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Chavez Opponents Promote Ouster Campaign in New York Tour - 2003-01-16

A team of business, labor and parliament representatives leading the opposition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to New York to make its case for the president's ouster.

The message Mr. Chavez's opponents delivered here Wednesday is that the president has turned away from democratic principles, promoting policies that are destroying the nation's economy.

They told the private Americas Society the current oil strike, aimed at ousting Mr. Chavez, is causing economic upheaval and triggering violent protests in Caracas and elsewhere in the country.

Economic analysts predict, as a result of the strikes, the Venzuelan economy could contract by as much as 40 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Members of the opposition say the crisis will end only with new elections which, they say, would result in a Chavez defeat. Timiteo Zambrano, a member of Venezuela's National Assembly, says negotiations are under way to set up an election.

He says all aspects of the electoral process are currently under review, but the only aspect agreed on so far is the need for free and fair elections. A technically perfect election won't work, he says, if the parties involved do not trust each other.

Mr. Zambrano says he hopes the United Nations and the Organization of American States will oversee the elections.

Carlos Ortega, president of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, says Mr. Chavez's adamant opposition to new elections will only extend the strike and deepen the country's economic crisis.

Mr. Ortega says that if Chavez had the support of the people, he would be more than happy to enter into a referendum or an election, but he no longer has the support of the people.

Mr. Ortega says he hopes violent confrontation can be avoided.

President Chavez himself is scheduled to discuss the crisis with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday.