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Chavez Appeals to Venezuelans to Go to Work as Usual on Monday - 2001-12-09


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has dismissed calls for his resignation and denounced the planned nationwide strike Monday organized by the opposition. Mr. Chavez made the comments in a speech Saturday, as the South American nation braces for Monday's 12-hour shutdown.

In a defiant speech Saturday, Mr. Chavez ridiculed the low turnout of Friday's opposition demonstration calling for his resignation. The protesters, numbering about a thousand people, attempted to march on the presidential palace. But they were stopped by police to prevent an outbreak of violence between the marchers and the large numbers of Chavez supporters who had gathered around the Presidential compound.

President Chavez Saturday, in an address marking the symbolic burial of an Indian leader killed during colonial times, said he will not resign and went on to denounce Monday's planned strike. He said, "They're trying to paralyze the country, but those who think they can stop this revolution or sabotage it, are doomed to defeat."

The strike was called by the country's largest business association, and has gathered support from opposition-led labor unions, farm organizations and others. They are protesting a series of economic laws which Mr. Chavez passed by decree last month. They say these measures undermine the concept of private property, and give the state too great a role in industries ranging from agriculture to petroleum which is Venezuela's main export.

The land reform law is especially objectionable to Venezuela's private sector. The vice president of the U.S.-Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, Antonio Herrera, says it violates the principle of property rights. "The project gives the government-appointed authorities the right to decide if the way you are using the land - what you are planting there - is productive and if it is not they can expropriate you without compensation," he added. "Moreover you have to prove every two years to the bureaucracy that you are using your land adequately so this is a total violation of property rights."

But Mr. Chavez, a leftist populist elected three years ago, says the laws are needed to reactivate the economy and address social injustices.

Monday's strike is aimed at shutting the country down for 12 hours. However, Mr. Chavez has appealed to Venezuelans to go to work as usual on Monday and has left the door open for negotiations to amend the controversial laws in the Congress, which is controlled by his party. The business association that has organized Monday's strike has expressed skepticism over this offer, saying it wants actions not words from Mr. Chavez.

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