- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

From combined dispatches

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez held talks on an upcoming referendum on his rule with a Venezuelan media magnate and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter late last week, the Carter Center announced this weekend.

Mr. Carter organized the meeting on Friday between the president and billionaire Gustavo Cisneros, who owns Venevision, a television channel that often broadcasts views critical of the Chavez government.

They discussed the upcoming Aug. 15 recall vote and press coverage of it, the Carter Center said.

“There was a mutual commitment to honor constitutional processes,” the center said.

The three men discussed the need for a national dialogue after the Aug. 15 vote to establish strategies to fight poverty and promote health, education and economic opportunities in the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, Reuters news agency reported.

They also agreed to support talks between Mr. Chavez’s government and Venezuela’s private media to guarantee “an adequate climate” for the referendum, the Carter Center said.

Mr. Chavez, first elected in 1998, has accused Mr. Cisneros of conspiring to overthrow him with the help of the United States, Venezuela’s biggest oil client. The U.S. government and Mr. Cisneros deny this.

Mr. Carter has acted as a mediator and observer in Venezuela’s referendum process.

Venezuelans are divided into those who say Mr. Chavez is trying to install a Cuba-style dictatorship and those who say he is a champion of the country’s poor majority. The Carter Center and the Organization of American States have led efforts to help the government and the opposition find a solution to the ongoing political crisis.

The Friday talks came the same day as a police raid of properties used by Mr. Cisneros, the Associated Press reported. A June 11 search of offices rented by Venevision had turned up weapons and ammunition.

Venevision said it had nothing to do with the arms.

The Chavez government has been investigating what it says was an opposition conspiracy to topple or kill the president using Colombian paramilitaries.

Mr. Chavez also has accused Mr. Cisneros of backing an attempted coup in 2002.

One of the topics discussed at the meeting was “the need for a national dialogue” after the recall vote, the Atlanta-based Carter Center said.

Mr. Chavez applauded the center, but said there had been no “pacts” with Mr. Cisneros. The president also said that he preferred to give his life rather than negotiate away “the interests of the Venezuelan people.”

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