Friday, December 27, 2002

The Nation -- Venezuela on the Brink

The opposition's militancy dates back not to 1998, when Chávez was elected president, but to 2001, when he radicalized his government by prioritizing economic and social reform. In November of that year he passed agrarian reform and legislation prohibiting private control of joint ventures for oil exploitation. Fedecámaras reacted by calling a one-day general strike. The business organization was joined by the main labor federation, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), whose leadership Chávez refused to recognize on the grounds that it had held fraudulent internal elections. Since then the CTV and Fedecámaras have called three more general strikes, including the one in April that led to the abortive military coup.

One unique feature of the general strike that began on December 2 is the absence of any demand other than the removal of President Chávez, either by resignation or immediate elections. All rhetoric is reduced to one simple message: Chávez must go.

The US and Spanish governments were practically alone in welcoming the April coup against Chávez. While Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar continues to support the Venezuelan opposition in its call for immediate elections, Washington has in recent months maintained an officially neutral position, despite the National Endowment for Democracy's generous funding of opposition groups over the past several years. Thus the United States now defers to the Organization of American States, whose secretary general, César Gaviria, has brought both sides to the table in an attempt to work out a solution to the impasse.

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