Florida petition drive fights Hugo Chávez decrees

Por Venezuela Real - 13 de Septiembre, 2008, 16:52, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

Miami Herald
September 13, 2008

Local Venezuelans plan to protest a package of new laws issued by leftist President Hugo Chávez by joining a sweeping petition drive recently issued by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that critics are calling an unconstitutional power grab.

The measures proclaim significant changes in property rights, the military, and the president's power over regional governments.

Opponents of the decree-laws, which they have dubbed the ''paquetazo,'' or ''big package,'' say they were among the rejected constitutional changes proposed by Chávez but defeated in a December election.

''These laws are flaunting the referendum that Chávez lost,'' said local activist Maylin Silva, who is heading up the South Florida petition drive with her organization All for Venezuela. ``People are so upset because now a little time has past, and he's trying to push these things through another method.''

Silva and other Chávez opponents plan on collecting signatures at Doral's El Arepazo restaurant, 10191 NW 58th St., on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The South Florida drive is part of a larger effort organized by unions and professional trade organizations in Venezuela. Their goal is to present a million signatures to the Organization of American States in support of a complaint about the decree-laws.


''We don't feel that democracy exists in Venezuela now, and the OAS must protect democracy,'' Yvett Lugo, president of Caracas's Lawyers College, said by phone from the Venezuelan capital. ``We want people on an international level to know what is happening here.''

In early 2007, Venezuela's National Assembly, controlled by Chávez allies, gave the leftist leader the power to rule by decree for 18 months on a variety of social, political and economic areas.

Chávez issued the 26 decree-laws on July 31, the day the special powers were to expire.

Critics say the laws are unconstitutional because they mirror the proposals that were defeated in the December referendum. The constitution precludes a president from reintroducing laws that were defeated in an election, Silva said.

''This [petition] is important because the laws are against the very essence of democracy,'' said Pembroke Pines resident Adolfo Fassrainer, a board member of the local activist organization Independent Venezuelan American Citizens.

The decree-laws allow the government to seize any property it deems ''strategic'' and also create a new military branch that would deepen Chávez's influence over the armed forces. The new laws also provide for him to appoint regional political leaders and give them separate budgets, a move that could permit Chávez to dilute the opposition's power if they make expected gains in the Nov. 23 elections.

Chávez has told opponents of the laws to take their complaints to the Supreme Court, which, like most Venezuelan institutions, is controlled by his allies.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., asserts that the laws are fundamentally different from the proposals defeated in December because the 26 laws will not directly alter the constitution and are ``technical in nature.''


''The new laws simply enhance many of the values for which the Chávez administration stands and for which people have repeatedly elected it, such as citizen involvement in government, human rights, security and national sovereignty, and a fair economy,'' Venezuela's Information Office executive director Olivia Goumbri said in a written statement. The office is a semi-autonomous Venezuelan Embassy outreach unit that presents the government's positions to the press.

In the past, signing a petition opposing Chávez has had consequences for Venezuelan citizens.
Thousands of people who signed a petition in 2003 calling for his removal were later effectively blacklisted, preventing them from getting public-sector jobs or working for companies that do business with the government.

''In this case, because the petitions are going to the OAS, the people won't be in danger if they sign,'' said Silva. ``We are asking the OAS for protection.''

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