OAS Pledges Lukewarm Support to Chavez

Published December 17, 2002

| Associated Press

The Organization of American States unanimously approved a resolution in "support of democratic institutionality in Venezuela" where a general strike aimed at ousting President Hugo Chavez entered its 16th day.

The 34-member body has given no direct support to Chavez and has paved the way for Western Hemisphere countries to take other steps at a foreign ministers meeting if the Venezuelan crisis get worse.

The strike has strangled petroleum exports, depleted food supplies and sparked incessant pro-and anti-government protests.

"We have reached a consensus as a way to get close to the truth," Jorge Valero, the Venezuelan ambassador to OAS said late Monday in a closing statement to the Permanent Council, the OAS body of ambassador-level members, at the end of a 25-hour debate that stretched over three days.

Pedro Nikken, a member of Democratic Coordinator, an umbrella group for opposition parties in Venezuela, said the resolution satisfies the opposition objective to "create the needed environment of democracy to find solution to the crisis."

The resolution supports the conciliation work done by the OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria over the last six weeks and rejects "any attempt of coup d'etat or alterations of the constitutional order."

The OAS urged the government and Democratic Coordinator to work out a "constitutional, democratic, pacific and electoral solution" for Venezuela.

How Chavez would be referred to in the resolution text was a main topic during the debate. Valero wanted the OAS to support Chavez but the final text only acknowledges that he is "president" of the Venezuelan government.

The OAS fully supports the "democratic and constitutional institutionality" of Venezuela, "which government is led by Hugo Chavez Frias," the resolution says.

"This resolution supports the secretary general's efforts, unequivocally and energetically," said Roger Noriega, the U.S. Ambassador to the OAS.

Chavez has rejected demands for early elections, saying the constitution doesn't allow them until August, midway into his six-year term. He has said he will not step down.

The White House has urged Chavez to call early elections, but says they should be held under rules spelled out in Venezuela's constitution.

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