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Chavez election bid divides Venezuelans
by Staff Writers
Caracas, Venezuela (UPI) Sep 14, 2012

EU newcomers to observe election preparation in Georgia
Sofia (AFP) Sept 14, 2012 - The foreign ministers of five of the European Union's newest members will travel to Georgia next week to monitor preparations ahead of the October 1 general elections, Bulgaria said Friday.

"The foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Romania will take part in this visit, with the aim of supporting the democratic process in this election," the foreign ministry in Sofia said in a statement.

The ministers' visit, which will start on Monday, would also show support for "the reform process leading to Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration," it added.

Last week Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of NATO, which Georgia is seeking to join, warned that the election would be a "litmus test" for the country's democratic credentials.

The governing party of President Mikheil Saakashvili is facing its toughest electoral battle since coming to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution, against a revitalised opposition led by billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Speculation over President Hugo Chavez's future health is dividing Venezuelans three ways as the momentum for Oct. 7 election builds up.

Some want him out, others want his presidency to continue no matter for how long and still others are wavering in their loyalty as they fear his early death from cancer.

Chavez, 58, looked healthier than for many months when he reappeared to harangue the populace on his campaign trail. He also resumed his signature rite of speaking for several hours at a stretch on any number of issues.

The rhetoric flows in familiar directions but the nation remains in the dark about key questions about his health: what cancer, where, how serious?

Chavez declared himself "completely cured" when he announced in July his candidacy for a fourth term of office. He came to power in 1999 and survived several reported power wrangles and, lately, repeated surgical procedures and chemotherapy in Cuba.

Fidel Castro's reported full recovery from cancer drew Chavez to Cuban doctors and, so far, the going has been good. But, unlike previous political campaigns, Chavez this year is facing a younger, serious opponent in Henrique Capriles, 40, who has taken to using Chavez's populist techniques to convey the message of -- same difference.

While Chavez punctuates his political campaign with noticeably longer periods of rest and recuperation, possibly to let medication work, Capriles is energetically taking his message to the large majority of impoverished Venezuelans who have always been the core of popular support for the president.

However, Capriles has also been able to tell his audiences Chavez's Bolivarian revolution hasn't delivered on promises. Venezuela has been in recession for a third year running, only just emerging from the combined effect of drought, water and electricity shortages.

The oil-fueled subsidies of the revolutionary administration haven't protected Venezuelans, Capriles is saying, from a chronic runaway inflation, organized crime and drug-related violence and unemployment.

He's also telling Chavez fans he won't dismantle socialism but manage it better than the incumbent has so far done.

As a result, data show that 25-30 percent of Venezuela's 19 million registered voters remain undecided about who to vote for.

Street protests and election-linked violence indicates tensions are running high, and divisions are appearing among the majority that until recently backed Chavez and responded to his rhetoric that the country's minority of rich and wealthy weren't to be trusted.

Chavez surprised many loyalists by announcing Venezuela's withdrawal from the American Convention on Human Rights. Harassed by endemic violence, Venezuelans weren't reassured by the president's gestural politics in the heat of the election campaign.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged Chavez to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the convention, warning it could set back efforts for human rights protection in Venezuela and the region as a whole.

Venezuela's decision signals its exit within a year from the Costa Rican Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Washington's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Pillay said both institutions "have not only had an extraordinarily positive impact on human rights in the region but also served as pioneering examples which showed the rest of the world how vital and effective regional human rights bodies can be."

Chavez announced the decision in July after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights supported a Venezuelan, Raul Diaz, accused of participating in 2003 bombings of the Spanish Embassy and Colombian consulate in Caracas. Four people were injured in the attacks.

Diaz was sentenced to more than nine years in prison, but in 2010 he fled and sought asylum in the United States after a court allowed him out for work during certain hours. Diaz denies any role in the attacks but Chavez accused the court of "supporting terrorism" by siding with Diaz.


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