Barring any unlikely last minute change, Venezuela will go on a general strike tomorrow. Internationally many people find this action surprising, given that the opposition is negotiating with the Government at this time. Without going into the details of the abuses of power and violations of the Constitution in the last three and a half years by Chavez and his Government, I find it very simple to explain based on only recent events:
On Nov. 4th. 2002, 2 million signatures were presented to the National Electoral Council asking for a referendum asking Venezuelans if they think that Hugo Chavez should voluntarily resign. This is a procedure included in the new Constitution written by Chavez and his supporters in 1999 (They held 96% of the seats in the Constituent Assembly that wrote the new Constitution). Only 1.2 million signatures are required and within 30 days the referendum has to be approved or denied.
On Nov. 8th. the opposition and the Government sat down to hold talks on possible ways out of the current political crisis. The talks are being mediated by OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria.
Since Nov. 8th., the Government intervened the Metropolitan Police of Caracas, in violation of the separation of powers established by the Constitution, which explicitly establishes that Municipal police forces are the responsability of the Mayors. Moreover, the Government has since and before Nov. 8th. attempted to block by whatever means was necessary the approval of the referendum. These attempts included:
-Chavez’ supporters attacking the convoy with the signatures on Nov. 4th.
-Chavez sending back the Electoral Power bill to the National Assembly with 42 modifications, which the Supreme Court ruled invalid.
– The Head of the Electoral Council, a Chavez supporter, resigning to make it difficult to have valid decisions made by the Council.
-A former member of the Council, a Chavez supporter who has held two Government positions since her resignation, attempting to rejoin the Council.
-The National Assembly attempting to name a member to the Council, an act which has no legal foundation as the Assembly has to name all members at once, with a two-thirds majority and only after a accepting names from citiznes for a specified period of time.
-The Chavez Government asking the Supreme Court to declare the question proposed illegal.
-Finally, last Wednesday, of the five members of the Electoral Council, three voted in favor of holding the referendum, one abstained, the other voted against it. The Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled (only 24 hours later) that even if a new Electoral Law had been approved, decisions had to be made by four members, as they were elected under the previous Law. This is a disgraceful interpretation, nowhere in the world does a Law prevail once it has been replaced.
That’s it. We followed the law and the Chavez administration used its power, trickery and influence to stop us from exercising our rights. At this point, nobody defends our rights, so unfortunately, we will go on strike. Where this will lead, nobody knows.