Brian Holmes on Fri, 1 Mar 2002 02:47:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Divided Venezuela Commemorates Riots

Divided Venezuela Commemorates Riots  
The Associated Press, Thu 28 Feb 2002

  CARACAS, Venezuela (AP)  Tens of thousands of anti- and pro-government
Venezuelans staged noisy, rival  marches to commemorate deadly 1989 riots 
another demonstration of their widening polarization over lefist  President
Hugo Chavez. 
  Families of those who died or disappeared at the hands of Venezuela's
military during the riots held a quiet mass  Wednesday and expressed dismay
that the anniversary was exploited for political ends. 
  Three days of rioting erupted Feb. 27, 1989, when then-President Carlos
Andres Perez raised gasoline prices  under an International Monetary
Fund-backed economic austerity plan. Hundreds died in the riots but no
security  officer has been punished for the atrocities. Bodies remain
unidentified in a mass Caracas grave. 
  ``We condemn that the victims' pain be used for political ends,'' said
Liliana Ortega, a rights activists who has  been seeking justice for the
victims for 13 years. ``We reject this celebration of impunity. This
frustrates us  enormously.'' 
  Chavez, a former paratrooper, told supporters at Wednesday's march that
he has restored public trust in the  military, dispatching soldiers across
the country to work for the poor. His comments came two days after a fourth
 military officer stepped forward to demand Chavez resign, saying soldiers
resent being used to advance the  president's populist agenda. 
  ``Today, more than ever, the military and the people share the same soul.
The military must use its sword to  defend social rights,'' Chavez told a
cheering multitude. 
  The U.S. government has reported that several officers have approached
American diplomats to sound them out  about a coup. 
  They were told Washington stridently opposes any coup, though U.S.
officials are concerned about the stability of  a nation that is one of the
United States' top oil suppliers. 
  Venezuela has been democratic since a dictatorship was overthrown in
  Chavez, whose term expires in 2007, dismisses the possibility of a coup.
He was overwhelmingly elected three  years ago but has seen his popularity
plunge to about 30 percent over frustration with crime, unemployment and 
his constant bickering the news media, Roman Catholic Church and business
  Chavez considers the 1989 riots the beginning of his movement to
dismantle a corruption-plagued political  system that was dominated for 40
years by two now-discredited political parties. The protests were a
rejection of  globalization and rampant capitalism, said Chavez, who led a
failed coup in 1992 against Perez. 
  Blocks away from Chavez's rally, opposition marchers wore black to
protest Chavez's combative rhetoric and the  government's celebration of a
dark day. 
  Venezuela's largest labor confederation organized the opposition march
and was joined by civic groups, political  parties, the country's largest
business association and citizens who say Chavez is fueling class division
and  harassing news media. 
  ``Chavista'' marchers said Wednesday they were celebrating a government
that, unlike past administrations,  hasn't banned opposition protests or
thrown journalists in jail. The president says constant protests against
and  for his government prove democracy and freedom of expression are
thriving in Venezuela. 
  ``I think it's great that they are marching over there, and we are
marching over here. I think we have more  democracy now,'' said Fada
Enriques de Garcia, who, unlike most of Chavez's support base among the
poor,  described herself as a middle-class homemaker. 

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