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White House Calls for Early Elections in Venezuela - 2002-12-13

The White House wants Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to call early elections to end the political crisis that has paralyzed the country's vital oil industry.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the United States is convinced that early elections are the only peaceful and politically-viable way out of Venezuela's political crisis.

"The United States believes that this is the best course to preserve peace in Venezuela, a society that has been wracked on an increasingly-daily basis with violence," he said. "And the president believes that the solution to issues that could potentially involve violence is to defuse the violence and focus on democracy."

In the past week, Mr. Fleischer says the shooting of peaceful demonstrators, attacks on media outlets, and economic disruptions have created a "grave situation."

"We call on all sides to reject violence and intimidation and to act responsibly," he said. "We urge a peaceful, democratic, constitutionally and politically viable electoral solution to Venezuela's crisis."

Mr. Fleischer called on President Chavez to exercise his constitutional responsibility to protect "individual rights and fundamental freedoms." He urged both sides to cooperate with mediation efforts led by Organization of American States Secretary General Cesar Gaviria.

In Caracas Friday, Mr. Gaviria said the sides "are not close" to finding a solution.

Striking oil workers have pledged to stay off the job until President Chavez resigns. Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and sends about half of that to the United States.

By calling for early elections, Washington is stepping-up pressure on President Chavez to end the crisis. Regional leaders criticized the Bush Administration in April when Mr. Fleischer blamed President Chavez for provoking a coup that briefly drove him from power after his supporters fired on protesters.

When President Chavez returned to office two days later, Mr. Fleischer said the Bush Administration repeatedly told opposition leaders that they would not support a coup.