Tension Remains High in Venezuela - 12 December, 2002

After the tenth day of general strike, shortage can be felt in Caracas and other important cities of the country. Venezuelans line up for gasoline and started stocking up food and water, at the time many other waited up to three hours for their deposits at banks' entrances.

Venezuela's citizens fear strike will long for weeks as no signs of agreement between Government and the opposition can be seen in the near future. However, Cesar Gaviria, chief of OAS mediators expressed that at least, talks continue.

Yesterday, the opposition, using unions' leader as spokesman, clarifies for the first time its position: they want Chavez out; anticipated elections are not a solution for them. This is important as Cesar Gaviria insists on a democratic way out to the crisis, as removing Chavez by other means will only provoke another bloodshed.

Chavez, still enjoys support from the Army and lower classes. Therefore, the President still has an important quota of power and is decide to use it to remain in office. From this position, Chavez accuses strikers and Venezuela's news media of inciting a coup.

Polls suggest Chavez has the steadfast support of up to 45 percent of Venezuela's poor majority, based on his ''peaceful revolution'' to eradicate poverty. Many supporters are organized in neighbourhood ''Bolivarian Circles,'' ready to take to the streets to defend their President. Opposition blamed on these groups as mere streetfighters, illegally armed by the Government.

Yesterday, Chavez confirmed resume of oil exports and announced the first tanker departure to the United States since the outbreak of the protests. In a press conference explained how the high ranked officials of PDVSA -the National Oil Company - sabotaged the operations and how workers replaced them to keep the business running.  

If Chavez manages to regain control of the oil industry, the opposition will have to redefine its strategy to oust him. It is also important to keep an eye on the behaviour of the Armed Forces; they still remain loyal to the Constitutional President, but if Chavez losses the oil battle, he may also loose their support.

Hernan Etchaleco

Photo: Chavez backed by Army Officials in Caracas.

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Author`s name Margarita Kicherova