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2/1/03 - POWELL ON VENEZUELA - 2003-02-03

A general strike marked by daily street protests for and against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is now in its second month. Venezuela's political crisis presents major challenges to democratic stability and has significant implications for the Western hemisphere. The Venezuelan people urgently need to resolve the current impasse. The international community has demonstrated that it is prepared to assist Venezuela in finding a solution to the crisis. In the words of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, "The situation in Venezuela grows worse by the day. The people of Venezuela see their democracy and their hopes for prosperity growing weaker."

Organization of American States Secretary General Cesar Gaviria and the recently formed “Group of Friends of the O-A-S Secretary General” are seeking to promote a peaceful, constitutional, democratic, and electoral solution to the crisis, as called for in O-A-S Resolution eight-three-three. The “Friends” group consists of the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Spain, and Portugal. The group will encourage the Venezuelan government and the opposition to seriously study two electoral proposals offered by former U.S. president and Nobel peace prize winner Jimmy Carter.

Under the first proposal, Venezuela's government and opposition would agree to hold a recall referendum in August, as provided for in Venezuela's constitution, to determine whether President Chavez should be recalled from office. If the president were recalled, new presidential elections would be held thirty days later.

Under the second proposal, both sides would agree to a constitutional amendment to shorten the terms of the president and the National Assembly members, thereby providing for early elections for those offices.

Secretary of State Powell says the proposals "represent the best paths available to Venezuelans. They provide the badly needed basis on which both sides can bridge their differences on the immediate issues. They offer a way out of the current impasse."

Ultimately, Venezuelans themselves must resolve their political differences. But the international community stands ready to assist Venezuelans in this endeavor. And clearly, an electoral process will allow the Venezuelan people to resolve their problems in an orderly, fair, and transparent manner.