Monday, February 24, 2003

Monday 24, February 2003
(published February 21)

Dear New York Times, after a few weeks of standing on the fence seems to have decided against Chavez. From the articles of Juan Forero, who has the strike went on seemed going more to Chavez side, one could have assumed that the New York Times was rather blind to the reality. But it seems that they are finally seeing the light. Actually, Mr. Forero seems to have been sent to Bolivia and other hot spots and a new guy is writing for Venezuela.

Anyway, here is the full text of the editorial. I did not put it earlier because I wanted to relate last week events first. I think the editorial looks even better at this late date.


February 21, 2003
Vengeance in Venezuela

Americans have a twofold interest in Venezuela's resolution of its current political problems peacefully and constitutionally. The country sits atop the largest petroleum fields outside the Middle East, with most of its oil exports going to the United States. A nationwide strike has sharply lowered those exports in recent months. Venezuela may also be the most fragile of Latin America's growing number of troubled democracies. A turn toward authoritarianism of the left or right could have damaging ripple effects across the region.

Regrettably, President Hugo Chavez, instead of working to heal his badly divided country, seems determined to provoke new and dangerous tensions. Less than two days after government and opposition representatives promised to step back from their confrontation, two of the country's most visible opposition leaders face charges of rebellion, sabotage and a series of other crimes growing out of their leadership of a now faltering national strike.

Carlos Fernandez, who leads Venezuela's most important business federation, was arrested early yesterday. Carlos Ortega, the head of the country's main union alliance, has gone into hiding. The vindictive charges against them could undo the modest progress recently made toward a peaceful, constitutional resolution of Venezuela's long-running political crisis.

The strike led by Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Ortega aimed at forcing Mr. Chavez from power. The right way to determine Venezuela's political future is through democratic elections. The Constitution devised by Mr. Chavez permits a recall vote this August. Between now and then, all sides should work to calm the inflamed political atmosphere. That seemed possible as recently as Tuesday, when government and opposition representatives issued a joint declaration pledging efforts to promote reconciliation and mutual understanding. Then came the two arrest orders.

Mr. Chavez's opponents were already alarmed by the kidnapping and murder of four anti-Chavez demonstrators, whose bodies were found earlier this week. Police investigators now suggest that the killings were not politically motivated, but the victims' relatives disagree.

It's easy to see why. Earlier this month Mr. Chavez proclaimed this the "year of the revolutionary offensive." He vowed to take retribution against his many enemies, especially the strike leaders. Days later he introduced currency controls, and ominously warned that they could be used as a financial weapon against opposition businessmen. The state oil company has permanently dismissed thousands of striking workers.

These steps threaten to overwhelm the compromise proposals put forth by Jimmy Carter after a mediation mission last month. His ideas drew positive responses from both sides and encouragement from Washington. The centerpiece of the package was a recall vote or new elections after August. Preliminary steps called for the opposition to end its strike and for the government to refrain from reprisals. That remains good advice. Unfortunately, Mr. Chavez, having all but vanquished the strike, no longer seems to be listening.

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