Chavez foe urges OAS to act on Venezuela as Honduras

Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:30pm EDT

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* Chavez foe wants OAS to scrutinize Venezuela as Honduras

* Says Chavez implementing "slow-motion coup" in Venezuela

By Pascal Fletcher

MIAMI, July 22 (Reuters) - A leading opponent of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on the Organization of American States on Wednesday to give as close a scrutiny of violations of democracy in Venezuela as it was doing in Honduras.

The 34-nation OAS, a continental diplomatic body which has limited real powers, suspended Honduras earlier this month after the government that seized power in a June 28 coup refused to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The OAS is demanding that Zelaya, who is backed by Chavez, be restored to office.

Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who says Chavez unlawfully stripped him of powers and budget funds to weaken him after his election to the city mayorship in November, accused the Venezuelan leader of carrying out a "slow-motion coup".

"The OAS ... has responded in the case of Honduras, where it is argued that the constitutional thread was broken. Well, that thread has been broken for some time in Venezuela," Ledezma told a news conference in Miami.

"We're also calling for the OAS' participation in Venezuela," he said.

Ledezma said he had met separately with the OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, and a senior White House official, Dan Restrepo, in Washington on Tuesday to denounce what he called repeated violations committed by Chavez against both Venezuela's constitution and the OAS' democratic charter.

He accused Chavez, who was first elected in 1999 by voters angry at the corruption under traditional parties that had run the oil-producing country for decades, of "progressively liquidating Venezuelan democracy".

Ledezma cited what he said was Chavez's use of national oil resources to consolidate his socialist political project, and accused him of politicizing the judiciary and the armed forces, and persecuting his foes, in violation of the constitution.

Critics of the outspoken Venezuelan leader say that while he has legitimized his rule through frequent elections, he has weakened democracy by eliminating checks and balances to his personal power, harassing opponents and curbing a free press.

"We need the international community to see that there is a president there who is using democracy, not to develop it ... but to destroy it," Ledezma said.

After his election as Caracas mayor, Ledezma was barred from City Hall and pro-Chavez legislators allowed Chavez to appoint an ally to oversee most of the capital, stripping Ledezma of control over the police, hospitals and schools.

Chavez, who has forged an alliance of leftist Latin American presidents to challenge U.S. influence in the region, dismisses his domestic opponents as representing rich elites whom he says have neglected the plight of Venezuela's poor.

Honduras' Congress and Supreme Court ordered the army to remove Zelaya on the grounds he violated the constitution by seeking to lift presidential term limits, as Chavez had done. Zelaya's critics said he allied himself too closely to Chavez. (For stories on the Honduran crisis, click on [ID:nN28343997])

OAS chief Insulza, who flew briefly to Honduras after the coup to demand the de facto government reinstate Zelaya, said after meeting Ledezma on Tuesday that the OAS was not a "superpower" which could intervene in individual countries.

He urged Chavez' government and its opponents to open a dialogue to ease the level of political confrontation. (Editing by Jim Loney and Anthony Boadle)

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