Venezuela Sinks Deeper into Its Social and Political Crisis

But Talk of Coup or Chávez´s Resignation Is Discounted

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2002 ( Venezuela´s political and social crisis worsens with each passing day, the Vatican agency Fides reports.

A leading labor union official and an archbishop, both of whom have tried to mediate with the government, gave their impressions of the Venezuelan situation to Fides, an organ of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Luis Enrique Marius, who for three years has been adjunct secretary-general of the Latin American Workers Confederation and a union leader, said that President Hugo «Chávez´s decline began in mid-2001 when the people were tired of hoping and seeing no solution to social problems.»

«The year 2002 began with unemployment at 23%, but it is expected to rise to 30% by the end of the year,» Marius added.

Marius is not optimistic about Venezuela´s future. «A large part of the opposition calls the president to resign,» he said. «This group grows daily and there could be confrontations between the political opposition and the government.»

Marius believes that the most serious problem is that the opposition group only proposes the resignation of the president. «It has no program or national idea, it has no leader to head the opposition,» he noted. «For this reason we think the government will continue, although it is weaker every day and this year we can only expect a situation that worsens daily.»

Archbishop Ovidio Pérez Morales, president of the Plenary Council of Venezuela, an important national Church body mediating dialogue with the government, told Fides that over the last few months the situation has deteriorated following economic measures, including reduction in income and interest rates, new taxes, and the falling bolivar, the currency.

With regard to a possible coup, openly referred to by the media, Archbishop Pérez Morales did not seem to be concerned.

«Positions have been taken by certain army officials,» he said. «However, they do not call for a coup. They call for support for the civil society which at present is gathering force and, along with traditional parties, constitutes a certain majority, although without any precise political direction.»

The archbishop added: «Many think the only solution is for the president to resign. The possibility that Chávez continues to lead the country is subject to serious revision, frank dialogue and reformulation of government policies. Unless this happens the situation of conflict will become more acute. And then …?»

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