Venezuelan Government Meets Critics to Ease Strains

Church to Unveil Details of a Reconciliation Plan

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CARACAS, Venezuela, MARCH 5, 2002 ( The president of the Catholic bishops´ conference warned that much of the tension and violence gripping Venezuela is the fault of government leaders, a Caracas newspaper reports.

Archbishop Baltazar Porras made his comment Monday at a meeting with Ramon Rodríguez Chacín, the Minister of the Interior and Justice, and drove home the need for concrete action to rectify the nation´s ills, according to El Universal.

Rodríguez, a top aide to President Hugo Chávez, said after leaving the meeting that while Chávez´s “revolutionary” government was willing to listen to the concerns of the private sector, it would not be held hostage by “elites,” Reuters reported.

Together with business group Fedecamaras and labor movement Venezuelan Workers Confederation (CTV), the Church gave moral support last week to a “governability pact” to bridge a widening political rift in this South American nation. Details of the initiative are expected to be made public soon.

Backers say the plan did not aim to oppose the government but rather to forge a national consensus to defuse a simmering political conflict that has unsettled many investors and spurred billions of dollars in capital flight this year.

But the talks appeared unlikely to make progress as Rodríguez made it plain the government would not hold talks with the CTV leadership, which it says resorted to electoral fraud to win power in a ballot last October.

Other government-led initiatives to establish dialogue with the private sector over the past year have collapsed in acrimony, with business leaders complaining that the government ignored their suggestions.

Former paratrooper Chavez took office in 1999 with a mandate to seek greater social justice in this impoverished and corrupt nation. But his failure to deliver on campaign promises and his hard-hitting class-war rhetoric has halved his popularity to less than 40% and sparked protests in almost every sector of society.

“I regard this meeting with the Catholic Church as extremely valuable and really important. The Church forms part of the fabric of Venezuelan society,” Rodríguez said, adding that he would also meet in the next few days with Fedecamaras leader Pedro Carmona.

On leaving the meeting, Archbishop Porras blamed the political tensions on the government.

“While it is true that there have not been any killings or imprisonments, in the case of the media there is a constant threat and blackmail,” he said, according to Reuters. “What they are doing is creating an atmosphere of continuing menace, which is not the most conducive for establishing a compromise.”

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