Sunday, February 02, 2003

February 2, 2003

Although I am still not quite caught up, I must write now about today’s event.

February 2 was supposed to be the date for a non binding referendum. The question was to ask Chavez to resign. Thus us was more of a real life poll than a kicking out action. It is obvious that if Chavez were to lose that vote 70 to 30 he would have a hard time to stay in office and would have to make some type of deal.

Chavistas were diligent. Even the vice president was seen leaving the high court building, something that would be totally unacceptable in the US outside of formal or protocolar visits. First they tried to stop the delivery of the petition for the referendum in November by a riot in front of the electoral office. The march of the opposition did manage to go through in spite of tear gas and other threats. This was early November. Then the government denied funds in spite of its constitutional obligation. The electoral council set up a fund through the local variation of United Way. They also denied access to schools forcing the electoral council to work on alternative sites. They denied the customary military protection of voting polls. The opposition organized civil protection. They claimed that the December strike made impossible any help. They tried to claim that the question was unconstitutional but failed with the court that refused to decide meaning that they probably could not rule against. The last resort was a high court ruling that said that some of the electoral council member did not act properly and were supposed to have been substituted long ago. That this was the fault of the chavista assembly rather than the electoral council members does not seem to have mattered. The result is that the referendum was suspended until a new electoral council was sworn in and reviewed the process. Interestingly the decision came barely 10 days before the referendum to make sure it would cost as much as possible to the opposition in vain effort.

As usual these childish games bring a strong reaction and mobilization. Helped by Carter’s visit and proposal that stated that an electoral solution was the way out of the crisis, the governmental trick backfired badly. The opposition embraced Carter proposal forcing the government in a defensive position in front of “Friends of Venezuela Group” who requested that the government bring a counterproposal, implicitly admitting that elections had to be held, which the government has opposed vehemently here and abroad. I remind folks that Chavez does not want elections ever unless he is sure to win since he aims at becoming some third world leader for the post Castro era. A lost election would preclude such a role.

Thus the opposition decided to organize a sign in for a set of propositions. This mass sign in “El Firmazo” will gather signatures for the following proposal, as offered by Carter:
1-Recall election for Chavez and some of the Pro Chavez assembly people (he holds a majority of only 4 votes in the assembly, from an earlier 2/3 majority, a reflection of the desertions that have happened among his moderate and democratic supporters from earlier days).
2-Petition for a constitutional change that will cut back the presidential term down to 4 years with an immediate effect. Thus forcing early elections in a constitutional way.
3-Support for some initiatives such as media protection and striking oil industry.

Of course the state TV says lots of nonsense about these things, and at a pitiful level of political discourse. And it is calling for counter manifestations at the sign up places, to scare people away. Some actually did take place but in spite of the hurdles and apprehensions, the “polling” centers have huge lines. The opposition needs to gather more that 2 millions signatures per petition. I think most of them will be garnered today.

Off to vote, excuse me, to sign on 6 forms so I can vote again someday in a free election.

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