Chicago Tribune denounces Chavez, warns against "quickie coup"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Nov 28 12:55:22 MST 2002


The Chicago Tribune, in what appears to be an editorial, urges the
opposition to  avoid a "quickie coup" but strongly denounces Chavez  and
urges stronger pressure through OAS and other "tools."  It notes that
favorably resolving the crisis in Venezuela is a high priority for
Washington.  Fred



November 25, 2002

Venezuela is on the verge of splitting in half, as street
violence and political disorder become a daily event. It
also is one of the top suppliers of oil to the United
States. This looming chaos--particularly against the
backdrop of a potential war with Iraq and disruption of oil
flow from the Middle East--will affect American consumers
swiftly and directly.

Defusing the Venezuela crisis ought to be an urgent matter
for the Bush administration, which is admittedly already
preoccupied with the war on terrorism and the face-off with
Iraq. The administration needs to use whatever diplomatic
players or tools it has available--one of them the
Organization of American States--to negotiate a truce
between the two factions in the Venezuelan feud.

Admittedly, neither the complexity of the crisis, nor the
clumsy performance of the U.S. during the near-coup in
Venezuela in April, are likely to make American mediation
very easy.

The 1998 election of President Hugo Chavez, a paratrooper
who had attempted a coup a few years before, was more like
an explosion. Venezuela's famously corrupt political system
was running on fumes: The ruling white upper classes had
siphoned off the country's enormous oil wealth for their own
comfort, leaving as much as 80 percent of the population
living in poverty.

Chavez, a charismatic populist, crushed the opposition and
set out not so much to rule as to turn the social order on
its head. The constitution got rewritten amid popular
acclaim and promises to bring the dispossessed into the
mainstream. As a gratuitous aside, Chavez also declared his
solidarity with Cuba and several U.S. nemeses in the Middle
East.

Far more ominous to the opposition, Chavez deployed the
military to traditionally civilian tasks, such as building
schools, and created so-called "Bolivarian Circles"--gangs
of armed thugs to beat up opponents. Meanwhile, foreign
investors fled, frightened by the growing chaos and
declining oil prices, ending any prospect of an economic
miracle that could alleviate the plight of the poor.

Four years into the Chavez presidency, things are not good.
The poor are still poor and the rich--and plenty of other
people--are out for his head. Street demonstrations combined
with strikes have turned life in Caracas into a daily
melodrama, and Chavez' popularity has plunged into the
20-percent range.

The constitution provides for a midterm referendum, next
August, on Chavez's presidency. His opponents are loath to
wait that long; they demand early elections to toss Chavez
out right now. Instead, he has sent out troops to restore
order in Caracas' streets.

The mission improbable of negotiating a solution--and
averting a possible civil war--has fallen to Cesar Gaviria,
general secretary of the Organization of American States,
who has been in Caracas since Nov. 8. Because the Bush
administration could hardly conceal its glee when Chavez was
ousted briefly in April, a mediating role for the U.S. will
prove tricky.

The U.S. would like nothing more than to see Chavez get his
comeuppance, but there is this little matter of a
constitution that was adopted by popular vote. It would not
serve stability in Venezuela to see the constitution
discarded because it has become inconvenient. The best
course would be a referendum next year--most likely to cut
short Chavez' presidency--not the quickie putsch his
opponents demand. What is clear is that the Venezuela crisis
is not a distant rumble the Bush administration can afford
to ignore.

Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune


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