Time was when Latin American rulers would lose an election but still manage to win it during the vote count. But it is a novelty for a vote to be stolen before it has even been scheduled. According to Venezuela’s opposition, that is just what the country’s increasingly authoritarian president, Hugo Chávez, is trying to do with a recall referendum which-if it ever happens-could bring his populist government to an abrupt end. Ironically, Mr Chávez was once a great enthusiast for the idea of recall referendums, an innovation in a new constitution he sponsored in 1999. No longer. The electoral council (CNE) was slow to issue rules for referendums, so two previous opposition attempts were ruled invalid. Last year, the CNE finally drew up guidelines; these have been followed by the Democratic Co-ordinator, the opposition umbrella group. On four days late last year, the Co-ordinator gathered over 3m signatures calling for the plebiscite. The CNE’s rules were so strict that, for example, petition forms were printed on bank security paper to avoid fraud. The signature-gathering went smoothly, witnessed by officials from the government, the opposition and the CNE. But on day three, when it became clear that the number of signatures would easily exceed the 2.4m (20% of the electorate) required, Mr Chávez denounced the exercise as a “mega-fraud”. If the CNE called the referendum, he would not recognise it. But the president then backtracked, saying he would respect the council’s decision and calling on the opposition to do the same. Why? Perhaps because the CNE’s board, three of whose five members appear to support the government, is itself throwing up obstacles. It is already a month late in ruling on whether a referendum should take place. And it has been making up new rules as it goes along. On February 24th, the CNE ruled that signatures will be annulled if the accompanying personal details were penned by another hand (eg, if they were taken down by the referendum organisers)-unless the signatories individually confirm during a five-day period that they really did sign. That should be enough to abort the referendum. The Organisation of American States (OAS), which has observed the process, is said to have discussed pulling out if what it has called “excessive technicalities” take precedence over the will of the electorate. It is no mere onlooker. Together with the Carter Centre, headed by Jimmy Carter, a former American president, it did much to persuade the opposition to take the referendum route (despite its fears that Mr Chávez would bend the rules). Both are guarantors of a deal struck in May 2003 in which government and opposition agreed to abide by the constitution. “No tricks!”, warned Mr Carter at the time. Absent a referendum, many would argue that Mr Chávez was no longer ruling as a democrat. Venezuela would risk expulsion from the OAS for violating its Democratic Charter. That decision might be closely fought. Mr Chávez would hope for many votes from the small states of the English-speaking Caribbean, to whom he supplies cheap oil. He recently visited neighbouring Guyana, where he downplayed Venezuela’s claim to that country’s Essequibo territory. A sudden about-turn aimed at forestalling diplomatic isolation, said opponents. But if forced to choose between isolation and power, Mr Chávez might prefer to walk alone.
Archive for February 28th, 2004
Somebody sent me this picture of the National Guard in the morning before the march arrived. It simply had a caption: GUARDIA NAZI ONAL
Obviously overkill for a peaceful march…
CNE: National Fraud Commission Chavez look at yourself in thismirror if there is no recall.
JR: Listen to your father’s voice and the people’s Recall now! CNE: Thiefs you stole my right
It’s almost 2 AM, but the adrenaline is still flowing, so I have had time to look at all the pictures I took. Lots of interesting ones, but don’t want to load up the main page, so I will place them all as I process them in the pictures section and there are some posters too. Check back in a little bit if they are not there yet. Tomorrow I will add comments to all pictures, tonight I am too wiped out to think. Takes a while to upload them. Meanwhile enjoy these two to make the post less dry:
This is what the Minsiter of Justice must have been referring to about peopel insulting the National Guardsmen. From top to bottom, left to right: 1) Dangerous lady armed with venezuelan flag approaches the National Guardsmen to ask why she has no right to circulate freely. Female Guardswoman, hits her with baton, except lady grabs it and takes it from her falling to the ground. 2) As she gets up they hit her and 3) Push her. By now there are more Guards around and she is thrown to the ground in 4). Even as she is on teh ground surrounded by seven Guardsmen, she is holding on to the baton 5) As the Guardsmen realize the press is taping the whole thing they surround the lady to block the view in 6). Lady was hit repeteadly on her back.
All I can say is lady, you have all my respect and I am glad you are on my side! To the guards: Shame on you!