Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Vzla: By any means necessary

Caracas, 18 July 2004 - Chavez and his government continue to make unrestricted and illegal use of the privileges and resources that come with political power, not only channeling oil money that should be deposited with the Central Bank directly into its populist social programs (some US $ 2 billion, by admission of the Minister of Energy and Mines), but, also, openly violating the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) rules on electoral propaganda by making excessive use of his prerogative to address the nation through the private radio and TV networks. So much so, that government-friendly Francisco Carrasquero, the President of the National Electoral Council, publicly warned Chavez that he might be “punished” by the Council, should he continue to violate these rules. The Carter Center is now to monitor their compliance by both sides.

Most opinion polls now show the YES and NO options at the same levels of preference. But, as previous experiences in Nicaragua and Peru have shown, polls must be taken with a grain of salt in authoritarian regimes, as many voters often do not reveal their true intentions for fear of possible reprisals. The percentage of those likely to abstain has shrunk from 35% to 25%, a tendency that is likely to continue as the date of the RR nears, benefiting mainly the opposition.

Chavez, a formidable campaigner, has taken again to playing the role of the conciliating, gentle democrat, especially towards the middle class, the same role he played immediately after the failed Carmona coup. He has liberalized the allocation of dollars, particularly for travelers, and has reduced the value added tax from 16 to 15%. Simultaneously, he continues to use military language in haranguing his followers. The electoral campaign has thus become the “Battle of Santa Ines”, which must be “won”. The military parade commemorating Independence Day on 5 July was used to reenact the battle, clearly with a partisan intention, causing an uproar in the media.

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