Thursday, January 25, 2007

To the streets

Venezuelans have a constitutional duty to rise up against Hugo Chavez because the South American president is becoming a tyrant, a leading political opponent said on a Washington visit this week.

“It is constitutional to apply civil disobedience. A non-electoral solution is perfectly valid and perfectly constitutional,” said Alejandro Pena Esclusa, who ran against Mr. Chavez in 1998.

“There is no electoral solution to the Venezuelan crisis,” Mr. Pena Esclusa told our correspondent Tom Carter.

Mr. Pena Esclusa, who has been active in the political opposition to Mr. Chavez for 11 years, said Article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution legalizes civil disobedience and directs the population to refuse to recognize tyrannical governments.

Citing similar “non-electoral” civil disobedience in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, in which the people went to the streets and paralyzed the government until the leadership was changed, Mr. Pena Esclusa said it is the patriotic duty of Venezuelans to oust Mr. Chavez.

Since Mr. Chavez was re-elected to another six-year term with 63 percent of the vote on Dec. 3, he has become even more radical in moving Venezuela to the left. He is nationalizing the oil industry, which supplied the United States with $30 billion in oil last year.

In an assault on free speech, he is shutting down opposition newspapers and television stations. And he is establishing economic ties and giving aid to leftist governments in Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, while pledging solidarity with Cuban President Fidel Castro and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“He is using the wealth of the Venezuelan people to fund his Castro-style communism all over Latin America,” said Mr. Pena Esclusa. “He is using the electoral process to get elected and then destroy democracy from the inside.”

Mr. Pena Esclusa urged those interested in the situation in Venezuela to visit, the Web site of his organization Solidarity Force.


The U.S. ambassador to Canada is miffed by complaints from Ottawa over Washington’s treatment of a Syrian-born Canadian citizen with suspected terrorist links.

Ambassador David Wilkins reminded the Canadian government that it has no business telling Washington how to protect its borders, after Stockwell Day, Canada’s public safety minister, called on the Bush administration to allow Maher Arar to visit the United States.

U.S. immigration agents deported Mr. Arar to Syria in 2002, where he spent a year in jail until he was allowed to return to Canada. A Canadian government investigation later concluded that Mr. Arar, a software engineer, had no connection with terrorists.

Mr. Wilkins noted that Mr. Arar will remain on a watch list because U.S. authorities have other, undisclosed, information on him.

“It’s a little presumptuous of [Mr. Day] to say who the United States can and cannot allow into our country,” Mr. Wilkins said at a press conference this week in the Canadian capital.

“Canadian officials would rightly never tolerate any American official dictating to them who they may or may not allow in their country. So we would simply say we respect Canadian officials and their decisions. We would ask them to show us the same respect.”

Aiding Bolivia

The United States is rushing aid to Bolivia to help the country cope with widespread flooding that has caused landslides, wiped out roads and stranded thousands of families in rural areas, Ambassador Philip Goldberg announced this week.

He said $50,000 will be allocated to a Maryland-based relief agency to provide emergency supplies to those uprooted by the floods. The U.S. Embassy in La Paz also has ordered U.S. aircraft used in counternarcotics operations in Brazil to fly in supplies and provide aerial surveys of the flood damage.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washing

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