The New York Times,
January 24, 2003
The best hope for a
peaceful, democratic outcome to Venezuela's political crisis may now
rest in the mediation efforts of Jimmy Carter. During his presidency
Mr. Carter was a firm champion of democracy throughout Latin America,
standing up to the military tyrannies that then predominated in the
region. Now he has proposed two principled and plausible solutions to
the long-running conflict over President Hugo Chávez, which has
divided Venezuela's people, hobbled its economy and raised the specter
of a breakdown in constitutional rule.
Mr. Carter, who met separately in recent days with Mr. Chávez and
opposition leaders, offers two possible solutions, both compatible
with Venezuela's laws and the right of its people to choose their own
leaders freely. One provides for passage of a constitutional amendment,
either by Venezuela's legislature or a popular vote, that would
shorten the current six-year presidential term and provide for new
elections later this year. The other would set up a binding referendum
this summer on whether Mr. Chávez should resign or stay in office as
scheduled until 2006. That isn't exactly what either side wants, but
Mr. Chávez and at least some opposition leaders have suggested that
they might be able to accept one or both of the Carter proposals.
Until this week Mr. Chávez's opponents had hoped to drive him from
office long before summer. They were counting on the combined pressure
of a non-binding referendum that had been scheduled for Feb. 2 and a
national strike now in its eighth week that has shut down much of
Venezuela's vital oil industry, depriving the government of badly
needed revenues and sending world oil prices soaring.
But the strike has begun faltering, and this week Venezuela's Supreme
Court suspended preparations for the February referendum, which Mr.
Chávez had vowed to ignore anyway. That should strengthen elements of
the opposition willing to accept a reasonable compromise along the
lines Mr. Carter has suggested.
The United States and five other nations trying to resolve the
standoff hold their first meeting in Washington today. Venezuelans of
all persuasions should rally behind the Carter proposals.