March 2, 2004

In an unexpected BBC interview...

National Electoral Council head Francisco Carrasquero has announced the figures CNE will officialize later today as the results of the signature gathering process to request a recall referendum against president Hugo Chavez.

Carrasquero said that only between 1.7 and 1.8 million opposition-collected signatures are valid, well short of the 2.4 million required for a recall referendum. Far worse, he suggested some 700,000 signatures would need to go to "repairs" - meaning the opposition would have to mobilize virtually ALL of those people to CNE "repair" centers to confirm that they did what they said they did. Worse again was the announcement that CNE plans to invalidate outright a shocking one-million signatures.

If these turn out to be the numbers CNE announces, this effectively closes the referendum as a real possibility. It would be virtually impossible to track down near all of the assisted signers, many of whom are illeterate or old and would be particularly hard to reach under any circumstances. Carrasquero knows this, this announcement constitutes only the latest in the chavista campaign of escalation, a campaign willfully designed to push the country into open conflict.

Carrasquero's announcement pushes the country in the direction of unpredictable, open-ended conflict. In a moment of deep national crisis, it will only add fuel to the fire. He has badly undermined the position of the already beleaguered moderate anti-chavistas who might have considered the reparo road viable.

This is the end of the line, folks. From here on out, it's the twilight zone.