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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 15:48 GMT
Chavez savaged by press
(left to right) Fidel Castro, Gustavo Noboa and Hugo Chavez in Ecuador
Chavez's foreign trip has incensed his critics

President Hugo Chavez comes under sustained attack in leading Venezuelan newspapers as the fourth national strike in less than a year begins.

El Nacional calls on the government to state its "true position faced with the demand of more than two million Venezuelans for a referendum".

Writing in the same daily, Froilan Barrios Nieves condemns the government for "the poverty of its analysis" in rejecting the referendum "at a time of a terrible political and economic crisis".

[The government's] main concern is to find new tricks to confuse and minimise popular unrest

Domingo Fontivero in El Universal
"The government's reasons reflect its isolation and high level of despair."

In an opinion piece in El Universal, Domingo Fontiveros lambastes the government for its "pitiful handling" of the situation and its creation of a "profound and unprecedented crisis at a time of an oil bonanza".

"The roots of the national strike reach down to the depths of a society beaten and torn apart by a bizarre combination of incompetence, aggression, impiety and farce at the hands of a government increasingly placing itself above the popular will," he writes.

"The state is carried away in flights of fancy while the suffering masses march through the streets, unheeded.

"Everything is normal for the government, whose main concern is to find new tricks to confuse and minimise popular unrest."

Mr Frontiveros calls the strike "the people's sacred right" to defend itself against Mr Chavez's administration.

Flirting with Castro

An editorial in 2001 says Venezuela contrasts the political crisis and the country's potential for prosperity:

"Production virtually paralysed, unemployment at unprecedented levels, thousands of companies closing down, the economy on the ropes. And this despite the fact of the highest oil earnings ever."

The paper accuses the government of seeking to destroy the state oil company and "drowning the country in a gigantic debt".

"We are all making a huge sacrifice while President Chavez, in the midst of this crísis, heads off to Ecuador to inaugurate a museum with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro," it writes.

El Mundo speaks of a government "in the trenches".

Another El Universal commentator recalls the president's words "In Venezuela, a historic battle is being played out".

Such is the confusion in "this defective democracy" that various forces "support violence in the morning, only to repudiate it in the evening".

"The only thing left for us is to fight for what we consider the best future for Venezuela," the commentator writes.

"Our children's future depends on it."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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