Over the weekend, heavily armed men broke into Comando Maisanta headquarters in Indio Mara, Maracaibo, attacking people and vehicles. Approximately 45 community media journalists were there for a meeting with pro-Chavez political leaders. Four people were injured and taken to medical centers. Seven vehicles were destroyed by gunshots and heavy blows, including Minister Iglesias’ SUV. According to authorities, the attacks were lead by oppositionists who are resorting to violence as an act of desperation in the face of their imminent defeat in the August 15 presidential recall referendum (RR). They called on Chavez supporters to remain calm in the face of these provocations.
Venezuelan opposition leader, and two time president Carlos Andres Perez, made a series of statements calling for violence and hinting at an eventual dictatorial period that the Venezuelan opposition must implement if current President Hugo Chavez is to be removed from office. During an interview published Sunday in El Nacional, one of Venezuela's main daily newspapers, he said, "I am working to remove Chavez [from power]. Violence will allow us to remove him. That's the only way we have,". Speaking from Miami, denied being involved in a plot to assassinate Chávez, but said Chavez "must die like a dog, because he deserves it."
Given a fair vote, it seems certain the Hugo Chavez will win. With two weeks to go, opinion polls were giving him a 10 to 25 percent lead over the opposition (now up to 31 percent in more recent polls). The leftist populist leader remains Venezuela's most popular political figure as 58% of registered voters would vote for him in a presidential election, according to some polls.
A survey conducted between 14th June and 1st July by local pollster Keller y Asociados, found that 45% would vote against recalling President Chavez, 34% would vote for the President's recall, while 21% remain undecided. Keller y Asociados surveyed 1,633 people in 113 cities, with a margin of error of +/-2.8%. Keller is perceived by many to be a pro-opposition firm.
According to local newspaper El Universal, another survey released today by local polling firm Consultora Hinterlaces gives 51% for the "NO" option (against recalling Chavez), and 40% to the "YES" option (in favor of the recall). The poll was conducted between July 3rd and July 18, surveying 1500 registered voters in Venezuela's 10 major cities, through interviews and focus groups. The survey also found that 37% of registered voters consider themselves pro-Chavez, 16% oppositionists, and 47% of neither tendency. Among those with no political preference, the study found that 32% would vote in favor of Chavez, while 53% would vote against him, and 14% remained undecided or did not answer.
The Delaware based polling firm, North American Opinion Research, conducted in-home interviews with 2,612 Venezuelans from July 15 to 25 in all areas of the country. They say that abstention will be its lowest ever in Venezuelan history, with 95% of registered voters participating. The poll was commissioned by transnational companies and embassies but when asked exactly which companies and embassies commissioned the poll they declined to give their names because the clients did not want their names revealed.
U.S. opinion research firm Evans McDonough Company and Venezuelan firm Varianzas Opinion, gave Chavez a 49% of support and 41% opposition among registered voters. Venezuelan firm Mercanalisis conducted sometime in June, gave Chavez only 33% support in the recall with 54% opposition. Mercanalisis has consistently given Chavez unfavorable numbers in the past.
What if Chavez looses? Last month, the opposition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez unveiled its government plan for a post-Chavez administration. The opposition plan titled “Consensus Country”, promises privatization of currently state-owned companies and a return to free market economic policies - a change that would be welcomed by international financial leaders and institutions, including the International Monetary Fund. The IMF had offered support for the dictatorial government of business leader Pedro Carmona, who made the same promise after briefly ousting Chavez thought a coup d’ etat in April of 2002.
The plan also outlines reforms to the Constitution and several laws approved during the Chavez administration. The Hydrocarbons Law will be reformed in order to allow greater opening of Venezuela's economy to foreign investment in the oil and gas sectors. The current Hydrocarbons Law allows foreign involvement in the oil and gas sectors mostly through partnerships with local private and state enterprises. The current new law also significantly increased the royalties paid by foreign multinationals for oil and gas extraction, a measure that has negatively affected foreign investment in that sector, according to opposition experts. Profits currently generated by the increased royalties and from the state oil company PDVSA are being used to finance social programs for the poor.
An increase in oil production will also be enacted through “a redirection of OPEC policies according to the modern oil market.” An increase in oil production would help the opposition’s plan of “restoring good relations” with the United States, as the Bush administration has been pressuring OPEC for an increase in output in order to bring down prices. Chavez is credited with helping rebuild OPEC and restoring oil prices after he took office, a move that was not well welcomed by Washington.
Under the economic flexibility policies to be implemented, currency exchange controls will also be lifted. The currency controls were enacted after capital flight reached unprecedented levels during the opposition-sponsored oil industry sabotage, lock-out and strike of 2002-2003, aimed at ousting Chavez, and which caused a historical quarterly GDP drop of 28%.
The plan calls for private sector investment in state electric companies. “Privatizations may be necessary due to the large investments needed,” admitted opposition leader Diego Bautista Urbaneja, who coordinated the program. The plan proposes combining privatization with subsidies for the poor, which already exist.
The Land Law, Chavez’s mild version of land reform, will also be derogated during a post-Chavez administration. Although the Law has only been applied to transfer state-owned land to farmers organized in cooperatives, it is one of the most controversial measures enacted by the Chavez administration. The Land Law has been used as an example of Chavez's alleged threats to private property of the means of production. Some NED grants have been specifically directed to opposition groups such as Accion Campesina, which has offered to monitor possible conflicts generated by the implementation of the Law. Unlike previous land reforms implemented in the past by parties which are now part of the opposition, the current Land Law forces the government to pay market prices for land that remains unused for years instead of expropriating without pay. It also gives owners a two-year grace period to initiate production in order to avoid being forced to sell their land. However, rancher and agri-business associations see it as a threat to property rights.
Continuity of social programs “not guaranteed”
The opposition proposal vaguely hints at maintaining some of Chavez’s social programs or “missions”. However, Diego Bautista Urbaneja admitted during an interview with Venezuela’s state TV station late Monday that the continuity of the missions will not be guaranteed. Polls show widespread support for the social programs of literacy, access to secondary and higher education, health care, and endogenous development, enacted by Chavez in favor of the poor.
A program of micro-credits and of promotion of small businesses will also be implemented. The proposal avoids mentioning Chavez’s current micro-financing programs currently implemented through several government-financed banks.
The opposition programs calls for a campaign to confiscate illegally owned firearms. The Chavez government currently has a program for the exchange of firearms for scholarships through the Ministries of Defense and of Education.
Recall Referenda to be eliminated
The plan calls for a Constitutional amendment which would eliminate the recall referenda of elected officials, a tool currently used by the opposition to try to oust Chavez, after other methods such as a coup d’etat, lock-outs, strikes and oil industry shutdowns had failed. “Recall referenda must be eliminated because it brings too much instability,” opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup was quoted as saying in a AFP news wire. Ramos Allup is the Secretary General of Accion Democratica (AD), the opposition’s biggest party.
With regard to foreign policy, the opposition proposal contemplates “defining a clear and active opposition to narcotrafficking and terrorism. Although more illegal drugs have been intercepted by the Chavez government than any previous government, the opposition and Colombian right wing politicians claim that Chavez cooperates with drug traffickers to finance Colombian guerrillas. Under Chavez, Venezuela has signed and ratified all the international legal instruments against terrorism.