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President Carter's Trip Report: Venezuela

By Jimmy Carter

Read "A Proposal To Restore Peace and Harmony in Venezuela, to be tabled at the Mesa de Negociaciones y Acuerdos"
(Spanish and English versions)

One: Referéndum Revocatorio/Recall Referendum

Two: Enmienda Constitucional/Constitutional Amendment

Visit to Caracas, Venezuela
January 20-21, 2003

After three days of fishing for Peacock Bass on the Orinoco River in Southern Venezuela, we returned to Caracas. It was the fifty-first day of a nationwide strike, with constant demonstrations, some violence on the streets, and devastating consequences to the economy and social structure of the nation, with oil production reduced drastically.

On my last visit to Venezuela, in July, we had helped arrange for talks between the government and opposition forces, and since then they had evolved into what is known as the Mesa de Negociaciones y Acuerdos, over which OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria was presiding. Francisco Diez and Matthew Hodes had represented The Carter Center and assisted with the process. The situation was desperate, with tensions high and neither side willing to put forward any specific proposals on which progress might be based.

Encouraged by the United Nations and others and led by Dr. Jennifer McCoy, we had drafted proposals that encompassed three different avenues to end the dissension and violence. I had lunch with Secretary General Gaviria, gave him a report, and was briefed about his work with the Mesa group, which consists of six representatives of the government and an equal number from the opposition groups. Then, alone with President Chavez, I went over our options, word-by-word, and tried to ascertain what degree of flexibility might be possible. After a long discussion of procedures and timetables, we agreed on his accepting two general approaches to demands of the opposition that the president's term be abbreviated: a constitutional amendment and a recall referendum. Finally, we adjourned after agreeing to continue discussions at breakfast the following morning.

I then participated in the Mesa discussion, met with leaders of opposition political parties in the National Assembly, and received comments from strike leaders of the umbrella opposition group known as Coordinadora Democratica. Most of them welcomed our efforts.

During the night we revised our drafts to incorporate suggestions from all sources and then Jennifer and I had additional private talks with President Chavez. Before we left Venezuela, I described our activities to the news media and to Secretary General Gaviria. Matt and Francisco remained in Caracas to share our final proposals with the Mesa participants, other interested parties, and with the public.

There was nothing innovative in our suggestions, but they were designed to clarify and solidify various ideas into a coherent and balanced form as a basis for ending the present impasse and laying the groundwork for definitive discussions in the Mesa. Although political and personal divisions are deep and daily rhetoric is harsh and abusive, it seemed for the first time that both sides might be ready for accommodation and progress.

A significant facet of the proposals is designed to prevent a repetition of dissension, through a mutual commitment that all major parties will participate in a reconciliation conference after the current issues are addressed, to be sponsored by The Carter Center, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Later this week, we will make a report of our effort to a group of six nations (U.S., Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain), known as "Friends of Venezuela." They will strengthen and support efforts of the OAS, The Carter Center, the UNDP, and others who are attempting to restore peace and a normal life to Venezuela.

The Carter Center will remain engaged.

Read the Jan. 24, 2003 New York Times editorial: Preserving Democracy in Venezuela

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