Venezuelan government cracks down on pro-coup mayor, brutal cops

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Nov 18 12:17:50 MST 2002


The Caracas cops have been repeatedly involved in brutal attacks on
progovernment demonstrators and supported the April coup against Chavez.

 In recent weeks Venezuelan National Guard troops carried out two attacks on
supporters of the democratically-elected government.

I'm glad to see the crackdown on the Caracas mayor and his thugs, and that
Chavez is evidently confident that these army and National Guard units will
carry out his orders.
Fred Feldman


New York Times November 17
Venezuelan President's Troops Try to Tighten Noose Around Caracas Mayor's
Police Forces
By JUAN FORERO


IMA, Peru, Nov. 17 - Venezuelan troops tried today to consolidate their hold
on the 8,000-member police force in the capital, Caracas, a day after
President Hugo Chávez's government ordered management of the department
taken away from the mayor, a staunch opponent of the president.
As tensions rose in Venezuela, a major supplier of oil to the United States,
it remained unclear how much of a grip Mr. Chávez's government had on the
Police Department. Soldiers and armored vehicles were positioned outside
several police stations, but Mayor Alfredo Peña's office said that several
top-ranking police officials remained loyal to him and to his police chief,
Henry Vivas.
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"The commanders of those stations have declared their loyalty," Adriana
Díaz, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said this afternoon by phone from
Caracas. "In the majority of areas, the police are simply surrounded by the
army and National Guard, and they will not let them out."
Mr. Peña, flanked by the mayors of two anti-Chávez districts of greater
Caracas, tried to get into one of the police precincts this afternoon to
confer with commanders but was turned back by heavily armed troops, Ms. Díaz
said.
The takeover, ordered on Saturday by Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello to
squelch a weeks-long strike by some officers, exacerbated divisions between
the government and an opposition movement committed to driving Mr. Chávez
from office.
"This is going to further radicalize Venezuelan society," Felipe Mujica, the
president of an anti-Chávez party, the Movement Toward Socialism, said from
Caracas. "This takes us, each day more and more, toward a confrontation."
The government's action may indeed dim hopes for a peaceful resolution to an
increasingly bitter and violent conflict in Venezuela, a country of 24
million people. The secretary general of the Organization of American
States, César Gaviria, has been in Caracas trying to serve as a broker for
negotiations between Mr. Chávez and his opponents that are scheduled to
proceed on Monday.
But the government's actions this weekend angered an anti-Chávez group of
influential business and political leaders, the Democratic Coordinator,
which met on Saturday and today to plan what organizers said would be a
large protest on Tuesday. Leaders of the group said they are also
considering calling for a national strike, the fourth in less than a year,
aimed at shutting down the country's businesses.
"The situation is very volatile and could easily get out of control," said
Michael Shifter, who follows Venezuela for the Inter-American Dialogue, a
policy institute based in Washington. "It makes it even more urgent and
compelling for there to be much forceful and assertive international support
for what Gaviria is trying to do."
Mr. Chávez, who survived an attempt to drive him from power in April, today
defended the government's takeover of the Caracas police on his weekly radio
show. Administration officials have long seen the Police Department as a
political tool of Mr. Peña, a former ally of Mr. Chávez who broke with the
president and has since been one of his most vocal adversaries.
"This was necessary to guarantee public order," Mr. Chávez said. He added
that the situation in Caracas had been "converted into a problem of security
and public order that had put the lives of citizens in danger."
The takeover comes after a string of street battles last week between the
police and pro-Chávez militants left two people dead and dozens injured.
Earlier in the month, the opposition presented the National Electoral
Council with two million signatures calling for a nonbinding referendum on
Mr. Chávez's rule in the coming weeks. Mr. Chávez has refused to recognize
the opposition's wishes, saying that under the Constitution, a referendum
cannot be permitted until next August.
"There has to be an electoral solution to this, and both sides at least say
this is what they favor," Mr. Shifter said. "Chávez says we can do it in
August, but the opposition says it can't wait."


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