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OAS Warned on Venezuela Unrest

 

By: George Gedda
 The Washington Post, April 19, 2002

 

 

Washington "Excessive polarization" could stand in the way of much needed democratic dialogue in Venezuela and end in more political upheaval, says Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

"There seems to be a widespread conviction that renewed confrontation between friends and opponents of the government is inevitable and could lead to increased social protests," he said.

Speaking at a special meeting of OAS foreign ministers, Gaviria warned Thursday that without national dialogue and other remedial measures, the political upheaval that shook Venezuela a week ago could be repeated.

Representatives of the 34-member body convened here on short notice just seven days after a mass demonstration touched off a sequence of events that almost derailed a democratic system that dates back 43 years.

Gaviria's observations were based on a two-day fact-finding mission to Venezuela that began a day after President Hugo Chavez was reinstated to power following a period last weekend which he spent in military custody.

Speaking for the United States, Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned "the blows to constitutional order that Venezuela has suffered."

Powell called on Chavez "to follow with deeds his new pledges of national reconciliation and respect of democratic principles."

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Davila defended the performance of Chavez government, citing in particular its human rights record.

"In three years, the numbers are clear: There are no political prisoners, closed newspapers and suppressed liberties. In three years, there has never been an attack on liberties and rights of Venezuelans."

On the contrary, he said, the government has sought to create conditions so that the less fortunate had opportunities which were they always denied in the past.

Powell recommended that Gaviria serve as a mediator between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, but Davila rejected the proposal, saying it was an internal matter.

The ministers, in a session that ran into early Friday, adopted a resolution encouraging the Venezuelan government to carry out the essentials of democracy consistent with hemispheric principles. In addition, it calls on all sectors of Venezuelan society to observe the rule of law.

The resolution, drafted largely by the Panamanian delegation with substantial input from the American and Venezuelan delegations, also offers OAS assistance to Venezuela to facilitate the consolidation of its democratic process.

Earlier, President Bush said a lack of respect for basic freedoms in Venezuela contributed to the political upheaval of last week.

Bush urged Chavez to respect democratic values and accused him of taking steps to "shut the press down" as protests mounted.

He dismissed suggestions the United States welcomed the attempt to remove Chavez from office.

"The administration was very clear when there were troubles on the streets in Venezuela that we support democracy and did not support any extraconstitutional action," he said.

"My administration spoke with a very clear voice about our strong support of democracy."

Critics have noted that the administration expressed no regret when Chavez was placed in military custody after last week's uprising.


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