Sunday, May 15, 2005

Political Apartheid in Venezuela: what did Chavez know and when did he know it?

According to article 72 of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, the President or any other public figure can be revoked from its position by a Recall Referendum (RR). That Referendum must take place if at least 20% of the registered voters demand it.

In order to solve the terrible political crisis that had been lived in Venezuela after a few years of Chavez presidency, more than three million people signed a petition to call for a Presidential Recall Referendum that finally took place on August 15, 2004.

In Venezuela, it is extremely easy to track anybody having signed a petition. This can be done by mapping the signatures to the Venezuelan ID numbers. As a matter of fact, all Venezuelan citizens and alien residents are identified with a national ID card where their photo, ID number, signature and fingerprint appear. Thus, it was extremely easy to construct a list from those informations.

The list, that has been called the “Tascon list”, in honor of the National Assembly member that published it in his web page, has been systematically used to create a de-facto state of political apartheid.

In a country where the whole economy depends on oil and where the government is probably the major employer, being blacklisted from any civil servant office or government contract is close to being denied the right to work, that, by the way, is also a right written in the 1999 Constitution (article 87). This has been taking place in Venezuela in such an open manner that those that applied the apartheid did not even do it in a veiled fashion. It had become standard to openly discriminate against those who signed. Some people report being denied jobs, pensions, contracts, passports or of being fired.

The Venezuelan press and, in particular, Tal Cual, recently initiated a campaign denouncing the use of the list that was reminiscent of the McCarthy era. Many of the articles, translated and commented, can be found in a section of the Devil’s Excrement.

Chavez himself admitted the abuses and asked, last month, that the list be buried. What triggered his sudden recognition? Maybe it was the effect of the intense press campaign. Maybe he got aware that the existence of the list would do a great damage to the champion- of- democracy image that he wants to portray abroad. On the other hand, there is a much more cynical explanation: maybe he just wanted, for internal political reasons, to get rid of deputy Tascon. In that case, denouncing one of the most hated figures of the revolution was an automatic way to gain sympathy for himself and to get rid of a potential political enemy within his own party. As we say in Venezuela, Chavez was ‘killing two birds with one shot”.

The press and the opposition have fallen into his trap. The list has been systematically referred to as the “Tascon list” and deputy Tascon has been satanized and left for pasture to the political vultures. He deserved it, but, unfortunately, all that personalization of the problem created a circus-like smoke screen to cover the real important issues on the creation of an apartheid State in Venezuela. There are, in fact, fundamental questions that are not being asked at the moment because the Venezuelan Press and the public opinion are just too distracted with Tascon’s misfortunes. This is a well known Chavez’s strategy that has worked pretty well in the past: divert the attention and single out a common enemy so that people will forget about the really important questions.

There are, indeed, a good number of unanswered questions that would have enough weight to have any decent democratic government fall in a “normal” country. These are just a few:

  • Who ordered the blacklisting of the RR signatories?

  • Why, despite the widespread knowledge about the list and the way it was being misused, no government official (not even the Prosecutor or the Ombudsman) opened an investigation on the abuses?

  • When are the abuses going to be thoroughly investigated by the Government?

  • What are going to be the penalties imposed on the abusers?

  • What is going to happen to those that suffered the discrimination?

And finally, and most importantly,

What did the President know and when did he know it?

jorge.arena@gmail.com

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