Potential Hot Spots: December 3, 2003


The recall drive against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez finished, and there were lines a block long to sign the petitions unofficially, the total is at four million signatures requesting a recall, nearly two-thirds more than the 2.4 million signatures required. Most of the observers (90 percent) report that the process of the recall was good, with the rest of the observers reporting that the process was reasonable. This will make it hard for Chavez to claim fraud, but he will still try to avoid the referendum a smart move since his approval rating is at 40 percent.

Things are not as tense as they were a year and a half ago, when Chavez was briefly toppled from power in a military coup. Chavez regained power, and there have been reports that he has sought help from Cuba. There also have been reports that Chavez has provided support to FARC, the largest Colombian insurgent group, which has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, and that other terrorist groups, including ones from the Middle East, are also receiving aid. Several of the Middle Eastern groups reportedly have support cells in Venezuela.

The question is whether Chavez can survive this latest attempt to remove him from power. He survived a coup in April of 2002, and a general strike early in 2003 fizzled after two months. Either he can find a way to buy or intimidate himself out of this jam and continue in power, or 
his luck will run out.

If Chavez is recalled successfully, then FARC would lose their training camps and safe havens in western Venezuela. A round-up of support cells would also hurt the groups in the Middle East. However, Chavez might not abide by a recall in Venezuela, and at least one armed faction, the Bolivarian Liberation Forces (Spanish initials of FBL) could emerge as the basis for a pro-Chavez guerilla movement should Chavez end up out of power one way or another. Harold C. Hutchison


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