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Venezuela: No more doubt about Hugo Chavez

Editorial from Charleston.Net

Until now, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been given the benefit of the doubt by the other nations of the hemisphere. He openly admires Fidel Castro, initially sought power by a military coup, and has verbally attacked labor unions, the media and other democratic institutions, but opposition charges that he intends to impose a left-wing dictatorship on Venezuela lacked clear evidence.

Now that he has set about thwarting the constitutional rights of the Venezuelan people, there can be no doubt that his intentions are anti-democratic. His overriding concern, despite the oil-rich country's decline into a chronic economic crisis and almost constant street battles, is to hold on to power. His security forces recently brutally crushed a peaceful demonstration by some 500,000 people. At least eight were killed and more than 50 injured. Some 300 arrests were reported, and it was alleged that some of the people who were detained were beaten and tortured.

With the country polarized, the constitution that was drafted by the president's own hand-picked delegates offered a democratic solution. The constitution allows a recall election to be held if 20 percent of the total number of voters sign a petition. The opposition, after twice being blocked by the Chavez administration on technicalities, finally managed to muster a million more signatures than the 2.4 million required for a new election. The process was observed and approved by the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and other international organizations.

Finally, after weeks of delay punctuated by groundless allegations by the president that "a mega-fraud" was being hatched, the Electoral Council rejected the recall petition. The election council, most of whose members are government supporters, invented reasons for invalidating signatures not specified under the agreed rules for the petition drive.

There is one last chance for the people of Venezuela to express their constitutional right of recall. The validity of the questioned signatures is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.

The Organization of American States should get off the sidelines and urge President Chavez to cease sabotaging the recall election. If he continues to deny the Venezuelan people their right under the constitution to vote on his continuance in office, the OAS should invoke its own Democracy Charter and suspend Venezuela's membership in the organization.



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