Spring Takeover? Warnings of civil unrest in Venezuela
Politicians across the spectrum in Venezuela are trading dire predictions of impending violence in the vacuum left by uncertainty about the health of President Hugo Chávez.
The opposition has warned of plans to postpone or even cancel elections due in October because of speculation that the socialist leader’s cancer will prevent him from running.
“Civil unrest is coming, they are going to provoke it, to stop the elections,” Henry Ramos Allup, a leading opposition politician, told reporters this week, accusing the government of arming paramilitary groups with Kalashnikov rifles.
“Since they can’t win the elections, those subversive groups will organise a tumult including looting, selective attacks on opposition leaders and members of the middle classes,” he said, adding that this would be used to justify military rule.
On the other side, government officials and loyalists have spoken of plots to assassinate Mr Chávez and stage coup d’états.
The president himself, who officials said on Wednesday had just completed a sixth round of radiotherapy in Cuba following a recurrence of the cancerous tumour in his pelvic region, broke a week-long silence on Monday to denounce such schemes, as well as deny that he was abandoning his duties as president while in Cuba.
“They have always had and always will have those plans up their sleeve, with the backing of the empire [the US government], most of all because of Venezuela’s vast resources,” he said during a telephone call to state television. “Our task is to be alert to neutralise [any attempt at destabilisation],” he added, before promising a “knockout” election victory in October.
The information minister, the attorney-general, two prominent deputies in congress and a pundit on state television have all made similar warnings this week. On Wednesday, the pundit claimed on a prime-time programme that a puzzle in one of the country’s most widely circulated newspapers contained a hidden message instigating the assassination of the president’s older brother, Adán Chávez.
Speculation about the health of Mr Chávez has been mounting. He has been seen in public only once since mid-April, in a short address which ended with the leader in tears. Last week, he created a council of state, ostensibly charged with advising the president on policy issues. But some believe the agency is a transitional body intended to smooth the way towards a post-Chávez Venezuela. Venezuela’s sovereign debt has rallied on the speculation over Mr Chávez’s illness, as investors bet that a more market-friendly government may soon take power.
The contrasting versions of reality given by either side are also reflected in opinion polls. Jesse Chacón, a former minister turned pollster running Caracas-based GIS XXI, said on Wednesday that an April survey showed that 57 per cent intended to vote for Mr Chávez, compared with just 21 per cent for the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski.
That contrasts with the results released on Tuesday of a hitherto-unknown outfit called Encuestadora Nacional Predicmática which showed Mr Capriles beating the incumbent by eight percentage points. Venezuelans often joke that opinion polls can be found for all tastes.
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