be the same, or even more complex than the current ones.  Therefore, if Hugo Chavez is overthrown peacefully, no one must underestimate his influence in the very institutions by which his opposition used to overthrow him."


"Revocation Vote On The Way"


Influential El Periodico held in its main editorial (12/2):  "The people of Venezuela...are about to take a decisive step by massively petitioning the National Electoral Council to end Chavez's presidency....  Without a doubt, Chavez is no democrat, nor does he genuinely believe in the rule of law.  This affirmation is proven by his attempt to overthrow Carlos Andres Perez's government in 1992, and a promulgation of a constitution that guaranteed an authoritarian regime....  He gained political power by poisonous rhetoric, delivered in an emotional and persuasive way that captivated the majority of the Venezuelan people."


SPAIN:  "The 3.6m Signatures Against Venezuela's Chavez 'Insufficient' To Remove Him"


A report in the semi-official independent news agency Efe asserted (12/2):  "The 3.6m signatures that the opposition says that it has collected to call for a recall referendum against President Hugo Chavez, would still be insufficient to force him out of office in a referendum and it is still unclear if it will ever be held.  If all the 'anti-Chavez' signatures are confirmed valid--and if there has not been a 'mega-fraud' as Chavez claims--they would still not reach the 3.75m votes that the government got in 2000, which must be at least equaled in any referendum if it were to force the government out and lead to early elections.  The opposition will still have, however, at least four months to seek the 150,00 votes that it is lacking, although at the same time, it will have to defend itself against government claims that a large number of the signatures collected against Chavez are false."



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