President of Venezuelan Episcopate Wary of Vote Results

Says «Uncertainty» Hangs Over Country in Wake of Referendum

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CARACAS, Venezuela, AUG. 17, 2004 ( The head of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference expressed his «enormous concern» about the reported results of the referendum that left President Hugo Chávez in power.

Archbishop Baltazar Porras of Merida nevertheless encouraged all political and social agents to engage in a sincere dialogue that will lead to national reconciliation.

In statements on Vatican Radio, the archbishop said the country is «paralyzed» and living in a «climate of uncertainty» given the way the results of the Sunday voting were announced.

«This worries us a lot as Church, as it was hoped that it would be an avenue of reconciliation for Venezuelan society,» he said. «But the way things are at present, it seems that it might deepen the differences.»

«What Venezuela needs is that we all be united to work for its development, material and spiritual, for the peace of all citizens,» the president of the episcopate added. «This is why we ask the actors to give an explanation so that there can be tranquility and serenity in all the Venezuelan population.»

In statements to the Venezuelan press, Archbishop Porras expressed his doubts on the transparency with which the referendum was carried out. He noted that the international observers, the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, did not have, as in the past, «direct access» to a series of aspects in the electoral process.

Chávez was confirmed in power until 2007, by winning 58% of the votes of the recall referendum, according to preliminary results of the National Electoral Council. The opposition considers the results fraudulent.

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