AMERICA/VENEZUELA - A referendum, contemplated by the Constitution, can serve, in times such as these, to catalyse and relieve tension

Thursday, 11 March 2004

Caracas (Fides Service) - The situation in Venezuela today is terribly complex because of evident polarisation in almost all sectors of national life and this makes it extremely difficult to speak of it, and “almost impossible to have an impartial vision, so it is better to listen to the sides in conflict and try to draw one’s own conclusions”. This is the feeling manifested on the basis of information collected among members of the local Church by Fides after the Bishops issued a statement calling the people to reflect on the violence in recent days and to question themselves about the future being built in this manner (see Fides 5/3/2004).
Persistent rising tension in Venezuela led in the past few days to violence at an unthinkable level also due to the decision of the National Electoral Council CNE to annul a considerable number of signatures collected by the opposition coalition “Democratic Co-ordination”, thus preventing a referendum to revoke the mandate of the President of the Republic, contemplated by article 72 of the Venezuelan Constitution. The Opposition claims it collected 3.4 million signatures but the CNE ratified only 1.8 million, rejecting the rest on the grounds that they were irregular. For a referendum at least 2.4 million signatures are necessary.
As the sources contacted by Fides recall, episodes of violence began on 27 February during a peaceful demonstration staged by members of “Democratic Co-ordination”, an organism which unites the opposition force, who wanted to reach the place where there was a meeting of high ranking representatives of the “Group of 15” (organism of connection among some countries of the South). The National Guard and the Disip, charged with supervising the march, to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the place where Group 15 was meeting, used tear gas, buck-shots and arms. On the same occasion “a large number of opposition supporters were arrested without a judiciary mandate”. Moreover “an escalation of maltreatment and torture in prisons was denounced and the harassment of many people”. The presence of armed soldiers in the streets caused panic and terror among all the people: “schools and shops closed for fear of attacks on people”.
But protest in the streets continued, aggravated by irresponsible behaviour such as “closing of roads and incitement, at times veiled, of some opposition leaders to fighting and violence. This generated reaction in the ranks of the opposition itself, since the methods of protest chosen were judged to be unsuitable because they endangered individuals and groups taking part”. The government, for its part, “exaggerated in the use of force to repress the demonstration and committed violation of Human Rights. State organisms charged with defending citizens rights failed to do their duty ”.
Despite the serious situation, “on the part of the President and the government in general there is no sign to indicate a change, indeed just the opposite: the attitude is still more aggressive and challenging, as everyone was able to see on Friday March 5 during the President’s address to Ambassadors to Venezuela, broadcast by a television network ”.
With regard to prospects for the future, seeing the present situation, Fides sources say that “the referendum contemplated by Venezuela’s Bolivar Constitution at these times can serve to catalyse and lower tension ”. (R.Z.) (Agenzia Fides 11/3/2004; righe 43 - parole 569)