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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 02:58 GMT
Anti-Chavez groups start tax revolt
Demonstrator on Tuesday
Demonstrators marched on the federal tax agency
Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have demonstrated in the capital, Caracas, tearing up income-tax forms as they vowed to deprive the government of revenue.

This government uses our money to repress people

Luis Carlos Bustillos
Chavez opponent
The tax revolt comes on the sixth week of a nationwide strike that has already crippled the country's vital oil industry.

The opposition accuses President Chavez of mismanagement and authoritarianism, and is demanding his resignation.

President Chavez, for his part, warned that tax evasion carries up to seven years in jail.

Have your say

"They've tried to break the oil industry," he said as the protesters marched on the federal tax agency in Caracas.

"Now they're trying to break the national treasury so there is no money."

Left-wing presidency

Tens of thousands took part in Tuesday's protest. Demonstrators cheered and blew whistles as they tore up blank tax forms.

The protestors cheerfully shredded tax forms
"This government uses our money to repress people," one of the protestors, Luis Carlos Bustillos, told the Associated Press news agency.

"This will cause chaos for a few months, but it's better than chaos for a lifetime," Mr Bustillos said.

Security forces patrolled the headquarters of the tax agency, but there was no violence.

Mr Chavez's opponents include Venezuela's opposition parties, the largest trade union confederation and the main business group.

They say the president's left-wing policies, which include increased state intervention in the economy, are leading the country to ruin and Cuban-style communism.

Rising tensions

The opposition began the strike on 2 December, to try to force Mr Chavez to either stand down or call a referendum on his rule.

President Hugo Chavez
Chavez calls his opponents 'traitors'
But Mr Chavez says there can be no vote until August.

Tensions heightened on Friday, when two supporters of the president were shot dead during clashes with anti-Chavez protestors in Caracas.

Correspondents say there is no end in sight to the strike, which has severely affected food and fuel supplies in the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.

The president has raised the possibility of declaring a state of exception, which would allow him to suspend some constitutional guarantees.

He stopped short of announcing the measure during a televised speech on Sunday - but insisted strike leaders, whom he described as "traitors", should be punished.

Talks between the two sides - mediated by the Organisation of American States - have so far failed to find common ground.

Have you been affected by the protests? Use the form at the bottom of the page to send us your comments.

The Venezuelan government headed by Mr Chavez has been undermined by the wealthy, as always happens when their interests are jeopardized. So much talk about democracy and the first ones that forget about it are the ones that are always crying for it. The same is going to happen in Brazil if President Lula starts doing something for the vast majority of the population.
Luis Bran, USA

He has the obligation to do what is best for the nation

Rob Robinson, USA
I lived in Venezuela a couple of years ago around the time that Chavez was elected as president. I remember him promising to better the lives of poorer Venezuelans (which is most of them) and he seemed to be truly interested in the welfare of the people. What I have seen since then does not match his promises. I think that if he really cared about Venezuela more than himself, he would call an election and find out if the people really want him in office. He has the obligation to do what is best for the nation, and the situation they are in right now is far from anything positive.
Rob Robinson, USA

I am in complete agreement with President Chavez that the deaths of two pro-government supporters are tragic and should be fully investigated. However, neither the deaths nor the strike justify his threats of declaring a state of exception, which would allow him to suspend some constitutional guarantees. The government of Venezuela is already quasi-dictatorial with Mr. Chavez instructing the military to ignore judges and court rulings and obey only presidential decrees. By declaring a state of exception, Mr. Chavez would in fact be leading a autogolpe, a coup against his own elected government. I feel that Mr. Chavez needs to take a reflective examination of the Constitution and that he claims to defend before taking such drastic action that would undermine it.
Kevin Jeanes, Atlanta, United States

My family lives in Caracas. They're visiting with us now and fear for their lives when they must return. There will be no mediation; Gaviria owes Chavez a favour and the people will not back down. Does Chavez actually believe that the opposition will settle for new elections in August? It is rather evident that opposition protesters will continue to abhor the man who has caused so much damage to the country and filled the minds of the people with empty promises. He is a clown and no-one is laughing; he must resign before a civil war ensues and more people die.
Colleen, USA

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  The BBC's Adam Easton reports from Caracas
"The protesters tore up income tax forms"

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See also:

08 Jan 03 | Americas
07 Jan 03 | Business
05 Jan 03 | Americas
27 Dec 02 | Americas
03 Jan 03 | Americas
05 Dec 02 | Americas
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