What's really happening in Venezuela?

As most of us focus on the latest Narcocoup in Haiti, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez asserts his legitimacy and warns the US away from futher intervention. I guess the best place to start is here:
Agence France Presse's report on Chavez's statements to the United States.

It's March 1st of a very strange year, of a very strange US presidency. A great number of us Latinophiles are looking stunned at an at least momentarily successful coup d'etat in Haiti straight out of the 1950's. In Haiti, a president with a populist history and a proven electoral mandate is toppled in favor of the remnants of the Duvalier dictatorship. It didn't take much time at all for the seemingly inexorable outcome in Port-au-Prince, perhaps this explains the current goings on in Venezuela. The timing may be coincidental, but there's reason to be wary of an encore performance by US policy makers in Caracas.

Perhaps a good way to frame this current situation in Venezuela is the recall referendum. I assume most narconews readers have been following the referendum for the recall in Venezuela. Now it doesn't take much more than a cursory look at the history to see that this recall referendum is just the latest attempt by the oft-discredited opposition to remove the democratically elected Chavez from office.

It's important to note that the opposition isn't stupid, anymore than the US policy makers are. The opposition, with some possible exceptions to allow for the self-deluded, knows that President Chavez is highly popular. A real campaign to win a recall election would not come to pass as it did in California in 2003. In California, we had an unpopular Governer excreted from the Democratic Party's machine who refused to make even the most simple progressive reforms. Chavez, on the other hand, has indeed enacted a long series of reforms, perhaps not as quickly as some would like, but has for the most part been consistent in his stance on major issues that affect Venezuelans.

So if you were a big mover at the ironically named Coordinadora Democratica (CD), you wouldn't really want a referendum where you could be summarily trounced in an open election. Instead, you'd want to do everything you could to make a mess of the political system, and attempt to discredit the constitutional process.

None of this is news, it's been reported in the authentic press for some time. What is new is what appears to be a change towards a more aggressive response by the Chavez presidency. I think the most notable act of the Chavez government was the threat to end oil exports to the US. This threat is a major shift in Venezuelan policy and demonstrates that the Venezuelan government has grown tired of US anti-democratic actions and support of the most reactionary sectors of Venezuelan society.

The escalation occurred as the CNE, the Venezuelan National Electoral body approached a decision regarding the authenticity of the signatures on the recall referendum petitions. According to the reports by Charles Hardy of Vheadline and Narconews fame, some opposition leaders have even admitted their lack of sufficient signatures to call the referendum a success. It's important to note that Chavez's opposition is not homogenous, if you oppose the policies of Chavez, the only significant game in town is the CD, whose helm is currently populated by some of the most spoiled and reactionary people in Venezuela. It's important to keep in mind that there are perfectly reasonable members of the opposition with valid claims against Chavez, they just don't happen to be in charge. (You can glean some knowledge about the make-up of the CD by reading my previous article on Venezuela I did for Narconews in 2002) http://narconews.com/Issue25/article11.html

Last week, the CNE seemed ready to release their decision about the recall petition signatures. The Carter center was dispatched early in the decision making process to oversee the signature analysis, but the result seemed already clear, the CNE would invalidate as many as 1.6 million signatures out of the 3.4 million supplied by the opposition. After subtracting the fraudulent signatures, the total falls far short of the 2.4 million needed for a recount. The opposition has now placed itself in the position of "To hell with the democratic process, we want a democratic recall referendum where we win, regardless of how many signatures and votes we receive!" It worked in Florida, I can understand their disappointment. In a temper tantrum of thousands, the opposition took to the streets last week, according to my Venezuelan friend's eyewitness account, and tried to provoke the Venezuelan National Guard into firing upon the opposition marchers. The National Guard responded with "less-lethal" weapons and tear gas, which I can tell you from personal experience are no fun, and the less-lethal projectiles can do some serious damage, but the national guard did not use live weapons. A protester was shot by a live round from a motorcycle rider during the march, but the details are still quite murky as to whom this protester was, which side the protester supported, and the identity of the assailant.

Another part of the equation are the revelations achieved by a Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) Request by a Venezuelan solidarity organization, which reveals some of the direct meddling and intervention by the US government in Venezuela's political affairs. You can see the result of the FOIA request at:

So what now? The opposition is setting fire to barricades in their middle-class neighborhoods (According to Vheadline) to protest the decision of the CNE. The Oil threat is an important development, as Venezuela is in a difficult position with oil. They need the US to import oil as badly or more than the US needs the oil. This statement by Chavez is a major escalation, but this weekend's events are a clear indication that President Chavez has reason to be concerned.

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