Saturday, May 29, 2004

Venenezuela counts again 

From Friday through Sunday in Venezuela people are making themselves heard for or against President Chavez. The opposition to president Chavez has been trying to launch a recall referendum against him. To have a referendum they need to gather 2.4 million signatures. They thought they did this last November but electoral autorities ruled many of the signatures they gathered invalid due to many people not writing in their personal data on their own. Only 1.9 million were considered completely valid.

However, rather than reject the signatures outright the electoral authorities decided to allow people who's signatures were challenged to go and re-affirm their signature and show that it was not fraudulent as Chavez supporters have maintened. That is precisely what is happening during this three day period. If over 500,000 signatures are confirmed then the opposition will have enough signatures and there will be a referendum.

So far attendence seems to have been very light at the centers where people have to go to verify their signatures. Ultimas Noticias reports that very few people showed up in Western Caracas, a lower income section of the city, to verify their signatures. This is bad news for the opposition as the part of Caracas where most of the challenged signatures were was western Caracas. So far I have no news on how things are proceeding in other parts of the country.

I will be travelling in Venezuela starting tomorrow. I will post as events warrent and as access to the Internet permits.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Couldn't have said it any better myself 

Today the following Op-Ed piece was published in the Washington Post by the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez:

CARACAS, Venezuela -- For the first 24 hours of the coup d'etat that briefly overthrew my government on April 11, 2002, I expected to be executed at any moment.

The coup leaders told Venezuela and the world that I hadn't been overthrown but rather had resigned. I expected that my captors would soon shoot me in the head and call it a suicide.

Instead, something extraordinary happened. The truth about the coup got out, and millions of Venezuelans took to the streets. Their protests emboldened the pro-democracy forces in the military to put down the brief dictatorship, led by Venezuelan business leader Pedro Carmona.

The truth saved my life, and with it Venezuela's democracy. This near-death experience changed me. I wish I could say it changed my country.

The political divisions in Venezuela didn't start with my election in 1998. My country has been socially and economically divided throughout its history. Venezuela is one of the largest oil exporting countries in the world -- the fourth-largest supplier to the United States -- and yet the majority of Venezuelans remain mired in poverty.

What has enraged my opponents, most of who are from the upper classes, is not Venezuela's persistent misery and inequality but rather my efforts to dedicate a portion of our oil wealth to improving the lives of the poor. In the past six years we have doubled spending on health care and tripled the education budget. Infant mortality has fallen; life expectancy and literacy have increased.

Having failed to force me from office through the 2002 coup, my opponents shut down the government oil company last year. Now they are trying to collect enough signatures to force a recall referendum on my presidency. Venezuela's constitution -- redrafted and approved by a majority of voters in 1999 -- is the only constitution in the Western Hemisphere that allows for a president to be recalled.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council -- a body as independent as the Federal Election Commission in the United States -- found that more than 375,000 recall petition signatures were faked and that an additional 800,000 had similar handwriting. Having been elected president twice by large majorities in less than six years, I find it more than a little ironic to be accused of behaving undemocratically by many of the same people who were involved in the illegal overthrow of my government.

The National Electoral Council has invited representatives of the Organization of American States and the Carter Center to observe a signature verification process that will be conducted during the last four days of this month. That process will determine whether the opposition has gathered enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election, which would be held this August. To be frank, I hope that my opponents have gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum, because I relish the opportunity to once again win the people's mandate.

But it is not up to me. To underscore my commitment to the rule of law, my supporters and I have publicly and repeatedly pledged to abide by the results of that transparent process, whatever they may be. My political opponents have not made a similar commitment; some have even said they will accept only a ruling in favor of a recall vote.

The Bush administration was alone in the world when it endorsed the overthrow of my government in 2002. It is my hope that this time the Bush administration will respect our republican democracy. We are counting on the international community -- and all Venezuelans -- to make a clear and firm commitment to respect and support the outcome of the signature verification process, no matter the result.


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

In case you missed the speech 

Just in case you missed Bush's historic speech last night here is the semi-official transcript.

BTW, be sure to check out the "how many Bush aministration members does it take to change a light bulb" comment in the comments section of that post.


Chavez could gain strength in National Assembly 

When Hugo Chavez was re-elected as president of Venezuela in 2000 his political party, the MVR, also won a large majority of the 165 seats in the unicameral National Assembly. Over time that majority has diminished as some formerly pro-Chavez Assembly members have switched to the opposition. However, Chavez has always enjoyed majority support there as the breakdown of the Assembly was 84 pro-Chavez members to 81 pro-opposition members. These numbers have been steady for some time now.

However, recent events indicate they may be changing, and in Chavez's favor. First, opposition assembly member Wilfredo Rojas recently died in an automobile accident. In Venezuela, when an assembly person is removed from office they do not hold elections to replace them. Rather all assembly members have atlernate members who were elected at the same time but who only take office if the assembly person leaves office for any reason. In the case of Mr. Roja, his alternate is a pro-Chavez person named Henry Baldayo. So this will change the breakdown in the assembly to 85 - 80 in favor of Chavez.

Additionally, as a result of the recall petioning process there are nine opposition who are subject to recall (the opposition did not get enough signatures to recall any pro-Chavez assembly people). Of those nine assembly people two have pro-Chavez alternates. That is, if they are successfully voted out of office they will be replaced by pro-Chavez people. The other seven have opposition alternates so even if they are voted out it will not alter the political balance in the Assembly. The actual recall votes are scheduled for August.

None of this will fundamentally alter the balance of power in the Assembly but it will give President Chavez more of a cushion and enable him to more readily pass his legislation.


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