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Chavez snubs US request for elections
Posted: Sunday, December 15, 2002

By Curtis Williams, Trinidad Express

The embattled Chavez government in Venezuela yesterday dismissed a request by the United States that it should call early elections and said it has received statements of support from Trinidad and Tobago and other Caricom countries

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express at the Mira Flores Presidential Palace, Venezuela Foreign Minister, Roy Chaterdon-Matos, said to accede to the US election request would be to breach the Constitution of Venezuela.

Chaterdon-Matos said he had received word from Trinidad and Tobago and other Caricom neighbours who have all stated their support for the Chavez administration.

"We have had an excellent relationship with Port of Spain and indeed Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of Caricom have all stated that they are fully behind the legitimately elected Government of Venezuela and that they want a peaceful settlement to the issue."

Chaterdon-Matos explained that under the Venezuelan Constitution the population had a right to recall a President whom they may feel is not operating in their best interest, but that this must be done at mid-term which for the Chavez administration, is not until next August.

He maintained that the Venezuelan Government would be willing to consider an election at that time. He said if it were to meet the demands of the Opposition for elections in February, the Venezuelan constitution would have to be changed.

The Foreign Minister said there was also the difficulty of the Government not having an opportunity to get its side of the message out to the people of Venezuela because the media is controlled by the very business interests which oppose Chavezís continuation in power.

"In this country, if you contest for the post of President and you win you govern, and if your government does not perform then the people have a right to punish you and remove you from office. But in the media there is no elections for the president of a television station. And while they do not have to answer to an electorate they form the official opposition and seek to demonise President Chavez with no opportunity being afforded for him to rebutt the allegations."

Chatergon-Matos insisted that the government remained firmly in place and that negotiations with T&T on the unitisation of the East Coast gas fields with that of the Plataforma del Tana were continuing at full speed.

"Both countries are committed to jointly developing these resources and this incident has not slowed the process," he said.

Yesterday, the Venezuelan cabinet met at the Presidential Palace to discuss the on-going national strike as hundreds of thousands of supporters on either side prepared to hit the streets from evening into the night.

Casual observation showed that the poorer elements in Caracas were behind Chavez and in those parts of capital the stores remained opened and it was almost business as usual.

In the upscale areas such as Altamira, where the Opposition has its stronghold, shops remained closed in support of the national strike.

On Friday night, the usually bustling Caracas night life was almost non-existent with only a candle-light vigil in Altamira where those opposing Chavez prayed for his ouster.

In this highly Catholic society almost every supporter on either side has been armed with a copy of the Constitution and a copy of the Bible. In Altamira Square, a statue of the Virgin Mary is surrounded by candles and flowers as opposition leaders spoke from a podium designed like an altar decked with candles and a crucifix of Jesus Christ.

Emotions continue to run high here in Venezuela and even as the government remains in the saddle, no one could say for sure how the protracted protest is likely to end.

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