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Venezuela's Opposition Pushes for Referendum on Chavez

After a five smooth days in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, President Hugo Chavez returned to an agitated Caracas to face a recall of his mandate
Half of the country celebrated and the other half protested on the third anniversary of his current mandate
Chavez opponents collected the 2.7 million signatures needed to demand a referendum on his presidency, but divisions in the National Assembly did not allow appointing an electoral council to vote on the recall. Venezuela’s constitution allows a referendum vote on Chavez’s mandate after 19 August, halfway through his current term. However, to do so, it is necessary to complete a number of legal steps that the opposition has not been able to comply with.


However, the initial step was taken, as 20 percent of the electorate already expressed its will to participate in such a vote. However, the Venezuelan leader answered from Argentina, where spent a few relaxing days enjoying the popularity he has there, that the only recall this year would be in California. Chavez sarcasm brought half million of Venezuelans to the streets to demand his resignation chanting "Chavez go!", "far away from the 2 million they used to join in the good times", as President's collaborators said.


Chavez visited Argentina from Saturday to Wednesday in a semi-official trip, in which signed cooperation programs with Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner, claimed to eliminate the International Monetary Fund, criticized Bush-led US administration, sang and danced Tango at the local TV station and pressed for Latin American integration. Also in Buenos Aires, Chavez claimed any recall bid would be defeated and insisted the voter signatures to remover him were fake.

The signatures "appear to be illegal in every way. They don't meet constitutional requirements," Chбvez said in
Buenos Aires, where he was promoting the creation of a Latin-wide State owned oil monopoly that would include Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, as well as Venezuela. An example of realizing this titanic project, Venezuela's oil giant, PDVSA will open 40 gas stations in Argentina. "We've beaten them before and we'll do it again", insisted Chavez, citing the failed April 2002 coup and the two month long strike by the opposition to topple him.


If electoral authorities verify the signatures, a referendum could be held in 90 days, on Nov. 20, the opposition said. However, personal rivalries among its leaders divided the opposition front. Moreover, the government has managed to revive the key oil industry and stabilize the economy due to special anti-market measures adopted to stop capital flight.


The key oil industry will be, indeed, in the government's camp, as it drives the country's economy. Neither PDVSA workers nor managers expressed support for the referendum. Moreover, protesters that passed by company's headquarters found a cold reception from employees. 


According to observers, that could make it tougher than ever for government opponents to remove Chavez, who has moved to increase his grip on power after being briefly ousted in early 2002. It should also keep the oil flowing relatively smoothly in this South American country, unlike the two-month strike that began last December and temporarily paralyzed output.


Local polls show Chavez could lose the recall on his presidency, but as the local media stands clearly against the Venezuelan leader, it is not possible to trust these polls. Notwithstanding, there is not one single Venezuelan politician popular enough to defeat Chavez in a polarized election. Therefore, many wonder: If Chavez's out, what's next?