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A civic victory in Venezuela

By Gustavo Coronel, December 3, 2003

The Civic Victory of Venezuelans can only be preserved with the assistance of previously authorized international observers from the OAS and the Carter Center. Unofficial tallies of signatures collected by the opposition during the four days of November 28th to December 1st are close to 3.7 million. Most signatures were collected in Zulia, the Caracas metropolitan area and the State of Carabobo. Predictably, the first day 1.6 million signatures were collected versus only 470,000 signatures during the fourth day. In every respect the event was a significant show of rejection against the so-called "revolutionary" government. This number is bound to increase significantly in a referendum since, then, the vote will be secret and Venezuelans abroad should be allowed to vote. If President Chávez had a modicum of self-respect he would already be meeting with the opposition, to prepare for an orderly referendum and for a possible civilized transition. But this is not what he is doing.

The government is resorting to claims of "mega-fraud" by the opposition, a "mega- fraud" that could only exist if a majority of the country was involved in a conspiracy with the Electoral Council and the authorized international observers. The shouts of "mega-fraud" that are starting to be heard come from Cabello, Rangel, Isturiz, Chávez and a small group of the paid hired guns brought by the government from abroad to help in the ignoble maneuver. The strategy of this gang will be to try to throw the country in total confusion, in order to render the referendum impossible . . . and democracy be damned.

The Constitutional process, which has taken so much civic effort and restraint, is in great danger of being sequestered. The Chávez government will exercise pressure on the Directors and technical staff of the Electoral Council in every possible way, through threats and bribes. The only way to preserve the transparency of the process is by allowing the authorized international observers from the OAS and the Carter Center to assist in the verification of the signatures collected both by government followers and by the opposition. If fraud exists, on either side, only an impartial verification conducted with the assistance of international observers can provide the sufficient credibility to satisfy Venezuelan citizens.

The exemplary and impeccable civic behavior of millions of Venezuelans cannot be put at risk of total loss by the cynical behavior of a small group of desperate political operators. The frustration that would be generated by murky maneuvers from the government might finally push Venezuelan society over the edge of civil war. We already know that Chávez prefers a violent outcome to the surrendering of what has been a very inept and corrupt presidency. We simply cannot allow him to go ahead with his plan of national destruction.

We Venezuelans have to insist in the participation of international observers in the verification process. What is at stake at this moment in Venezuela is the political and social stability of the country. It is unfortunate that the members of the Chávez government do not know the meaning of integrity. If they did, the sorry spectacle they are starting to give, for all the world to see, would not have taken place and we would instead be witnessing a dignified attitude on their part.

The only mega-fraud in Venezuela is the government of Hugo Chávez.

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