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Latest News from Venezuela

By Sol Maria Castro,

Desperate statement of the day: “When I saw those gentlemen shouting, and announcing the war, I said, ‘Well, let them go to a mountain, and form a guerrilla, we will see what to do then.” President Hugo Chávez in response to AD legislator, Henry Ramos Allup, who suggested withdrawing from the regional elections if the presidential recall referendum is denied.

· Updates on Verification Process of Presidential Recall Referendum Petition after 62 days.

§ In the absurd reasoning according to which you hold an event, and later write the rules, the directors of the CNE are analyzing a new, five-point directive including criteria to make objections to any signature when suspected to be fake. First, it establishes that both data given by the petitioner and his/her signature must be handwritten by himself/herself, therefore objecting to all those assisted forms with the same calligraphy. The electoral authority's legal advisor recommended isolating the forms that show more than one line with the same handwriting and invalidate them altogether. Nearly 90,000 collection forms for the presidential recall fall into this category. The project also establishes the CNE will request the banking institutions hand over the record of signatures and fingerprints of their clients in order to try to match them with the ones in the forms.

§ Francisco Carrasqueño, president of the CNE ratified the National Electoral Board will make the results public on Sunday February 29.

§ By Wednesday, the forms under observation (for different causes) were: 213,190 of the presidential petition; 161,359 forms petitioning recall referenda of opposition legislators, and 83,127 petitions against pro-government legislators.

§ Preliminary reports of the National Electoral Board (JNE) indicate that 52,318 of the 338,956 collection forms employed in the collection event carried out between November 28 and December 1, 2003, were not registered in the closing minutes of those days. Under article 22 of the CNE's referendum norms, these cannot be considered valid.

§ Director Sobella Mejías explained in a press conference her reasons to oppose the Smartmatic deal, while Jorge Rodríguez, president of the National Electoral Board, accused her of being part in irregularities in CNE's previous administrations. According to Mejía, selecting Smartmatic violated Articles 153 of the Voting Law; 141, 142, and 151 of the Constitution, and 2 of the Bidding Law. Additionally, as a member of the Automation Commission, she was never convoked.

§ MVR legislator and president of the Foreign Politics Commission in the National Assembly, Tarek William Saab, “denounced and accused the international illegal performance of the Carter Center and the OAS for pretending to present reports parallel to those of the CNE.” The accusation was in response to the communiqué and statements made by both Francisco Diez and Fernando Jaramillo in respect to the inclusion of new rules.

· Opposition agreement to hold primaries for a single transition candidate announced.

Several civic organizations, political parties, and associations presented this Thursday the norms that will rule the selection of a single transition opposition candidate in primaries once the referendum is activated later this month. The rules state that the candidate will be chosen by an open, direct and secret election, and that all citizens meeting the requisites set forth by the Constitution to be a presidential candidate may run for this election. Fernando Martínez Mottola, spokesman for the initiative, expressed that all potential candidates have agreed to the norms, and will commit to accepting the results. “There are no doubts the referendum battle will be won. There are no fractures in the Venezuelan democratic society, and that victory will not be lost,” said Martínez. Survey firm Mercanálisis' latest study shows that 82 percent of the Venezuelans prefer the opposition's candidate to a possible presidential election to be chosen in a primary vote.

· Council of Democratic Governors created.

Six Venezuelan state governors opposed to President Hugo Chávez created Wednesday the Council of Democratic Governors with the explicit purpose of making efforts to keep governability, defend decentralization and ensure respect to the Constitution. The group (comprised by Anzoátegui's David De Lima, Apure's Luis Lippa, Bolívar's Antonio Rojas Suárez, Miranda's Enrique Mendoza, Yaracuy's Eduardo Lappi, and Zulia's Manuel Rosales) said it would meet once a week as long as the situation of political emergency persists and recall vote petitions does not get an answer from electoral authorities.

· Pro-government legislators issue protest note.

The directorate of the National Assembly -formed by pro-government deputies- issued a document on behalf of the legislative body this Thursday requesting the U.S. not to intervene in the internal affairs of Venezuela and not to put "undue political pressures" on it. It also approved the appointment of a commission that will travel to Washington to file a claim before the U.S. Congress on "the meddling of George W. Bush's administration in the political domestic affairs" of Venezuela. The congressmen backing the government also denounced that the opposition maintains a campaign aimed at destabilizing the country with "the open encouragement and the financing of the U.S. government."

· TV news station’s transmission post assaulted by unidentified armed men.

This Thursday early morning, a group of 10 masked men with assault rifles attacked the transmission post Globovisión has located in El Cuño, an area in El Avila Mountain, and tried to seize equipment. The men subdued the two technicians, urged them to reveal where some hidden weapons there were, and proceeded to search the post taking only a radio transmitter with them.

· No gas hike price in the future.

The Minister of Energy and Mines, Rafael Ramírez affirmed the government is not considering a gas hike price to counteract smuggling to neighboring countries. “The current conditions do not allow us to make an adjustment of that type,” said the Minister.

· Chilean President not to attend G-15 summit.

Ricardo Lagos, President of Chile, sent Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez a letter, explaining why he is not attending the summit of the G-15, to be held in Caracas on February 28. The Venezuelan Ambassador to Chile Víctor Delgado confirmed a local newspaper in Santiago (La Tercera) that the letter was received. In the personal letter, President Lagos reassures President Chávez the Chilean authorities will not meddle in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

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