Accessibility links

Diplomats Discuss Venezuelan Crisis - 2003-01-31

In Venezuela, diplomats from six nations, the so-called "friends of Venezuela," are meeting to find a solution to the country's crisis. One of the main goals is to bring Venezuelan political leaders together in dialogue. But, the rhetoric from both opponents and supporters of President Hugo Chavez remains strident.

The diplomats from the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Spain and Portugal are here in Caracas to promote a dialogue between the two sides that would ease tensions and lead to a democratic, political solution.

The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, who has spent months here in Caracas trying to find a way out of the crisis, says the main theme of the meetings on Friday is prevention of further violence.

He says, Venezuela must deactivate its climate of violence, and find a peaceful way out of this crisis. He says, the diplomats from the six nations are meeting with both President Chavez and his opponents, and that they may extend their meetings into next week.

Promoting a dialogue here will not be easy. The opposition has eased off on the strike that shut down most commerce, as well as oil production, for the past two months, but demonstrators continue to call for the president's resignation. For his part, Mr. Chavez continues to deride his opponents in public.

He calls them coup-plotters, and accuses them of trying to re-establish a system of government that favors the wealthy classes. He rejects what he calls the "neo-liberal" policies of past governments, and also condemns the "capitalists" and "oligarchs" who privatized some industries.

Chavez opponents say the nation's economic problems began when he took office and started implementing a leftist strategy that they say is modeled after the Cuban communist system. Mr. Chavez has openly praised Cuban President Fidel Castro and has sold oil to Cuba at preferential prices. President Chavez constantly speaks of his government as "revolutionary," though he was elected democratically.

Whatever can be said of Mr. Chavez's handling of the economy, there is no doubt that the current opposition-led strike has had a devastating effect on the country. Oil production is off by about a third, unemployment has reached 17 percent and businesses have lost millions of dollars by closing their doors. Although the strike by some 35,000 oil workers is expected to continue, most business establishments are expected to open next week. Banks will be open for regular hours starting Monday, and large shopping malls and theaters are also expected to open by the end of next week.