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Four Million Venezuelans sign petitions seeking Chavez's ouster - Chavez wants leaders jailed ^ | February 3, 2003 | STEPHEN IXER, AP

Posted on 02/03/2003 12:29:53 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife

CARACAS, Venezuela - Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans turned out to petition for President Hugo Chavez's departure from power as Chavez vowed to prosecute leaders of a two-month strike against him.

Leaders of the Democratic Coordinator political movement claimed they gathered 4 million signatures on several petitions seeking Chavez's ouster Sunday. The claim was impossible to verify. But tens of thousands celebrated on a Caracas highway after petition centers closed.

Opposition members celebrate after participating in a petition drive that asks citizens to sign their names in support of various measures renouncing the government of President Hugo Chavez and seeking his ouster in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2003.(AP Photo/Leslie Mazoch)

"The pen is our weapon," said Julio Borges of the Justice First opposition party. "Today demonstrates that the struggle hasn't ended. It didn't end with the strike."

The most popular initiative is a constitutional amendment cutting Chavez's term from six to four years. It needs the support of 15 percent of the electorate - or about 1.8 million signatures - and would clear the way for general elections later this year.

A nonbinding referendum on Chavez's rule had originally been scheduled for Sunday after another petition with 2 million signatures was accepted by the National Electoral Council. Business, labor and opposition political groups called the strike beginning Dec. 2 to pressure Chavez into accepting the vote but the Supreme Court suspended the referendum because of a technicality.

"We feel that they have taken our freedom to express ourselves," said Marisela Gaye, an insurance worker who was waiting earlier in the day to sign in Plaza Francia in eastern Caracas.

A popular opposition rallying ground, the plaza was filled with people waiting to add their names to the lists. Many dressed up their babies in the red, yellow and blue of Venezuela's national flag and brought dogs wearing sweaters with the same design. The crowd frequently broke into chants of "It's going to fall, it's going to fall, the government is going to fall!"

But Chavez claimed victory over his foes after they agreed to ease the two-month strike - already waning - to protect businesses from bankruptcy. Those that remained closed - including factories, malls and franchise restaurants - were expected to open this week for restricted hours, strike leaders said.

"They have the 'F' of failure on their foreheads," Chavez said. "Today we crown the victory and continue with an offensive strategy."

Labeling his opponents as "coup plotters, fascists and terrorists," Chavez said strike leaders would pay for the economic damage suffered by the nation. "They can't remain unpunished. ... They must go to prison," he said.

The strike will continue where it has hurt the most: the oil industry. Oil provides half of government income and over 70 percent of foreign exchange, and the oil strike has cost over US$4 billion, the government estimates.

As many as 35,000 of the industry's 40,000 workers joined the strike. Most have returned to work, the government says. Chavez has fired more than 5,000 others.

Oil production, which was 3 million barrels a day before the strike and dipped as low as 150,000 a day at the height of the work stoppage, is now up to 1.8 million barrels a day, Chavez said. Striking workers say the number is slightly over 1 million.

Government and opposition have been locked in negotiations mediated by Organization of American States Secretary General Cesar Gaviria since November. What to do with the striking oil workers remains a major sticking point.

A six-nation "Group of Friends" is now backing Gaviria and urging both sides to make concessions. A constitutional amendment was one of two proposals by Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and backed by the Group of Friends. It would clear the way for general elections later this year. The other proposal is for a recall referendum halfway through Chavez's term, in August.

Chavez was first elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000 with 3.8 million votes, or 60 percent of the total. He promised radical change in the oil-rich South American country where 80 percent of the 24 million people live in poverty.

But his opponents accuse him of driving the economy into the ground while simultaneously bulldozing the country's democratic institutions. Unemployment is at least 17 percent, and a devaluation of the bolivar currency fueled 30 percent inflation last year.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: communism; hugochavez; latinamericalist; petition; strike
Hugo Chavez
1 posted on 02/03/2003 12:29:53 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: All
Chavez declares win as strike eases ***Thousands of Venezuelans waited hours in the tropical sun to sign petitions at tables nationwide in support of various measures renouncing Mr. Chavez's government and seeking his ouster. Four persons were injured, including two police officers, when pro-Chavez activists threw stones, fireworks and tear gas canisters near two petition tables in downtown Caracas, Police Chief Henry Vivas said. A car belonging to a private local television channel also was set alight.

The opposition hopes one petition in particular - a constitutional amendment reducing Mr. Chavez's term from six to four years - will succeed, paving the way for general elections later this year. Under the constitution, organizers need signatures from 15 percent, or about 1.8 million, of the country's 12 million registered voters - a number they expect to surpass easily. "We're looking for the fastest way to get out of this crisis," said Freddy Hurtado, 56, an advertising agent who complained of poor business even before the strike began. "Given that the president is the cause of the crisis, we're going to get rid of him with our signatures."***

Pictures of Venezuelans lining up to sign petitions.

2 posted on 02/03/2003 12:51:07 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: *Latin_America_List
3 posted on 02/03/2003 8:53:14 AM PST by Free the USA (Stooge for the Rich)
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4 posted on 02/05/2003 6:45:11 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe
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