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A beaten wife named Venezuela

By Jorge Robles *

Edmonton Journal, Mar 31, 2004 - Opinion Page A15 - When people see a woman who has been beaten by her husband, no one dares say, "It is her fault; she deserves the man she decided to marry." It takes a while for neighbours to believe that this nice guy, who always shows himself as a family man and a good citizen, is capable of abusing of his wife. Sometimes it is not until the victim has been seriously beaten — or murdered — that friends and authorities are forced to face the truth.

This is very similar to what Venezuela is going through now. President Hugo Chavez was democratically elected in 1998. He was a sweet-talking groom who promised the Venezuelan people he would build a better nation, where wealth would be distributed more fairly and where every Venezuelan would be entitled to a life of dignity and prosperity. And most of the people believed him. The speech of this retired colonel, who led two failed military coups in 1992, gained the trust of people who were disappointed by four decades of democracy characterized by corruption and poor administration.

But Venezuela has now decided to get a divorce before her husband kills her. In this case, divorce comes in the form of a revoking referendum, as it is described in our constitution. More than three million signatures were collected last year, almost one million in excess of what is required by the constitution. Observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center witnessed the process. But Chavez has violated the constitution to avoid going for elections. He calls himself a democratic president and accuses the opposition of being fascists. But while the "fascist opposition" is struggling to celebrate elections and to have as many international observers as possible, the "democratic president" is using every trick in the book — and a few new ones — to delay the electoral process and to get rid of the observers.

Chavez has used excessive force to repress unarmed demonstrations where hundreds have been wounded and tens have been murdered. Thanks to videos and photos taken by the media and amateurs, there is plenty of evidence of human-rights violations by the National Guards and by Chavez’s political police. There is also forensic evidence of torture suffered by demonstrators who have been captured by these armed corps.

In the middle of this tragedy, it is sometimes outrageous for Venezuelans to read articles written by journalists who choose to believe the government’s version, without digging any further in search of evidence.

Chavez has told the world that Venezuela’s crisis is due to a confrontation between rich and poor, between black and white. Yet I was born in a poor home, where a midwife assisted my mother. Neither of my parents finished elementary school, but I am proud to say that I was able to obtain an engineering degree in a public university in my hometown and later an MSc from a university in North America, thanks to the hard work of my family and a scholarship from PDVSA (Venezuelan National Oil Company). I also have two daughters; one is blond while the other has a beautiful copper-coloured skin, just like my wife. Venezuela is like that, a wonderful mixture of races and cultures.

Unfortunately, our country, formerly known for such things as its large oil production and reserves and its baseball big-leaguers, is now capturing the attention of the world because of extreme violations of human rights. The judiciary and the legislature have no independence from the presidency. Chavez’s siblings and close friends — including many soldiers who accompanied him during the failed coups in 1992 — occupy key roles in ministries and other public offices. They show no respect for the constitution.

If you want to understand the frustration and indignation Venezuelan people feel, imagine being an abused woman whose husband is so powerful and influential that you cannot call 911, nor go to the police station. That is why I urge Canadians not to look away. The great majority of Venezuelan people want a peaceful and electoral solution to our crisis. And for those journalists who care to write about the sad situation in our country, I would ask them to please dig thoroughly.

For those who still decide to support Chavez’s arguments, I would encourage them to look over the hundreds of pictures that show the faces and bodies of those who have been murdered and tortured by his regime.

*Jorge Robles, who worked for 13 years at PDVSA in Venezuela, is now a research engineer in Edmonton, where he is also president of the Association of Venezuelans in Defence of Democracy. (www.avended.org)



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