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OAS Head Concludes Visit to Venezuela


The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, concluded his two-day visit to Venezuela Wednesday with a warning to all sectors of society. The OAS chief says far worse violence and discord could come unless President Hugo Chavez and his opponents begin a serious dialogue.

All Venezuelans should come together to reach a mutual understanding according to Cesar Gaviria. If they fail to do so, he says, the country may become ungovernable and fall into chaos.

"Some degree of polarization is normal in politics, but that it can reach such an extreme that it puts in danger all the country's institutions," he said. "With what happened here in Venezuela last week, there is no doubt that political divisions could threaten all the nation's institutions. "

Mr. Gaviria says that if some groups refuse to follow democratic procedures, Venezuela could face events even worse than those of last week.

The OAS Secretary General will present his findings to foreign ministers from the 34 OAS member nations at a meeting in Washington on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the divisions of which Mr. Gaviria speaks remain apparent in Venezuelan society. Leaders of one major political party, the Democratic Action Party (Accion Nacional) have refused to accept the return to power of Mr. Chavez. Other civic groups opposed to his rule say that dialogue with him will serve no purpose unless he is ready to change a number of his policies.

The Mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Pena, a longtime Chavez critic, says the nation will be ungovernable unless the president takes a different path. Mr. Pena is also accusing Mr. Chavez of having sent men to kill him this weekend.

He says he has intelligence indicating that groups from Cuba and the Colombian leftist guerrillas, known as the FARC, were involved in the effort. The Caracas mayor also showed reporters photos of bullet holes and other damage at his office caused by gunmen who attacked his building on Saturday.

Mr. Pena went on to says he is making President Chavez responsible for his safety and the safety of his family.

Given such rhetoric and anger, it is difficult to see how the gap between Mr. Chavez and his critics can be closed. But Catholic Archbishop Ignacio Velazco and other civic leaders say they are prepared to make the effort. Much will depend on the tone set by the president and his critics in the weeks and months ahead.

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