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Chavez voices confidence in “Friends of Venezuela”

Sunday, January 19th 2003 - 20:00 UTC
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Visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said here Saturday that he would give a vote of confidence to the “Friends of Venezuela” group being formed to mediate the crisis between his government and the opposition.

"We are endorsing the group so it can act, organize, negotiate and analyze," Chavez said after a more-than-two-hour meeting with Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Chavez made a quickly arranged visit to Brasilia to discuss with Lula, as he is universally known, the configuration and role of the group of friendly nations, which was first proposed by the Brazilian president.

Lula's initiative was approved Wednesday by a group of regional leaders in Quito and would comprise Brazil, the United States, Chile, Mexico, Spain and Portugal. Chavez, however, wants China, Russia, France, Algeria and Cuba, among others, to join the group.

The Venezuelan president said that while he liked the makeup of the group as proposed, other governments had also expressed an interest in helping find a solution to the protracted political crisis in his country.

But at yesterday's meeting, Lula explained to Chavez that the six-nation group was sufficiently balanced to pursue a solution to Venezuela's problems, according to Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, who also attended the meeting.

"Additions (to the group) are a future consideration, and the future is in God's hands," Amorim told reporters.

Chavez said that he heads a democratic government seeking a "revolution" in his country.

When asked if that revolution could mean a loss of lives, Chavez said "many lives have already been lost in Venezuela, and the revolution will prevent the loss of more."

Chavez insisted that "some coup-mongering businessmen" had promoted "terrorism" in his country, leading the government to take over some companies considered vital.

He was referring to Friday's raid by the Venezuelan National Guard on bottling plants to seize soft drinks and beer, allegedly to distribute to the country's citizens.

The Venezuelan economy has been paralyzed since Dec. 2, due to a opposition-led general strike and the shutdown of the oil industry designed to force Chavez to resign.

Chavez said upon his arrival in Brasilia that he was willing to accept the involvement of any nation, including the United States, in the group of friends, "as long as Washington clearly understands that Venezuela has a democratic government, over which I preside."

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