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Venezuela's opposition must back off
Posted: Monday, November 18, 2002

Editorial commentary (c) by
Business News Editor Robert Rudnicki

Monday, November 18, 2002 -- Which ever way you look at it, the opposition must back off if it wants to avoid a social explosion. It's clear that the government is not going to give the opposition a chance to remove it until it is constitutionally permitted, i.e.. August 2003.

So whichever way you look at the last few weeks events, it's going to have to be the opposition that leads the way in the calming of the situation.

Pro-government supporters no doubt believe that the government is merely responding to pressure placed upon it by the opposition, and it is this pressure that, over the weekend, forced the government to take control of the Metropolitan Police from vehement government-critic, Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena.
No doubt 'Chavistas' will feel that the opposition threat to call a national general strike, the continuing Plaza Altamira protest and the recent actions of the Metropolitan Police are more than sufficient reasons for the government to respond with a further show of force ... and if the opposition continues to scale up its pressure, then they probably think the government should follow suit.

On there hand, opponents of President Hugo Chavez Frias and his government will probably be accusing the President and his backers of creating a problem-reaction-solution scenario, whereby the government could be creating situations on the streets that it then uses to justify its responses in front of the national and particularly the international community. 

The opposition no doubt sees the deaths during last week's demonstrations outside Caracas' Metropolitan City Hall, and last night's explosion outside the Globovision TV news station, as well as similar explosions at the headquarters of several newspapers, Confederation of Trade Unions (CTV) and Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Fedecamaras) offices as government-planned attacks aimed at giving the government the excuse of stepping up the militarization of the capital and placing troops outside all key Caracas institutions.

Either way, the only viable and peaceful solution for the opposition to take is to back off and wait for August 2003. 

Of course, if the government were to back down and call an election in the next few weeks, that would provide a more viable and less confrontational solution to the current crisis ... but lets face it ... it's not going to happen ... and whatever anyone says it is unconstitutional. 

At a time when United Nations weapons inspectors are heading back into Iraq, it is very unlikely that Washington will want to see the Venezuelan boat rocking ... no wonder President Chavez Frias took the opportunity at the weekend to reassure the US that oil supplies would continue to be guaranteed. 

This may give the President the maneuver room he needs to step up pressure on the opposition without the normally speedy criticism of US politicians.

The President must feel that so long as he remains broadly within the Constitution, he's on pretty solid ground until August.
Rightly or wrongly, it now seems that unless the opposition wants to allow/force the government into further increasing its grip on power ... or speeding along a huge civilian or military explosion ... it may be the order of the day to step back and take the coming months to develop a long-term strategy that is capable of winning support from all sectors of Venezuelan society and to choose a plausible contender to represent that strategy.

If the opposition really wants to give birth to a new improved Venezuela, maybe it should take the coming nine months to develop properly, and not risk being stillborn.

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