Skip to comments.Chavez Accused of Threatening Bankers
Posted on 01/30/2003 6:20:24 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan opposition leaders accused President Hugo Chavez of threatening the nation's bankers to make them abandon a general strike aimed at toppling him.
The National Banking Council said Wednesday that its members will return to normal operating hours on Monday. For two months, thousands of people have waited in long lines while banks opened just three hours a day. Other sectors, including workers in the state oil company, will remain on strike.
"This is a government that, one way or another, acts with pressure and repression. This influenced the decision," said strike leader Carlos Fernandez.
Chavez had threatened to fine banks and withdraw the armed forces' deposits from private institutions if they didn't resume activities. Bankers said they provide a public service, which influenced the decision.
"We owe the public," Nelson Mezerhane, the council's vice president, said after a Wednesday council meeting. "They have their earnings and money in our institutions."
Fearing effects of the work stoppage - shortages of food, medicine, fuel and cash - could hurt their cause, many businesses plan to reopen next week.
The possibility of having to declare bankruptcy by remaining closed also prompted owners of shopping malls, restaurants, franchises and schools to soon open their doors to the public.
Dissident executives at state-run oil monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA, said the strike will continue in the oil industry despite the government's success in raising production.
Output surpassed 1 million barrels a day this week, a third of pre-strike levels. Oil provides half of government income and 70 percent of export revenue.
Arguing that oil executives sabotaged oil installations to ensure the strike's success, Chavez has fired one-eighth of the company's work force to regain control of the industry.
"These traitors should be in prison," Chavez said on Wednesday. "I call on judges to listen to the clamor of the people and jail these traitors."
Oil company strikers have rejected the accusation and challenged the government to present proof of sabotage.
While businesses pinched by the strike began to stray, government adversaries decided the best strategy to oust Chavez is by amending the constitution to shorten the presidential term and open the way for early elections.
The idea, which was floated by former President Jimmy Carter, "is the priority, it's the proposal we prefer," said Pedro Nikken, an attorney and adviser to the Democratic Coordinator opposition movement.
Venezuela's diverse opposition had been considering a host of proposals, ranging from a binding recall referendum on the president's rule in August to a popularly-elected assembly charged with drafting a brand new constitution.
The amendment would shorten Chavez's term from six years to four. Chavez was elected in 1998 and re-elected two years later. His term ends in 2007.
The amendment proposal will be formally presented to "The Group of Friends of Venezuela," a forum of six nations helping broker an end to Venezuela's hostile political conflict.
Diplomats from the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Spain and Portugal were to arrive in Venezuela on Thursday to support negotiation efforts led by the Organization of American States.
In January the Assembly ratified Chávez' choice of Diego Castellanos, a former economics professor and head of the Foreign Trade Bank, as the new president of the Central Bank. Little is known about his policy inclinations and he is expected to broadly follow Chávez' directions. The appointment only served to emphasize critics' concerns that the new constitution seriously undermines Central Bank autonomy.***Source
Readers of the New York Times, The Washington Post and of the Associated Press, and viewers of CNN, are fed a dramatically different story. There is an enormous divide between what the world is hearing about Venezuela and what is really happening there. Reporters have so controlled the flow of information and disfigured the truth that their coverage of Venezuela is a caricature of what conservative critics call the "liberal media bias." What we are seeing in media coverage of Venezuela is not liberal bias, but totalitarian bias.
A recent example is Christopher Toothaker of the Associated Press. Mr. Toothaker has spent considerable time in Venezuela, he speaks Spanish, and he has access to government and opposition sources. In a Jan. 4 report, he minimized the importance of the upcoming constitutional referendum, stating that the opposition presented "over 150,000 signatures" to election authorities calling for a vote on whether Mr. Chavez should resign. This is a dramatic and deliberate understatement. The Venezuelan Constitution, approved by Mr. Chavez himself, provides for a referendum if 10 percent of the electorate petitions in writing. The opposition presented 2,057,000 signatures - some 15 percent of the voting rolls - a startling error that any fact-checker should catch. The smaller figure appears in dozens of other Associated Press reports, CBS, CNN and even in a story bylined by Ginger Thompson of the New York Times that was carried in the South Florida Sun-Sentine***
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