- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

Venezuelans in the millions defied implicit government threats and signed a petition calling for a presidential recall referendum. President Hugo Chavez had ominously warned Venezuelans that their signatures for a recall would be recorded and remembered. Government billboards announced: “Your vote is secret, your signature is not,” noting that voting is anonymous, while petition signing is not. Signers were even required to leave their fingerprints.

Opposition leaders have said about 3.6 million signatures were collected, comfortably exceeding the 2.4 million constitutionally necessary to hold a recall vote. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center have upheld the legitimacy of the petition, in response to Mr. Chavez’s allegations of “mega-fraud.” Venezuela’s Electoral Board must now verify the authenticity of each signature, a process that could take weeks. Polls show Mr. Chavez would likely lose a recall vote next year.

Mr. Chavez’s grudging willingness to allow a recall petition has allowed Venezuela to gain some stability, and the effort is empowering the electorate. But the situation remains dangerous because of the volatile tendencies of both the Chavez government and the opposition.

Mr. Chavez fell precipitously from grace last year, after his alleged supporters fired on and killed protesters opposed to his government. Then, the opposition mounted a clumsy and short-lived coup in April 2002, and subsequently killed some protesters opposed to the coup. Mr. Chavez was then reinstated, and the opposition mounted a months-long strike, which the government responded to with excessive force.

The fact that the petition drive was held peacefully and didn’t lead to street violence are positive signs, but not guarantees of future stability. To a large degree, international pressure and popular demand for political maturity is forcing the Chavez government and the opposition to evolve. Venezuela’s security depends on this evolution.

The political turbulence of the past years appears to have raised Venezuelan expectations for responsible government. If the opposition is successful in wresting political power from the Chavez government, it must act quickly to form a coherent political agenda. If Mr. Chavez hangs on to power, his immediate task would be to unify a highly polarized country — a task for which he has demonstrated little affinity.

Given Venezuela’s sizable oil exports to the United States, its future stability is very much in U.S. interests. The Bush administration has wisely devolved the handling of Venezuelan political crises to the OAS and NGOs, at least in the post-coup period. This has neutralized Mr. Chavez’s ability to bolster his popularity with claims of Yankee meddling. Through its considerable clout in the OAS, the United States should continue to push for an orderly and constitutional resolution. It is this push that has largely guaranteed the right of courageous Venezuelans to exercise their constitutional rights.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide