Venezuela's Deepening Crisis Alarms Episcopate

Tossing Out of Recall Signatures Criticized

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CARACAS, Venezuela, MARCH 12, 2004 ( The presidency of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference launched an «anguished» appeal to the governmental officials and others to reflect on the country’s mounting crisis.

The recent decision by the National Electoral Council (NEC) to reject a high number of signatures presented by the opposition demanding a recall referendum on President Hugo Chávez has exacerbated tensions.

Since Feb. 27, the National Guard has forcefully repressed some opposition protests, leading to deaths.

Chávez, who attempted a coup in 1992 and later was elected head of state, has been accused of leading the country into the worst economic, political and social crisis in 50 years.

For a recall referendum to take place, 2.4 million signatures are necessary. The opposition presented 3.4 million signatures, but the NEC, three of whose five members are pro-government, validated only 1.8 million signatures, said the Italian newspaper Avvenire. The newspaper described Venezuela as being on «the brink of a civil war.»

The presidency of the bishops’ conference warned that the NEC «has the obligation to guarantee and facilitate the exercise of the citizens’ will, specifically, in relation to the request of recall referenda within the parameters of the Constitution and the laws.»

«However,» the conference said in a statement, «there are … contradictions and untimely changes in the regulations, in the rules of the game throughout the process, in delays in regard to stipulated times and, above all, in the subversion of two basic principles of all legal and ethical structures: the non-retroactivity of laws and regulations, and the presumption of the good faith of those who expressed their will when signing.»

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