Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Many Venezuelans March in Support of Constitutional Reforms

Over Hundred Thousand Venezuelans March in Support of Constitutional Reform

November 5th 2007

Caracas, November 5, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)- Over a hundred thousand Venezuleans marched in support of President Chavez and of his constitutional reform on Sunday, which Chavez described as the most important referendum of his presidency.

Marchers, almost all dressed in red - the color of Venezuela's Bolivarian movement-filled the entire 1.3 km
(0.8 mi) Bolivar Avenue and spilled into side streets. The demonstration proceeded without incident and culminated with a three hour speech by Chavez. During the 8.5 km (5.3 mi) march, which passed through most of Caracas, rains poured down on marchers for part of the time.

The constitutional reform referendum, which will take place on December 2nd, will be in two parts, where Chavez is urging his supporters to vote "Yes" in both parts of the reform. If passed, the reform would revise 69 articles of Venezuela's 350-article constitution. Sunday's march marked the beginning of the "Yes" campaign.

"Now 'Yes!' Here begins another great battle to obtain another great victory, but we have to fight in all parts of the country," said Chavez to the cheering crowd on Sunday. "Every year will have a battle. The path of revolution is the path of a thousand battles. We have managed to coincide with the path of a thousand battles the path of a thousand victories," he added.

Chavez also said that this was the most important referendum of his presidency. "I have no doubt that this is the most important of all the referenda that have taken place, including the recall referendum of August 2004 and the one of December 1999 with which the current constitution was approved," said Chavez.

One of the key challenges in this referendum, argued Chavez, is to overcome abstention. He mentioned that in the recall referendum abstention was at 30% and during the approval of the constitution it was at 53% of registered voters. "We have to defeat abstention so that there is no doubt that the great majority of Venezuelans approve of the constitutional reform." What is needed is a "resounding" victory, according to Chavez.

During his speech Chavez warned that the opposition will try to do anything to stop the reform, including destabilizing the country. "I warn he leaders of the opposition, who are going about playing with fire, invoking a military coup and filling the streets with violence -I suggest to them that they forget about this possibility because if they continue on this path they will regret it because by no path will they be able to defeat us."

Referring to opposition students who had rampaged down the same avenue where the pro-reform march was taking place and set fire to several trees and a police car, Chavez warned, "We won't allow these spoiled little brats, these rich kids with a silver spoon in their mouths to go around tearing up the center of Caracas." He asked the city mayor to closely examine permits for marches, in case the violence was their main objective. One of the opposition's main goals, according to Chavez, was a death that they can blame on the government.

The international news channel CNN was another target during Chavez's speech, which he accused of having joined the opposition because it was broadcasting unverified reports about Chavez supporters supposedly killing an anti-Chavez student during a demonstration last week. Police have already arrested the killer, who was hired to assassinate the student due to a dispute within the university that had nothing to do with the constitutional reform protests.

Chavez also said that the reform represents a historic break with the past and would usher in 21st century socialism in Venezuela. "Although there still is much to do, Caracas already has a new face," he said. Also, by the year 2021, when Chavez says the Bolivarian Revolution will be complete, "There will be no favelas [slums], but a socialist and beautiful city."

The reform, which changes 69 out of 350 articles of Venezuela's 1999 constitution, is supposed to bring the country closer to 21st century socialism by deepening grassroots or participatory democracy and by organizing the country's state institutions more efficiently. Also, in one of the more controversial changes, it would extend the president's term of office from six to seven years and eliminate the two consecutive term limit on holding presidential office.

According to a recent opinion poll reported by Venezulea's largest circulation paper Últimas Noticias, 46.6% of Venezuelans believe that the reform is necessary, while 35.0% oppose it. Also, 72% of Venezuelans evaluate Chavez's job performance as being good to excellent, versus 25% who evaluate it as being bad to terrible.

Congress chair rebuts Baduel's criticism

National Assembly president Cilia Flores accused Monday former Minister of Defense Raúl Baduel of "betraying the people" for speaking up against the changes to the Constitution proposed by President Hugo Chávez.

"A big treason by him (Baduel) is being consummated against the people. He does it because of selfishness, envy and personal ambition," said Flores.

The general claimed that the intended amendment to the constitution was a "coup" and asked to vote against it during a referendum that would be held next December 2nd.

"Baduel went to the other side of the sidewalk, with the most radical arguments characteristic of these sectors; he is a traitor, and people here repudiate traitors, even more if he was a person who was seen besides President Chávez," Flores told reporters.

Earlier, during a press conference held on Monday, Baduel complained that Chávez and the National Assembly had used the draft constitutional reform to stage a "coup" and establish a socialist system in Venezuela.

Published on venezuelanalysis.com http://www.venezuelanalysis.com

Representatives Colombian Guerrilla Arrive in Venezuela for Humanitarian Accords

by Chris Carlson

Mérida, November 5, 2007- Representatives from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have arrived in Venezuela to meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to an announcement made by Chavez yesterday. The long-awaited meeting between the Venezuelan president and the FARC guerrilla group is a key step in Chavez' efforts to mediate in the Colombian conflict and obtain a humanitarian exchange of hostages.

The announcement came on Sunday during a political rally in Caracas in support of the proposed constitutional reform. President Chavez spoke to a massive crowd of supporters, and gave an update on the situation with the mediation efforts.

"Several representatives of the FARC just arrived. They have finally arrived to Venezuela to search for a solution to the humanitarian agreement, which is our task," he said. "I will meet with them either tonight or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."

Chavez indicated that the FARC representatives had managed to enter Venezuela without any problems. A previous attempt to hold a meeting between the FARC and Chavez was postponed in early October due to a lack of security for the FARC representatives to leave Colombia.

Chavez later called on the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe to assist in securing that the representatives could travel outside of FARC territory.

Chavez mentioned that a representative from the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy is also in the country to take part in the meetings.

The French government has praised Chavez' efforts to mediate in the conflict, and has been involved in working towards an agreement because one of the hostages being held by the FARC, Ingrid Betancourt, is a French citizen.

In Paris, government representatives as well as family members of Betancourt expressed their hope in the current efforts of the Venezuelan president to obtain the release of the hostages. Family members said they consider the meeting between Chavez and the FARC to be the biggest advance towards solving the crisis in years.

"It is the most positive thing that has happened so far for the agreement," said Betancourt's mother Yolanda Pulecio. Family members also called on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to "loosen" his position on the FARC to avoid frustrating Chavez' efforts.

French Minister of Foreign Relations Bernard Kouchner also expressed hope, and stated that there is "indirect proof" that Ingrid is still alive. "There exists hope. We have to continue. In any case we will dedicate ourselves intensely," he said.

Today, during a phone call to a nightly television talk show on the state TV channel, Chavez said that he had received a message from the FARC leader Marulanda that he would be willing to provide proof of life of Betancourt and other hostages the FARC holds. This, according to Chavez, is a first as the FARC has in the past always refused to provide such proof.

In preparation for this week's meeting, Chavez met with the so-called foreign minister of the Colombian guerrilla group, Rodrigo Granda. Granda was released from jail last June by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as a part of the efforts to obtain the humanitarian exchange.

His release was requested by French President Nicolas Sarkozy so that Granda could travel to Havana and Caracas and facilitate the negotiations with the FARC. The Colombian government announced last week that Granda had arrived in Venezuela to build a "bridge of communication" between Chavez and the Colombian guerrilla group.

"We hope that this can further increase those channels of communication and that the FARC finally makes the decision, which is very important, that the person that is going to speak with President Chavez is very high level and capable of making decisions," said a Colombian government representative.

The immediate agenda of the negotiations is to obtain the release of 45 hostages in the hands of the FARC, in exchange for the release of some 500 imprisoned guerrilla rebels. The FARC, however, has also demanded the demilitarization of certain regions of the country as a part of the agreement.

Also being held are three U.S. citizens, contractors of the US State Department, as well as dozens of other politicians, police and military officials.

Chavez agreed to work on achieving an agreement a couple months ago at the request of the Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba. The Venezuelan president has also expressed a desire to go further than a humanitarian exchange, and work towards negotiating a solution to the decades-long conflict.

Source URL: http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/2805
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