Archive for August 18th, 2003

The day is here, Venezuelans can ask to recall Chavez’ mandate

August 18, 2003

Tomorrow is Aug. 19th. the mid-point of Chavez‘ Presidential term, as redefined by the new Constitution. That is, his term is six years, but he has been in power for over four years. The reason is that since the new Constitution redefined the Presidential term to six years, Chavez ran again after a year and a half in office and this “new term” redefined the mid-point of his Presidential term.

The mid-point is extremely significant because Venezuelans can ask for a recall referendum of any elected official after the mid-point of his mandate. In Chávez’ case, if his mandate were recalled, he could not run again as, as stated by the Constitution, a “new” President would be elected thirty days after the recall referendum takes place. A year ago, Hugo Chávez sued to talk about this referendum everyday, he would tell the opposition they ha to wait of it to get rid of him. His tune changed once the date started getting close. From bills to increase the number of Justices in the Supreme Court, to saying that the opposition can’t hand in the petition that has the signatures asking for the recall referendum, Chavez and his cohorts have been attempting to block or dismiss any possibility of a referendum taking place. As recent as yesterday, the Country’s Vice-{President Jose Vicente Rangel told the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, that a referendum can not take place this year. Statements like this reveal the frame of mind of the Executive branch of Government in Venezuela. Making such a statement is absolutely irresponsible for a Vice-President. Irresponsible, because the Venezuelan Constitution is very clear, the Electoral Board will have thirty days to validate the request for the recall referendum. If validated, the referendum, once again according to the Constitution, will have to take place before ninety days are up form the time of the submission of the petition. That implies, that if the opposition is allowed to hand in the signatures on Wednesday as it plans to, a referendum should take place before Nov. 19th. if everything is in order. Obviously, there may not be things in order, but it is not the Vice-President’s job to judge or even speculate on these issues. But this is simply a sign of the type of things we will be facing in the next two months.

Polls suggest that Chavez would get less than 30% support in a recall referendum. Thus, he would suffer a terrible defeat for a man that was at some point in time so popular among his people. The Government dismisses these polls saying they don’t reflect reality. But the truth is that even pollsters that in the past were considered to be biased towards Chavez, are showing very similar results. Moreover, real elections in unions, student organizations at universities and other organizations have had outcomes that are surprisingly like those of most polls on the referendum. It is thus a mystery to me why Chavez allowed this date to arrive without looking for an alternative of his own. A recall referendum is just about the worst possible event that he can participate in. He will be running against himself, he will not be able to run afterwards and he will not be able to say that he did well, like he could if he had proposed early elections through the National Assembly.

It is thus a mystery what is in Chavez’ mind. For a while, it looked like there would be no Electoral Board to organize the lection, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court will choose that Board before Aug. 24th. Arguing that the Assembly incurred in omission as defined in the Constitution. This may be a trap, but having an Electoral Board makes it more difficult to stop the recall referendum, so that people are getting optimistic that we will have one (Including myself).

The opposition has called for parties tomorrow night. People will hold parties, join caravans as the 19th. Turns into the 20th. Then on Wednesday the 20th. (To avoid any interpretation that is not the 19th. But the day after that the petition can be handed in). there will be a rally where marches coming from various parts of Caracas will join in Libertador Avenue. Once everyone is there a group will go towards the headquarters of the CNE and hand in the petition. At that time, for us it would be like Cesar said :” Alea jacta est”. Our die will be cast and we can only hope that the Constitution will be respected and we can get out of this political crisis without further loss of life. Unfortunately, while I am more optimistic that the referendum will take place, I am not so certain that more useless violence will not take place.


Pdvsa split?

August 18, 2003

In an announcement that left more lingering doubts and confusion than anything else, the Ministry of Energy and Mines announced the revival of the old Corporacion Venezolana del Petroleo (CVP). According to the announcement, approximately 1.5 million barrels in oil production from PDVSA have been transferred to CVP, a little over half of the country’s oil production. The announcement was made even more confusing by the creation of a trust with 480 billion Bolivars with CVP funds, which would be used to build housing for Venezuelans. Apparently, the idea is to have CVP play a more active role in solving the country’s social problems, a role played by PDVSA to a small degree in the past, for which it was always criticized sharply. So far, the Government has given no details as to how the financial restructuring of PDVSA will occur, and which of the two companies will assume the debt and/or the guarantees given in some of the bonds issued by PDVSA. Similarly, it is not clear how the production assets, investments and administrative structures will be divided between the two companies. What is most remarkable about the announcement is that the decision has been taken by a very reduced number of people, without discussion, justification and the release of the details, which was one of the biggest criticisms by Chávez of how PDVSA was run when he was campaigning for the Presidency. Moreover, it is remarkable, to say the least, that the current administration of PDVSA continues to divide up the company in pieces at a time when the worldwide trend in the oil business is exactly the opposite.