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Venezuela: last Friday’s murder case of opposition mayor solved.

By Sol Maria Castro,

Franklin Duno, mayor of the Bolívar Municipality in Zulia state, who was shot dead in neighboring Lagunillas early Saturday morning, was buried Sunday in a ceremony attended by members of his party and the opposition alliance Democratic Coordinator. The criminal investigation is over according to the scientific police head in the Zulia-Falcon area, Ildefonso Urdaneta, who determined in a record 24 hours that Duno was killed by a group of three robbers when the mayor resisted the robbery in a restaurant where he was waiting for some friends to travel to a nearby city in Mérida State. One of the robbers was arrested by the police during a shooting where another one died and a third managed to escape. Duno's widow and brother, however, want a full investigation since the mayor often received death threats because of his political position against the government. Duno, who won the elections in 1998, was leading the polls for re-election later this year.

Updates on Verification Process of Recall Referendum Petitions after 131 days.

§ Tuesday: in the evening, the Democratic Coordinator through its Political Committes announced it would accept the terms for the so-called “repairs” process, setting the stage for a possible, but not likely, recall referendum. Monday: The CD is still waiting for Súmate to present their technical analysis of the repair procedure to make a final decision. The database the CNE handed over to the CD in a televised act on Friday was incomplete and violated the Norms (Article 12) just approved by the electoral body. On Saturday, they delivered another portion of the database, but the info. on rejected signatures is still missing. Alejandro Plaz, president of the civic association, said once they get all of the information, including the names, causes for rejection, and location of both, the signature collection center and the repair center for all signatures, they will be able to present their report in 24 hours.

§ A meeting held Sunday evening between the CD Campaign Command and Súmate to discuss the feasibility of the repair procedure ended without public statements. The CD has insisted there will be no public pronouncement until Súmate reports on the feasibility of repairs as is.

No ‘Alo Presidente’ this Sunday.

Alleging some unidentified malaise due to overworking, President Hugo Chávez cancelled his radio and television weekly show this Sunday to be broadcast from San Francisco, Zulia State. The Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Aristóbulo Istúriz, substituted for him at the inauguration of a Bolivarian school in the district, from which he gave the corresponding fierce speech, chastising the opposition and the United States. “This fight is not against Carmona, it’s not against Enrique Mendoza, or the boys of Primero Justicia; this fight is against the circus owners, not against the clowns,” said the Minister, who added, “These are the puppets to entertain us. We know that the political decisions being made in Venezuela to favor us as a people, have to necessarily reduce the profits of those who accrue capitals, of the international financial centers, which are, in truth, the governing bodies.”

Second armed attack against Venezuelan Central University (UCV) this weekend.

For a second time this past week, the Venezuelan Central University was attacked by unidentified men shooting against its buildings this Saturday. This time, the individuals shot against the tennis courts and the arch located at the Plaza Venezuela entrance where over 15 shells were found after the event. The university President, Giuseppe Gianetto, said this new incident was part of a group of actions by paramilitaries who are trying to intimidate the university community a few days before the election of new authorities. Two days earlier, in another action, a group had shot the building of the presidency.

President Chávez’s alleged plan to sell oil to China to punish US generates reactions.

The plan Constantine Menges revealed in The New Herald this Sunday on President Chávez’s intention of selling over a million barrels of oil per day to China if he stopped shipping it to the United States to penalize it generated reactions in the field this Monday. According to Menges, an expert of the Hudson Institute, President Chávez is ready not only to radically cut oil shipments to the United States but also to hinder a virtual re-election of President George W. Bush if he intends any destabilizing measure against Venezuela. Evanán Romero, former Venezuelan Vice-Minister of Energy and Mining, said it was technically possible but extremely complicated economically. Romero explained placing the oil in China would cost between $5 and $6 more per barrel since the product would have to be shipped via the Panama Channel or the south of Africa. In Caracas, former managers of PDVSA, fired after the civic strike of 2003, Juan Fernández and Horacio Medina, said that although economically unviable, it showed the president’s determination to use oil as a political weapon in its foreign policy, remembering the cases of the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Alí Rodríguez, president of PDVSA, has repeatedly denied any plan to stop oil shipments to the States.

FEDECAMARAS rejects general raise for May 1st.

Albis Muńoz, president of the Federation of Trade and Industry Chambers (FEDECAMARAS), expressed their disagreement to a general wage and salary raise since they deem impossible to apply the same percentage to all regions and sectors due to the high levels of inflation and the severe recession the Venezuelan economy is experiencing. Muńoz says that according to the figures they have, Venezuela is not recovering economically as the government claims, and argues the situation will remain the same as long as there is no definition of the political situation. According to the Labor Organic Law, the government along with the unions and the business sectors has to reach an agreement over the yearly salary raise previous to the announcement around May 1st. However, since the government has accused both sectors of coup-mongering and does not recognize them as valid interlocutors, it has unilaterally decreed the raises in the last few years, and how they must be paid. At the moment, 2,800,000 workers earn minimum wages, Bs. 247,104, equivalent, after the two devaluations, to $130 according to the official rate, and only $46 in real terms. In 2002, the minimum wage was Bs. 158,000 which represented $220.

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