september press release banner.GIF (30245 bytes)


September 22, 1999


President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, speaking at the Organization of American States (OAS) today, said the process of change now taking place in his country was a very democratic one. He also said the Constituent National Assembly "has been carrying out its work with dignity."

Addressing the delegations of the 34 member states at a special sitting of the OAS Permanent Council, the Venezuelan president explained that the path chosen by the Venezuelan people was a peaceful one, but he warned that should the Constituent Assembly process fail, "anything could happen in Venezuela."

Mr. Chávez used his 55-minute presentation to level criticism at the model of democracy that had governed his country over the last few decades, declaring that the people had been plundered and impoverished. "What’s now happening in Venezuela is an awakening of a people that had been asleep, almost dead," he asserted.

Of the Constituent National Assembly that was installed in Venezuela last August 3, the president said its roots were very legitimate and democratic. "The constituent way is the only peaceful and democratic way possible for Venezuela, and that is why we are betting our life on the process," he added.

Mr. Chávez denied that the events of February 4, 1992—when he led a rebellion that landed him in prison—was a coup d’état. "That act was an escape valve from a terrible conflict that had been looming for many years."

President Chávez was also upbeat about the work being done by the Constituent Assembly. Declaring that more than half of the new constitution had already been drafted, he announced that his government would be calling a referendum to adopt it—possibly by year-end.

The OAS Secretary General, César Gaviria, welcomed Mr. Chávez, saying his visit to the OAS was coming at a defining moment for political, economic and social development in Venezuela. "All of the peoples represented here are hoping that this process would yield a Venezuela whose more institutions are sturdier, more representative and more effective, based on the majority will of the nation," he said.

Cautioning against social upheavals and urging the strictest guidelines be followed in modernizing the constitution, the Secretary General said of Mr. Chávez that "for Venezuela to absorb the major political and social change you offer in peace with respect and guarantees for all, it will depend on your great capacity for consensus, prudence and moderation by all Venezuela’s political leaders and its social and economic agents."

The protocolary meeting of the OAS Council opened with the welcome from Permanent Council Chairman Ambassador Sir Arlington Butler of the Bahamas praising Venezuela’s devotion to the fundamental principles enshrined in the OAS Charter. "Under your leadership, Mr. President, Venezuela has been on a course of authentic reform inspired by the thinking of Simón Bolívar."