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  HOME | Venezuela (Click here for more Venezuela news)

Poland's Lech Walesa Cancels Trip to Venezuela After Chavez Threats

By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune

CARACAS – Former Polish President Lech Walesa canceled his planned weekend trip to Venezuela after Caracas warned that he would be monitored during his stay in the Andean nation, sources close to the Nobel Peace Prize winner told Efe Thursday.

Walesa, who was invited to Venezuela by opponents of socialist President Hugo Chavez, had planned to make speeches and meet with civic leaders and was set to receive an honorary doctorate from a Venezuelan university.

Having initially said that Walesa would not be allowed to enter the country, the Venezuelan government subsequently relented, but cautioned the Solidarity founder that he would be under surveillance.

Venezuelans will go to the polls Sunday to vote on a Chavez-sponsored constitutional amendment eliminating term limits for elected officials.

Polish Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa was quoted Wednesday as having said that he intended to visit Venezuela this Friday but that President Hugo Chávez had "made it understood" permission could be withheld.

The remark by Walesa, who went on from leading the Solidarity movement to being elected president of Poland (1990-95), came in an interview published by the conservative daily newspaper El Nacional, which makes no secret of its opposition to the government.

In the interview, Walesa said that he wanted to meet with "representatives of the student movement and non-government organizations" (NGOs).

Students have played a leading role in the campaign against Chávez' proposed constitutional reform aimed at removing a ban on more than one successive re-election. For this, they have been labeled by the government as "fascists" out to destroy the democratic order, among a host of other epithets.

As to NGOs, they could be deemed to include a flock of civil rights organizations (such as, for instance, Súmate, the voter rights pressure group) and, at a stretch, political parties.

On Tuesday evening, at a meeting with ministers, Chávez was reported to have made reference to recent statements by Walesa, saying: "We're obliged to make the dignity of Venezuela respected. He can say whatever he likes beyond the frontiers of the country, but here, inside Venezuela, no."

Chávez was said to have called the attention of Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro to what he evidently sees as a potentially problematic visit by Walesa. "Nicolás, watch out!" he's said to have declared, according to the website operated by Globovisión, the private channel openly opposed to Chávez.

"Make an evaluation and a recommendation to me!" the president is said to have told the minister. "Here there's a plan that's nothing new, to take us on the road to violence. The declarations of this idol with clay feet are very suspicious."

Walesa has made no secret of his disapproval of the Chávez government, in turn labeling the president as a "demagogue" and a "populist" – which isn't that far distant from how the president's critics at home describe him.

On several occasions, Walesa has argued that the Venezuelan opposition has to be supported to make it stronger. He is deemed to have abandoned his planned visit in a pre-emptive strike against the possibility of being barred from entering the country.

The visit would have come on the eve of Sunday's referendum on the president's aspiration to change the rules on re-election. With only days to go before the vote, both sides strenuously claimed that victory was in sight.

The campaign has become increasingly overshadowed by a series of suspicious incidents, amid warnings that the country could be drifting towards a renewal of political violence – allegedly at the hands of shadowy groups sympathetic to the president.

Chávez lost an earlier attempt to remove the limitation on re-election at a referendum in December 2007 by a narrow margin of roughly two percentage points. Opponents of change argue that the referendum result meant that the re-election issue had been settled, as it could only be proposed once during an electoral mandate.

Chávez ignored this critique, but bided his time before taking a second stab at removing the prohibition from the constitution. Once the state and municipal elections were out of the way last November, he announced that he wanted to have another go at lifting the ban.

This would not be the first time that the outspoken Walesa has been barred by the Chávez regime from entering Venezuela. He made a similar attempt to visit the country last November, only to be informed that he couldn't because the government couldn't guarantee security


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