Sunday, February 23, 2003

And the ridiculous

Saturday 22, February 2003

THE BAD: Carlos Fernandez is arrested, Carlos Ortega goes into hiding

The success of El Firmazo was a given since February 2. The government was planning something to counteract and make sure that people would speak of something else than the few million people that signed up against it. So they waited and waited for the “official” results. The opposition announced them for Wednesday might and the government struck on Wednesday night at midnight by arresting the president of the Business Federation, FEDECAMARAS, Carlos Fernandez.

Or was it an arrest? They intercepted Carlos Fernandez when he was leaving a steak house shortly after midnight. No arrest warrant was shown. Several guys from the DISIP, the state security police came in cabs and unidentified vehicles. They collared Mr. Fernandez and his chauffeur and pushed them in Mr. Fernandez car, speeding away fast with car and chauffeur. Mr. Fernandez chauffeur is also probably his bodyguard, a requirement this days in Venezuela for some public figures but not enough protection it seems.

The impression of kidnapping was confirmed through the night. His lawyers and some friends tried to go to where Mr. Fernandez was held, not only without success, but even to be pushed away by a “spontaneous” group of chavistas that came to the site. Even a representative from a tribunal was denied access and only early in the morning Mr. Fernandez was allowed to contact his wife.

Incidentally like the head of the major trade Union Carlos Ortega were absent form the ceremony of El Firmazo.

Thursday we learned that a judge indeed had emitted an arrest warrant. But that judge was until recently a lawyer who as it turned out was counsel to the only people that have been indicted so far for the April 11 events, people associated with the pro Chavez groups. There are serious questions as to the qualifications of that lawyer to be a judge, not to mention the obvious conflict of interest.

If this was not bad enough during the day we were treated to deplorable, and ridiculous, displays. Mr. Fernandez was taken to the high court in Caracas with an escort that would have been large to protect a serial killer. Not to mention that he was handcuffed although he was neatly dressed in suit and tie and he certainly could not escape as he is one of the most known faces in the country these days.

But it was going to get worse. Chavez spent his Thursday and Friday gloating on the event. Inane comments went from “I went to bed with a smile” to quoting a famous Bolivar line during the independence war when he wrote his decree of “war to death”: “Españoles y Canarios”. These lines were addressed by Bolivar to the Spaniards and people coming from the Canary Islands, which although from Spain were in large amounts to be treated separately. The intention was to threaten anyone that sided with them of immediate death. Well, Mr. Fernandez happens to be a native of Spain even though he came very young to Venezuela and he is way more Venezuelan than Spaniard. This is in Venezuelan political language intended to humiliate Mr. Fernandez. However, when dirty tricks are needed Chavez is not afraid to use them.

Meanwhile Carlos Ortega went into hiding since another warrant for his arrest was emitted. Apparently the police failed to find him. Not to mention that Mr. Ortega has sent his family outside of Venezuela 3 weeks ago, and has limited his appearances himself.

Thus, we have our first political prisoner and our first underground resistant fighter. Meanwhile thanks to our XXI century the TV is able to show all of this, but for how long….

I will finish this note with a few excerpts from the wires. I have not edited them, just clipped repeated information. The first one mentions some of the incendiary words of Chavez. No comments needed. The second wire is from Reuters with similar material.

Chavez Seeks Prison for Two Dissidents

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez demanded 20-year prison terms Friday for two prominent opponents who directed a nationwide strike that devastated Venezuela's oil-based economy.

Carlos Fernandez, head of Venezuela's largest business chamber, and Carlos Ortega, leader of its biggest labor confederation, are charged with treason and other crimes for the two-month strike, which cost more than $4 billion.

Fernandez was arrested by secret police Wednesday and hauled into court Friday. Ortega went into hiding when a judge issued an arrest warrant.

``These oligarchs believed that they were untouchable. There are no untouchables in Venezuela. A criminal is a criminal,'' Chavez thundered during a ceremony handing land titles to peasants in Trujillo state.

He demanded a 20-year term for Fernandez, president of Fedecamaras, and for Ortega, of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation, for allegedly sabotaging the oil industry, inciting civil disobedience ``and trampling the human rights of the Venezuelan people.''

Oil is Venezuela's strategic industry, and its exports were the fifth-largest in the world before the strike began Dec. 2. The strike ended Feb. 4, but Chavez's government is battling a continuing walkout in the oil industry.

Citing nationwide hardship caused by gasoline shortages, Chavez condemned Fernandez and Ortega as ``terrorists'' who failed to topple his government -- both during a brief April coup and this winter.

Fernandez's case was transferred Friday from a judge who had acted as defense attorney for Chavez supporters accused of shooting at opposition marchers before the April coup. A second judge was to decide Saturday if Fernandez should remain in custody pending trial.

The tempestuous Chavez also had a message for foreign critics of Fernandez's arrest. The United States, Organization of American States and other entities voiced concern that Venezuela's crisis is escalating.

``I want to remind all the governments of the world that Venezuela is a sovereign country! We are nobody's colony!'' Chavez shouted.

Gloating Chavez Defends Arrest of Strike Boss

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Friday railed against international criticism over the arrest of one of his opponents who was detained for leading a strike against the leftist leader.

A squadron of plainclothes police on Friday hustled a grim-faced Carlos Fernandez into the attorney general's office, where he faces civil rebellion and treason charges for spearheading the two-month strike that battered the economy of the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

His arrest late Wednesday at gunpoint drew fire from international organizations and the United States, which said it feared the move would undermine negotiations to end the bitter political feud over the president's rule.

``We are nobody's colony,'' Chavez roared at a crowd of supporters in western Trujillo state. ``We have our own institutions, our own constitution ... and we will not accept meddling in Venezuela's domestic affairs.''

DISIP state security police on Friday were still holding Fernandez, a silver-haired trucking executive who leads the Fedecamaras business chamber. He was not formally charged.

Armed officers snatched Fernandez from outside a Caracas restaurant around midnight Wednesday after a judge ordered him and another strike leader, union boss Carlos Ortega, arrested. Ortega, a fierce Chavez critic, has gone into hiding.

Opponents of the populist president, who they accuse of trampling over democracy, have slammed the arrest as illegal and urged the international community to prevent what they fear will descend into a political witch hunt.

They say the judge's decision was politically motivated although the attorney general, a staunch Chavez ally, rejected their claims. The president has repeatedly demanded judges jail his critics.

``Carlos Fernandez is a political prisoner,'' said Fedecamaras vice president Albis Munoz.

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