Archive for October 27th, 2002

Is there a roadmap for what is happening in Venezuela?

October 27, 2002


Everyone wants to know where Venezuela is headed and when and how the Venezuelan political crisis will be resolved. I believe that this is a question that is essentially impossible to answer. Events in Venezuela have by now taken a life of their own. The crowd in Altamira square grows everyday as more and more people show up twentyfour hours a day to express their support for the dissenting officers. These officers appear now to be the true leaders of the opposition as their actions have resonated with the people, who have always felt the politicians and members of the Democratic Coordinating Committee have always been too indecisive.


The Chavez Government appears to have gone back to a strategy of doing nothing, or at least appearing to. However, the President not only held his Sunday radio program today, but had a nationally televised speech in which continued dennouncing the small group in Altamira Square as coupsters (And the crowd was large tonight, the largest so far. Everyday the number just grows). Thus, for the moment I will assume that the Chavez Government will continue this strategy.


If that were the case, I would then expect two possible important events this week that may precipitate events. The first one is that, as has been rumored all weekend, six Deputies in the National Assembly may switch sides and vote to have a referendum (see previous article) asking the people whether or not they want Chavez to resign. If this happened, Chavez could then accept the vote or fight against it. I he fought it, a General strike would surely follow.


The second case, would be that on Novemeber 4th. the opposition plans to hold a march to the National Electoral Council with 2 million signatures requesting a referendum asking people if they want Chavez to resign. (Only a single party Primero Justicia already had 1.16 million signatures tonight, the minimum required is 1.2 million). If the Government attemps to block this referendum a general strike would also follow.


All of this is said with the caveats that the dynamics have a life of their own, as we saw this week. It is difficult to predict even from day to day what may happen, so other scenarios may be possible, but without having a crystal ball these two are the ones logic and information present as the more probable ones today.

Referenda and the Venezuelan Constitution

October 27, 2002


President Chavez regularly accuses the opposition of trying to stage a coup de etat and saying that a referendum to revoke his mandate may not be possible until August of 2003. The problem is that while the Constitution says in Article 72:

“Todos los cargos y magistraturas de elección popular son revocables. Transcurrida la mitad del período para el cual fue elegido el funcionario, un número no menor del veinticinco (25) por ciento de los electores inscritos en la correspondiente circunscripción, podrá solicitar la convocatoria de un referendo para revocar su mandato”

Which means ” All positions and magistratures which are popularly elected are revocable. After the midpoint of the term for which a functionary was elected, a number no less than than 25% of the registered voters may ask to have a referendum to revoke his mandate”

 the problem is that Article 71 also says:

“Las materias de especial trascendencia nacional podrán ser sometidas a referendo consultivo, por iniciativa del Presidente de la República en Consejo de Ministros, por acuerdo de la Asamblea Nacional, aprobado por el voto de la mayoría de los miembros de cada Cámara, o a solicitud de un número no menor del diez por ciento de los electores inscritos en el registro electoral nacional”


Which means:


“Matters of special national  transcendence may be subject to a consulting referendum , by initiative of the President in the Council with his Ministers, the National Assembly, approved by a majority or at the request of no less than 10% of the voters registered in the national electoral registry”


This article is the one that the opposition is using to call for a consultive referendum on whether Hugo Chavez should resign or not. The difference is just that it would not be binding if Chávez lost. But it certainly is a legal procedure that would undermine Chavez’ ability to govern if he were to lose it by a large margin, which we think he will. In fact, if the opposition convinced 50% of the Deputies in the National Asembly that would be sufficient to hold the referendum. This may yet happen.


A final comment is that while Hugo Chavez says the revocatory referendum may take place only after August 2003, this is not the case. The Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled that Chávez’ new term began in January 2001, thus a revocatory referendum could only take place after January 2004. This is part of the Chavez lore, where he said something once and has become the truth even if it isn’t.


(Warning: The articles of the Constitution cited above may depend on the version you consult, yes there are multiple versions of the Venezuelan Constitution. If you use Google, the first one says they are article 75 and 74, the next one 72 and 71 and they are both Government websites. Thanks to Antonio Guzman Blanco for reminding me that one has to be extremely careful with this.)

Venezuelans should not let the OAS and Cesar Gaviria immobilize them

October 27, 2002


While Venezuelans have high expectations of the possible impact of the upcoming visit by the Secretary General of the OAS, the experience of Peru indicates that the OAS will contribute little to finding a solution and Venezuelans should pay less attention to international opinion and pressure than what they are doing today. Gaviria already showed a stance in Chavez’ favor when he was too quick to condemn the pronouncement by the military officials last Tuesday. In that statement, Gaviria condemned both civil disobedience and not recognizing authority as violations of the OAS’ Democratic Letter, suggesting the officers were trying to attempt a coup. There were two mistakes in Mr. Gaviria’s statemennt, one not knowing Article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution, the second was jumping the gun and condemning the event before he knew all the details. In fact, when the Chavez Government repressed a peaceful demonstration two weeks ago the OAS never said anything, which it should have, and in that case the human rights violation did violate both the letter and the spirit of the OAS’ democratic letter. Reportedly, Gaviria only received input from the Venezuelan foreign Minister last Tuesday, who from the first moment suggested the officers were attempting a coup, despite their clear call for civil disobedience a call that was clear from minute one, as demonstrated by my first post on the subject only minutes after the first statement was made by the military officers. While later statements by the OAS have shown regret since then, they had warnings to the Chavez administration but little recognition of what is taking place in Altamira Square. Whta is happening in Altamira has to be recognized as a unique event, worthy of the magic realism of a Garcia Marquez story as civilians come out to cheer and protect high-ranking military officers from the Goverment.

            TheOAS is known for acting with prudence and the Peruvian case was a showcase of this, when the OAS only turned on the Fujimori Government once the famous videotape was public. This, despite many claims by Human Rights organizations of rights violations. Some in fact were made directly to the OAS. Moreover, Venezuelans should be getting ready to hear statements from Mr. Gaviria such as that made by him well before Fujimori agreed to have new elections:


Gaviria has stated that “it is not this mission’s mandate to discuss new elections…This is an aspiration, expectation or demand of the country’s opposition groups….We respect their position. They undoubtedly will not abandon their agenda, but that is a request or goal that this mission will not address,”


Sound familiar? I bet we hear the same this week


In fact in the case of Peru, Fujimori was quite adept at arm twisting within the OAS, where just the possibility of not recognizing an election by foreign Governments throws fears into the elected officials who supervise how Foreign Ministers vote at OAS meetings:


“Instead, Washington opted for putting the issue before the OAS. There, Fujimori’s iron-fisted vote rigging got a fairly sympathetic reception. Latin America’s corrupt bourgeois regimes had no interest in seeing any precedents set on the legitimacy of national elections.”


In fact, it was only the much-maligned US Government that refused to recognize those elections, which were clearly fraudulent, while the OAS and Latin American countries were soft on Fujimori. The only advantage in Venezuela’s case is the fact that most Latin American Government’s want to distance themselves from Chávez and his policies as recent elections in Brazil and Ecuador show.

While some may think that the problem is with the OAS and not with Gaviria, Venezuelans should open their eyes and be realistic as to what to expect. In the case of Peru, none other than famous writer Maria Vargas Llosa was quite blunt when he accused the OAS of is complicity with Fujimori and referring to Gaviria himself


“demonstrates the extraordinary ambiguity of people in his position, who assume a neutral facade, in the face of what is going on in Peru, which is that all the responsible democratic governments are doing, what very clearly indicates their partiality in favor of the dictatorship, with whom they are disgraced by their old complicit relationship”



The Peruvian case was a pathetic one for the OAS. Human Rights organizations had been accusing Fujimori and his Government from the mid-nineties without much action on the part of the OAS, despite many meetings to denounce what was happening. (see letter above too). This is the way the OAS has always been, as Luis Montero says:


“On routine matters with little or no controversy the OAS works well. On higher profile issues involving profound differences of opinion, the process is prone to some considerable stalling, if not immobilization”


Hopefully, Venezuelans will not allow the Gaviria visit to immobilize them and they will find a solution to the current political crisis on their own. The events of the last days may just show the way out of this wothout external help.