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Venezuela: The Roller Coaster Nightmare

By Alexandra Beech,

Navigating through the Venezuelan local media is a surreal experience. While the pundits, candidates, and analysts of the world debate how to tackle democratically elected dictators, Venezuelans face the sobering fact that democracy has slowly crawled away from its shell, leaving behind a fragmented and fragile system.

Following the local events is a nerve-fraying experience, as the constitution is taken on a wild and dangerous ride. The lack of institutional order and justice translates into mayhem. Nothing is what it seems. Venezuela’s political environment is rife with contradictions, creating a sense of urgency and volatility that confuses and frustrates Venezuelans seeking a clean, clear and orderly path towards peace. If the devil is in the details, then it is here that Chavez has found a way to survive.

Venezuelans learned this week that thousands of government employees from Edelca, PDVSA, ministries, and mayorships have been fired for signing the petitions for a recall referendum, despite the fact that this right is enshrined in their constitution. On Saturday, Health Minister Róger Capella said that “those who signed against President Chavez will be fired, because that is an act of terrorism.” A day later, Labor Minister Maria Cristina Iglesias denied that government workers would be fired. Minister Capella then reiterated his warning again, in smoother terms, saying that those who signed are “not compatible with the politics of the government.”

Reports from the oil industry and elsewhere have surfaced that thousands of government employees have lost their jobs. One Venezuelan here in New York complains that when her father tried to renew his expired passport in Venezuela, an official looked his name up on “the list”. He then informed him that since he had signed the petition, he would not get a new passport. The “list,” which the government has a moral responsibility to protect, is used instead to punish or intimidate.

Regarding the referendum saga, Venezuelans celebrated last week when “Venezuela´s top court ruled Monday that over 800,000 disputed signatures fathered in support of the presidential recall referendum were valid and ordered the National Electoral Council(CNE) to proceed with the recall process,” according to the Daily Journal. This week, they lamented when Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) president Iván Rincón Urdaneta said that the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ had the right to revise decisions by other chambers, and denied that the court’s six chambers were of equal standing. This court thus annulled the prior decision. Imagine a country in which one side of a court has the power to overrule the decisions of the other half on any given day over any given subject. What kind of justice is that?

In another headline, Venezuelans read that the military has opened an investigation against popular journalist Patricia Poleo, the recipient of the King of Spain Award for excellent journalism for her reporting on the Montesinos case in Venezuela. While Montesinos hid in Venezuela from international authorities (with government help), popular Baruta Mayor Henrique Capriles Radonsky is currently hiding in Caracas after the government issued a warrant for his arrest. Displaying its contempt for the international norms of rule of law, the government has refused to announce the charges against the First Justice mayor. They said that when he turned himself in, he would be charged. No thank you, said his lawyers. Interesting timing to pursue the arrest of one of the most vocal and effective opponents of the regime.

Regarding the persecution of dissidents, Venezuelans read that thousands in Caracas protested to demand the release of the political dissidents being held illegally.

At the peak of this mayhem, government supporters have started a campaign responding to Senator Kerry’s strong statement against Chavez, brazenly telling him that “he had better take a strong stand for international democracy now, which means standing strong with Chavez and against US meddling in Venezuelan affairs,” or he will lose their vote in November. As can be expected, these Chavez supporters feel so strong about their campaign that they are sending a “prepared letter” to their lists, “so folks will be more inclined to simply sign and send the letter as opposed to having to write it. We will lose people if we expect them to write the letter themselves.” Needless to say, Mr. Kerry shouldn’t lose sleep over these so-called voters. If they’re too lazy to write their own letters, there’s no reason to believe that they would vote. And anyone who supports Chavez nowadays will not vote for Bush, no matter how much they whine. As I said to documentary filmaker Michael Moore the other day: “People who hate Bush love Chavez. People who hate Bush love you. How do you feel about Chavez?” Moore simply shrugged and said, “I know it’s a big mess down there.” At least someone in the far left know what’s really going on.

Venezuela needs help. No one denies that Chavez was democratically elected, at a time when Venezuelans were so disgusted with the political system that many didn’t even bother to vote. Chavez was elected by a majority of the relatively low percentage of voters who turned up, who believed that he would destroy the old order for a more democratic and fair system. Apparently, he brought an excellent demolition crew that brought everything down, but forgot to hire an architect and contractor.

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