The US Government used fairly strong wording today warning the Chávez administration that the delay in signing the agreement with the opposition is a “test” of Chavez’ committment to democratic principles. “Unfortunately, President Hugo Chavez refused to sign the agreements without modifying them” said Curtis Struble Assistant Secretary of the State Department for Latin America. The time has come to give a demonstration of good faith in the negotiations, the time has come for President Chávez to sign the agreement as is” added Struble.
In what was clearly a coordinated effort, which follows last weeks “activism” by US Ambassador to Venezuela Shapiro, the special White House envoy for Latin America, Otto Reich, also added his two cents saying: “The Interamerican community is vigilant. The democratic opposition has been following the rules, President Chávez has to follow them too, rules that were written by him”. Reich also said:”The first test will be if President Chávez decides to respect or not the agreements of April 11th or if he chooses to postpone or maneuver to raise doubts about the possibility of a just referendum taking place”. Reich also said: “The United States hopes that he and his political sympathizers behave in a manner consistent with the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela”
As reported here, the Chavez administration balked at signing the agreement reached and announced by the OAS on April 11th., reportedly because Chavez’ MVR party did not agree with it. The true reason was that the agreement did not please the President himself once he learned the details of what had been agreed to. In particular, the agreement calls for international supervision of elections and the disarming of the population as well as a 90 day limit for the referendum to take place once the opposition has handed it the signed petitions with the required 2.2 million signatures.
The US has clearly decided not to speak softly on this issue and has clearly gone on the offensive. Separately, today after a meeting with the Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Chilean Foreign Minister announced that a meeting of the “Friends” of Venezuela will happen next week, most likely in Caracas. A local newspaper, also reported that Brazil’s President Lula da Silva also pressured Chavez during his visit to that country last weekend to sign the agreement.
While I am glad the Group of Friends is applying pressure to the Chavez administration, I think that it will achieve little but pressure the Chavez administration into publicly accepting that there will not be a referendum in Venezuela, even if it is in Chavez’ Constitution. He just never thought that his popularity would be as low as it has become and thus is trying to avoid holding it.