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Asks washington review constitution { December 15 2002 }

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   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55518-2002Dec14.html

"I'm sure that President Bush is not telling the world that Venezuelans must violate the constitution," Chavez said in the interview. "Here there is no power that can call early elections. So I have asked Washington to review our constitution."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55518-2002Dec14.html

Venezuelan Rebuffs Call for Early Vote
Chavez's Remarks Follow U.S. Appeal

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 15, 2002; Page A38


CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 14 -- President Hugo Chavez today rejected the Bush administration's appeal for early elections to resolve Venezuela's political crisis, as hundreds of thousands of opposition marchers swarmed a major highway on the 13th day of a crippling national strike.

In a move that aligned the United States with Chavez's political opponents, the White House on Friday urged early elections after months of favoring an "electoral solution" to the standoff without detailing what that would entail. It was the strongest statement from the Bush administration since April, when the White House tacitly endorsed a military-led coup against Chavez by recognizing the interim government that replaced him before its collapse two days later.

Venezuela's constitution would have to be amended to allow early elections, a process that could take months to arrange. Chavez, who has yet to complete half of a six-year term, appeared to dismiss that idea in an interview tonight with four U.S. reporters.

"I'm sure that President Bush is not telling the world that Venezuelans must violate the constitution," Chavez said in the interview. "Here there is no power that can call early elections. So I have asked Washington to review our constitution."

Chavez's comments underscored how little progress has been made in ending the worsening political confrontation that has consumed this oil-rich nation for the past year. Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States, is mediating talks between the government and the opposition that are now focused on ways to hold elections before April. The negotiations have been complicated by a financially punishing national strike, which has hardened positions on both sides.

The strike was called to force the twice-elected Chavez to move up elections, now scheduled for 2006, but has evolved into a demand for his resignation. Roy Chaderton, Venezuela's foreign minister, said in an interview today that the White House call for early elections "does not capture the complexity of the situation here, but it expresses the worry of a friendly country."

Chaderton suggested that Washington should have endorsed a binding midterm referendum on Chavez's administration, a step allowed in the constitution. The vote could be held as early as next August. Doing so, he said, would have allowed the United States to avoid setting a precedent that could cause problems in other Latin American countries with weak democratic institutions and leaders even more unpopular than Chavez.

"I'm not saying the government hasn't made its share of mistakes, but in a democracy you pay for those in elections, not a coup," Chaderton said. "Latin American countries have good reason to be worried by this. If polls are what determine the legitimacy of a government, we're not in the hands of the people but in the hands of pollsters and media owners. Venezuela could be a laboratory case."

Although still considered a populist hero to roughly a third of Venezuela's 23 million people, Chavez faces a large, diverse civilian opposition movement angered by his leftist program, sharp populist rhetoric and autocratic style that they say has occasionally violated the constitution.

He has also antagonized the United States by embracing elements of Cuban President Fidel Castro's political program and strengthening ties to fellow oil-exporting nations such as Iraq, Iran and Libya. Venezuela's state oil industry, virtually paralyzed by the strike, usually provides the United States with 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, about 15 percent of its oil imports, and the Venezuelan government with $9 billion a year in revenue.

Since April, the United States has endorsed Gaviria's efforts and urged both sides to reach a negotiated agreement as quickly as possible to avoid a repeat of the violent street clashes that left 18 people dead and provoked the brief coup. But that public neutrality has faded, and the United States now appears to have far less sympathy for the government position.



2002 The Washington Post Company



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