Friday, March 26, 2004

Elections in Venezuela? You mean, as in choosing a future?
Part 2: coercion and torture set the general mood
Friday 26, March 2004

Normally when a country goes into an electoral process there are certain guarantees that a minimum of electoral campaign will be allowed. Citizens would be assured that they can cast ballots without being afraid for their direct well being if the other side wins. Well, it seems that the last part of the equation is not guaranteed in Venezuela, not to mention that the incessant attacks on the media makes one wonder about the first part of the said equation.

It cannot fail to strike the serious observer of the Venezuelan scene that a government who is doing its utmost to annul enough signatures to void a referendum ballot petition, is suddenly finding all these signatures very valid when it uses them to fire public servants. In one of the most revealing episodes of the true nature of the regime since this one came to office in 1999, a savage McCarthyism is striking the country. Even to the point of denying passports to people! It seems that signing is now a crime as El Universal reports extensively, and in English.

El Universal also reports:
Jacqueline Farias, president of Hidrocapital - Venezuela's largest water and wastewater utility - denied reports on employees dismissed for having signed the presidential recall petition.
Farias admitted that the government knows who signed the petition, "because the list was made public," and insisted that "there is no sanction in this regards."
"I do know who they are, and I do want to change their minds," Farias added. "I have to show them how wonderful Hugo Chavez' administration is."


I even saw the interview on TV. Ms. Farias, an unquestionable chavista civil servant, was seen as a public servant not too bent on political activities. Well, it is fascinating to observe how people change when they feel their job threatened. Suddenly she tries to contest the Health Minister for the Vile Person of the Day Award. But public employees do not seem to buy. After all they know very well that recanting will only gain them a couple of months of employment. They know first hand the true nature of the "wonderful Hugo Chavez administration."

But this new unacceptable pressure has not stopped the other forms of Human Rights Violations that started on February 27. Two Primero Justicia activists that were kidnapped last Sunday have been released with clear signs of torture, physical and mental. Celso Rodríguez and Sergio Vargas, apparently were taken to find out the hiding place of Baruta's Mayor, Henrique Capriles Radonski. Mr. Capriles lawyers, by the way, have yet to see the charges that are pressed against the mayor, in what is perhaps one of the grossest violation of the judicial process we have seen lately, at a time where such violations abound.

But the hurt within the government at the fast decomposition of its international image since February 27 is plain to observe when the Nation's ombudsman gives a rather surprising report trying to effectuate some late damage control. He recognized that excessive violence had been used. Yet on TV later he denied that there were political prisoners, but politicians in jail. A pun of dubious taste. No matter, a hardly convincing performance that is probably just the prelude to yet a new disgusting action from the government.

The Coordinadora Democratica promptly replied that there were 18 political prisoners taken since Feb 27. It even gave their locations, while reminding that those were not the only ones as several have been jailed during the past year. In addition, to remind the government what its role is, the CD set up a center to supply the political prisoners since the government is unable to give humanitarian detention conditions to the jailed population. This, by the way, has been decried as one of the biggest failures of the so called Chavez human rights policy. A president "of the people" has let the people rot in jail in conditions that are the worst in our recent history.

The question is very simple, in a situation where political activists are held and tortured, where government officials lie routinely, where public voters are basically told for whom to vote for, how can we conduct a fair electoral campaign? Is the constant violation of civil rights a way to brow beat the opposition? Or is the intention to corner the opposition into some desperate action?

The truth of the matter is that Chavez is promoting the local elections to distract the attention from the Recall Election. He knows full well that doing so will transform the local elections in an indirect referendum. But he is also desperate to gain some time to either fudge the local election results, void the Recall Election, or even to cancel these elections under some National Emergency measure. Which one will it be?

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