Confronting the North Korean Threat

Confronting the North Korean Threat
By Yuri Yarim-Agaev
FrontPageMagazine.com | October 31, 2006

The recent nuclear test by North Korea has once again underscored how little progress has been made to curb that country’s bid for a nuclear program. Six-party negotiations and even a U.N. resolution unanimously passed by the Security Council have all proven failures. The main problem with North Korea, however, is not its nuclear missiles, but its communist system. A democratic Korea, even with nuclear weapons, would hardly pose a threat. By contrast, Communist Korea, even bound by agreements and promises, remains a serious danger. From this premise it follows that the most realistic solution to the rogue state’s provocations is not to prevent that regime from producing weapons of mass destruction. It is to facilitate the rapid change of the regime.

The history of fruitless attempts to end the arms race with the Soviet Union shows us that no negotiations or agreements with a totalitarian state can stop it from pursuing a military buildup. Andrei Sakharov and other Russian human-rights activists realized very early that the only way to tame Soviet aggression was to influence public opinion in the West by exposing the system’s injustices to the outside world.

This was the goal that brought me into the ranks of the dissidents. Our position was supported most prominently by President Reagan. Uninterested in signing new accords with the Soviets, Reagan took a strong position against communism. This helped to open up the Soviet Union and to spur the development of the democratic movement. As a result, Soviet authorities were forced to make concessions in their arms programs that would have been unthinkable to Reagan’s predecessors.

The North Korean totalitarian state is a replica of the Soviet system. As it was with the Soviet Union, North Korea’s nuclear threat will end only with the end of the communist regime. How and when that regime goes may depend on us. Will North Korea’s leaders have enough time and resources to develop nuclear weapons and the will to use them, or will they depart before that with little resolve for resistance? Herein is the essence of the North Korean threat. This should determine America’s North Korea policy: Its goal should be to help weaken the Korean communist regime, thereby hastening its ultimate end.

Attempting to force out the ruling power through negotiations is not very realistic. Sanctions alone will not do the job, either. Trying to topple the communist dictatorship by military intervention is not only highly risky, but also hardly justifiable, morally or politically, as long as there are any alternatives to that approach.

In the case of North Korea, such an alternative exists. It lies in liberalizing and opening up North Korean society. Our goal should be to make the communist regime give in to the demands of its own people and international public opinion, and to leave peacefully, as happened in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe.

Such a policy will certainly meet with resistance from the communist government. Nevertheless, the suggested strategy is feasible, because the North Korean communist system has weakened significantly and lost the totality of its control over the country. Consider that North Korea’s border has become porous and now allows more people to defect and more contraband, including modern electronics, to be smuggled in. The government has begun to lose its hold on information. Many people have mobile phones operated by Chinese companies. Information about goings on inside the country has also become more available. CNN recently broadcast a video shot by hidden cameras in North Korea, including some episodes inside a labor camp.

The increasing weakness of the communist regime is also evidenced by the very adventurous behavior of its leaders. Their nuclear program is suspiciously demonstrative. It looks as if its major goal is not to prepare for aggressive war or to defend the country, but rather to blackmail the United States and its allies into providing the regime with the economic and political assistance it desperately needs to maintain power.

Unfortunately, the blackmail has been working, since the current policy of the allies has helped Kim Jung Il to procure the many things that he needs: He receives ongoing threats from a powerful enemy, which helps him treat any dissent inside the country as treason; he attains legitimization of his fading system by sitting at six-party negotiations with the major world powers; and he secures economic assistance, which provides resources for that same nuclear program.

The irony of the situation is that the West is helping to prolong and embolden the North Korean communist regime, while it is in our best interest to do just the opposite. Instead of propping up the regime, the West should support the liberalization of Korean society through direct interaction with the Korean people against the wishes of their communist rulers. Three measures in particular should be implemented.

  1. Information and technology should be provided to the North Korean people. Flooding North Korea with portable TV sets and computers, launching direct satellites, and expanding television and radio broadcasting in the country will help to break the regime’s uncontested hold on the flow of information.
  2. Ideas of freedom and democracy should be vigorously promoted inside the country. Propaganda is one of the regime’s most useful weapons and undermining its influence is an essential first step toward loosening its grip on power.
  3. Maximum support should be given to North Korea’s dissidents. Establishing direct lines of communication will make it clear to the regime’s opponents that they are not alone in their struggle.

In short, the thrust of the West’s policy toward North Korea should be to shift from traditional diplomacy to public diplomacy. There have been some steps in these directions, but too few to constitute an effective challenge to the communist authorities. The National Endowment for Democracy allocates only a few hundred thousand dollars for all its North Korea programs, while American assistance to the North Korean communist government has exceeded one billion dollars over the last decade. To make the policy work, much more can and should be done.

Destabilizing the regime in this way will not be easy. Even so, the successful realization of a similar approach toward the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe suggests that it is possible. When we were planning to send the first copy machine, fax and computer to our fellow dissidents in Russia, few people believed that this would have any meaningful impact on the political situation. Before long, however, our information technology was aiding the cause of the democracy movement in all parts of the Soviet Union. North Korea’s secret police may be even more vicious than their KGB predecessors, but the informational revolution works against them. Even at the peak of the dissident movement, we could not dream of mobile phones or camcorders inside the labor camps.

Technology is a necessary but not sufficient condition for successful regime change. Equally essential is expertise. That expertise is uniquely possessed by those who, in the 1970s and 80s, worked to weaken the Soviet Empire: governmental officials, Russian and East European dissidents, and the groups that supported them. The experiences of Chinese dissidents over the last two decades may also prove invaluable.

Even in the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was regarded by many influential thinkers as a permanent feature on the international landscape. Pyongyang has benefited from similar fatalism. To end the tyranny in North Korea, the West must first reject this conventional wisdom.

Yuri Yarim-Agaev is a former leading Russian dissident and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Upon arriving in the
United States after his forced exile from the
Soviet Union, he headed the New York-based Center for Democracy in the
USSR
.

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Cracking the Hermit Kingdom

Cracking the Hermit Kingdom
By Gordon Cucullu and Joshua Stanton
FrontPageMagazine.com | October 24, 2006

The twin fizzles of North Korea’s attempted long-range Fourth of July rocketry and its semi-successful nuclear test encourage those who favor procrastination as a viable foreign policy. In the long run, it affords little comfort that North Korea’s weapons don’t work well, because it cannot stop Kim Jong-il’s patience and marketing of more and better rockets. After 15 years of stalling, lying, and cheating his way through nuclear negotiations, Kim Jong-il could be the subject of a Country & Western song. We must accept the fact that he is faithful to his nuclear weapons programs, and unfaithful to anyone who would take them away from him. As Ambassador Christopher Hill put it, “North Korea can have nuclear weapons or it can have a future.” Kim Jong-il has chosen; he means to build the Arsenal of Terror. Now, we must choose whether we will let him.

Can we disarm Kim Jong-il at less risk of a catastrophic war than the risks of continuing with the present course?  We think so, but not through conventional diplomatic or military means.

 

Some analysts talk of military strikes directed at key facilities. Newt Gingrich has suggested that the Kim regime be told privately, on unequivocal terms, that every time he stands a missile up for testing it will be killed on the pad. Some suggest reacting against any movement toward another nuclear test with a strike against the deeply dug-in, highly protected test equipment. Strikes might set some of those programs back but probably could not destroy his underground nuclear facilities. The other side of the cost-benefit ledger is heavy:  domestic forces might compel Kim Jong-il to respond, and that could escalate into a second Korean War and the destruction of Seoul, which lies within artillery range of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

 

Economic sanctions have the benefit of attacking Kim Jong-il’s economic vulnerabilities. For the past year, the Treasury Department has been constricting the financial arteries that support Kim Jong-il’s palace economy:  illegal weapons, narcotics, and counterfeiting. These measures have shown some promising results. Japan’s new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, just added his muscle to the squeeze by denying North Korean merchant ships access to Japan’s ports and by vigorously attacking one of Kim’s great sources of foreign cash: Korean Yakuza operations in western Japan. UN Resolution 1718 (which, by itself, justified John Bolton’s confirmation) freezes or cuts off funds for his WMD-related assets and accounts, and even bans him from purchasing luxury items, such as his French Cognac supplies. The object of this goes beyond the inducement of derelium tremens. Louis XIV said, “L’État, c’est moi,” but Kim Jong-il has perfected it in practice. He stands atop a precarious pyramid of faction-riven Party hacks, intelligence service thugs, and what former Ambassador Jim Lilley calls “hard-faced generals.” Kim Jong-il knows that too many missed payments to these men, whose endemic corruption requires constant care and feeding, puts him a trigger squeeze from oblivion.

 

Others have proposed a naval blockade, but Kim’s protectors, including China and South Korea, might help diffuse the effect of the more onerous sanctions. Another less risky option could be almost as devastating:  the Treasury Department could designate North Korea itself as an “entity of concern” for money laundering, under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. That would instantly sever all of North Korea’s connections to the international finance system, but would have collateral effects in other countries whose cooperation we would prefer to obtain through polite requests.

 

All of these measures will have an effect, but they will take time. They might also cause Kim Jong-il to squeeze his suffering people even harder, and in the end, they might mean little more than replacing one evil tyrant with another. They might force Kim Jong-il to negotiate, but not in good faith. They might weaken the regime, but they won’t necessarily replace it with one that will live in peace.

 

We still have not spoken of North Korea’s greatest vulnerability: its citizens’s disapproval. We think of North Korea as a stable, opaque, Orwellian monolith, but recently we have seen cracks in the façade. Refugees and defectors report a recent wave of uprisings and expressions of dissent. A few of the disturbances, such as the rising in the Onsong Concentration Camp and the planned mutiny of the Chongjin garrison, were significant. Most, however, were localized, and the regime was able to keep them that way by taking great pains to isolate its subjects from outside world and compartmentalize them from internal communication among themselves.

 

Geography is also on the regime’s side. North Korea’s terrain is rugged. Its road and communications infrastructure is decrepit. (Its original dictator, Kim Il Sung, died of a heart attack, because ambulances could not negotiate the road to one of his mountain hideaways in time.) Today, even Kim Jong-il’s concentration camps are not, physically speaking, “concentrated;” they are really scattered networks of guarded hamlets where uprisings are easy to contain and from which escape is a formidable challenge. All information comes from tightly controlled Party outlets. Radios and televisions are pre-set with approved frequencies. Listening to any of the few sources of “unofficial” information – South Korean, Japanese, or “foreign” stations – is punishable with immediate exile of the suspect and his entire family to a labor camp.

 

Despite all of these countermeasures, the information blockade on which Kim Jong-il’s power depends is breaking down. Since the famine that killed 2.5 million North Koreans in the 1990’s, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have voted with their feet and risked death by crossing the border into China. Some of these refugees later returned to North Korea and spoke of China’s comparative prosperity. China arrested others and ruthlessly sent them back to the North Korean gulag. A few escaped to South Korea or elsewhere. This refugee flow is Beijing’s recurring nightmare. China dreads the prospect of an imploding North Korea releasing millions of refugees along the countries’ 900-mile border. China, which barely suppressed the SARS outbreak, worries that North Koreans – whose immune systems are weakened by malnutrition and a lack of basic medical care – could bring a plague of diseases and burden its economy.

 

Some of these refugees are crossing out of economic desperation. There is an active business of smuggling goods and people across the Chinese-North Korean border. But most refugees are probably motivated by politics to some degree – because the government has put them in a low-priority category for food rations, because they have lost all faith in their government, or a combination of both. The moment they see the relative prosperity of China, they realize the magnitude of the propaganda barrage inside North Korea. Meanwhile, corruption, disillusionment, and societal decay have accelerated the corrosive effect on the information blockade. Cell phones, tunable radios, and South Korean DVD’s are now available, even in Pyongyang, to those who know where to find them, even though the possession of these items can be a death-camp offense. There is a growing network of underground churches inside North Korea, a remarkable phenomenon given the ruthless repression with which the Communists have attacked any religion other than the worship of the two Kims.

 

This below-the-radar decline of the Cult of Kim has led to some surprising results. Last month, Thai authorities arrested as many as 300 North Korean refugees who survived a dangerous journey across China, along a thousand-mile underground railroad run largely by Christian missionaries and sympathizers. On every inch of this journey, they risked forcible repatriation to North Korea if caught by Chinese authorities. Of these 300, half asked to go to the United States – a nation they had been indoctrinated since birth to hate and fear as an imperialist warmonger. Their remarkable yearning for freedom led them to choose America instead of South Korea, where they already share a common language and customs. According to a recent New York Times report, “$10,400 will buy a package deal to get someone out of North Korea and, armed with a fake South Korean passport, on a plane or boat to South Korea within days.” It is simply a matter of money; the bodies of those who try to escape without it wash up in bullet-ridden heaps beside the Tyumen River. Yet still, more make the risky crossing.

 

More also want to know the truth. The Broadcasting Board of Governors recently cited surveys from 2003 and 2004, which found that 28 to 31 percent of North Korean refugees had listened to the Voice of America, and that 18 percent had listened to Radio Free Asia. They tuned in to these forbidden broadcasts in spite of the terrible risk of being caught. The percentage of listeners is probably higher today. Yet two years after the North Korean Human Rights Act authorized the expansion of Radio Free Asia, along with more programs to smuggle information into North Korea, our government is only starting the process of expanding radio broadcasts to the North. North Korea’s hysterical reaction speaks volumes about the subversive potential of broadcasting. The letters North Korean refugees write to Radio Free Asia are inspiring. To be sure, survey samples based on refugees are skewed, but the North Korean people do appear to be an emerging market for such subversive ideas as tolerance, religious freedom, pluralism, free markets, and democracy.

 

There is another side to breaking down the isolation of the North Korean people that observers tend to overlook – getting information out of North Korea. In a land still described by popular media as the Hermit Kingdom, the factual vacuum about conditions inside North Korea partially explains why nations have failed to coordinate a common response to such issues as famine, food aid, human rights, crime, and weapons proliferation. Ask most Americans about conditions within North Korea, and you will elicit a shrug. In contrast, even closed societies such as the former Soviet Union and present-day China are open volumes compared to reclusive North Korea. The Great Famine was the most heartrending example of this. By the time international relief agencies gleaned through sparse information and agreed that a famine was killing millions of North Koreans, it was too late to save many of them. A German physician, Norbert Vollertsen, fled North Korea with photos of malnourished children in striped pajama uniforms. When he tried to tell the South Korean people this terrible news, he was beaten by South Korean police, threatened with expulsion, and threatened by pro-North Korean Stalinists determined to protect the South’s appeasement-based Sunshine policy from the truth about conditions in the North. In a more recent and highly suspicious incident, Vollertsen was attacked by a group of unidentified men on a street in downtown Seoul. South Korean Police dismissed the incident and accused Vollertsen of being drunk, although he proceeded to give a speech before an audience that can confirm otherwise.

 

To their everlasting shame, many in South Korea choose to live in cognitive dissonance and outright denial about conditions inside their northern neighbor. Many South Koreans dismiss reports of grave human rights abuses as “U.S. propaganda,” and dispute reports of conditions within North Korea’s gulag, to include the reported experimental poison gas chamber at Camp 22. Repeatedly, when the U.N. has considered resolutions condemning North Korea’s atrocities against its people, South Korea abstained or refused to vote. Now, Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, who presided over this shameful diplomacy, is about to become the new UN General Secretary.

 

While educating South Koreans and others is important, tearing open the bamboo curtain and allowing the light of truth to both penetrate and escape from the North is essential. North Koreans must learn what is happening in their own districts, provinces, and country, and the rest of the world should share this information. Already, this process has made a courageous start. Brave guerrilla cameramen recently brought out video of public executions, labor camps, starving soldiers sent home to die, South Korean food aid stolen by the military, and acts of dissent. A Seoul-based news site, The Daily NK, collects and publishes reports from defectors, traders, and clandestine journalists who cross the border between North Korea and China.

 

Our government can do much more to support the breaking of this blockade. It can start by breaking our own State Department’s blockade on the appropriation and distribution of funds already authorized under the North Korean Human Rights Act. It should also help to expand this network of clandestine journalists inside North Korea. Many of these journalists could be recruited from the same source that produced the concentration camp survivor, defector, journalist, and author Kang Chol-Hwan – the ranks of thousands of North Korean refugees in South Korea and in third countries. A select group of them, properly trained in clandestine reporting, could return to their homeland to tell their stories. We could provide them satellite telephones and cameras to transmit their reports without making the risky journey across the border. With enough money, it is possible to smuggle large quantities of i-pods, cell phones, and micro-radios into North Korea, so that the people could hear the news these journalists reported. Eventually, we could train other refugees in basic technical skills, the fundamentals of how democratic government works, and eventually, medicine, so that the underground could begin to provide essential services that the regime stopped providing years ago. Eventually, these volunteers could become the core of new civil society in a scarred, traumatized, and chaotic post-Kim Jong-il Korea.

 

Ultimately, the key rests with China’s treatment of refugees. China must realize that its refugee policy is earning the eternal enmity of the North Korean people for the sake of a dying regime. One day, North Koreans will make up one-third of the population of a united Korea, which will be one of China’s largest trading partners and trade corridors, and as an added bonus, might not require a large U.S. military presence for its defense. It must begin to accept North Korean refugees in large numbers, even if only in UN-run refugee camps along its border. The United States and a coalition of other nations could foot the bill for refugee care, something that is vastly cheaper than recovering from missile strikes. The establishment of these refugee camps, or “feeding stations” if you prefer, would be predicated on the notion that all inhabitants would eventually be repatriated to Korea or resettled outside of China.

From Washington, North Korea looks as stable as East Germany, Romania, and Albania looked in 1988. In reality, those regimes hung by tenuous threads, disguising political weakness behind statist omnipotence, waiting for the sword stroke that freed their subjects from oppression. By reaching out to the North Korean people with truth, hope, food, and medical care, we can do much to undermine the cult of hate and isolation on which Kim Jong-il’s grip on power depends. Diplomacy has failed, sanctions are only a partial solution, and military strikes carry an unacceptable risk of disaster. The root of the crisis is Kim Jong-il. We must help the North Korean people uproot him. We must help them achieve what Koreans and Americans have dreamed of for more than half a century:  a Korean that is united and free.

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Chavez’s Theater of the Absurd

Chavez’s Theater of the Absurd
By Joseph Klein
FrontPageMagazine.com | October 23, 2006

Venezuela is locked in a battle with
Guatemala to take over a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, representing the Latin American region.  While neither country has been able to garner the necessary two-thirds majority from the General Assembly,
Guatemala has soundly beaten
Venezuela in virtually every round of voting to date.  The 35th round of voting ended on October 20th with 103 votes for
Guatemala and 81 for
Venezuela.  Further voting has been put off for several days.  As one reporter put it during a daily press briefing at UN headquarters, the process is morphing into the theater of the absurd.


Venezuela has already served four times on the Security Council, while
Guatemala has never served.  It is time for
Venezuela, the perennial loser in balloting this time around, to either remove itself voluntarily in favor of
Guatemala or a consensus candidate, or to be forced to step aside.  According to the UN Charter, in electing a non-permanent member to the Security Council, the General Assembly is to give “due regard…in the first instance to the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization.” 
Venezuela fails that test, hands down.

 

There are at least two grounds for disqualifying
Venezuela from further consideration.  First,
Venezuela is committing serious human rights violations today, according to its own regional group’s human rights spokesperson.   
Guatemala’s past human rights record is far from stellar, but its record is improving while
Venezuela’s is rapidly deteriorating.  Second,
Venezuela has demonstrated its contempt for the Security Council’s decisions by actively backing
Iran’s outright threats to international peace and security in defiance of the will of the international community.  
 

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States issued a statement on August 31, 2006 condemning the murder of Jesús Rafael Flores Rojas, a journalist of the daily Región, in
Venezuela.  This was no random act of violence.  On the night of August 23, 2006, Rojas arrived at his house in the locality of El Tigre, when an individual shot Rojas eight times in the presence of his daughter before fleeing in an automobile.  He had received prior death threats in response to his investigative political reporting.
 

Nor was the murder of Rojas one isolated case.  It followed two prior murders in 2006. Joaquín Tovar, the editor of the weekly Venezuelan paper Ahora, was shot and killed June 17th, while Jorge Aguirre, a photographer with El Mundo newspaper in
Caracas, was killed April 5th

 

And the violence directed against journalists in
Venezuela continues.  On October 7, 2006, journalist Pedro Bastardo was killed by several shots to the head.  On September 30, 2006, a team of reporters working for news channel Globovisión was assaulted, allegedly by supporters of President Hugo Chávez, during the march of presidential candidate for the opposition, Manuel Rosales, in the state of
Trujillo, eastern
Venezuela.  On September 19th, a reporter, Paulimar Rodríguez of the newspaper “El Nacional”, was also assaulted during a Rosales march, allegedly by Chávez supporters.  We are seeing violence directed at journalists by a bunch of fascist bullies, with Chavez’s regime the obvious beneficiary of a frightened press. 

 

Chávez has also railed against privately owned television stations, whose licenses are due to expire in 2007, charging that they broadcast content designed to “divide” the country.  With Presidential “elections” in
Venezuela coming up this December, the policy of press intimidation is obvious.   

 

Chavez has not confined his intimidation to the press.  He also has jailed political opponents.  In ordering the trial of four civil society leaders on dubious charges of treason, a Venezuelan court has assented to government persecution of political opponents, Human Rights Watch declared in July 2005.   “The court has given the government a green light to persecute its opponents,” said José Miguel Vivanco,
Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Prosecuting people for treason when they engage in legitimate electoral activities is utterly absurd.”  

 

Coupled with
Venezuela’s deplorable human rights record at home is Chavez’s demonstration of contempt for the United Nations itself.   Perhaps his personal denunciations of President Bush as the “devil” before the General Assembly last month can be dismissed as the grand-standing of a lunatic buffoon.  But his unswerving apologia for
Iran’s defiance of the Security Council cannot be so easily excused.    Last February,
Venezuela joined
Cuba and
Syria in opposing the referral of
Iran to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions.   
Iran ignored the Council’s August 31st deadline to freeze its uranium enrichment program and continues to call the Security Council “illegitimate” as it finally prepares for possible sanctions against the rogue regime.   Chavez continues to serve as
Iran’s perfect lackey, supporting
Iran’s nuclear ambitions and promising to thwart any international consensus toward sanctions against
Iran.   Parroting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel tirades before an adoring crowd at

Tehran
University during a recent visit to
Iran, Chavez accused
Israel of “terrorism and pure fascism.”  And Chavez’s trade with Iran, now in excess of $1 billion, may include lethal materials being brought into
Venezuela, including nuclear technology.  Like
Iran’s leaders, Chavez denies any intention of developing nuclear weapons.  Yet his government has reportedly signed agreements on nuclear energy and sought to buy a nuclear reactor, with no involvement of the civilian Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research.  A prominent Venezuelan physicist has suggested that his country may indeed be embarked on a path to join the Nuclear Club along with North Korea and
Iran.

 


Iran awarded Chavez its highest state medal in gratitude for his “support for
Iran‘s stance on the international scene”, according to an Iranian station.   In contrast to
Venezuela’s complicity in undermining the authority of the very same Security Council that it wishes to join,
Guatemala has actively supported that institution’s decisions.  It contributed personnel for UN peacekeeping operations in each of the years 2006, 2005 and 2004. 
Venezuela has not contributed a single person during any of those years.

 

Chavez fancies himself as Castro’s successor, leading the world’s “oppressed” against the capitalist imperialists of the West.   Maybe, he does deserve the title.  After all, he has been Castro’s loyal puppet for many years.  Now he is adding Ahmadinejad as another puppeteer.  In his pathetic campaign for relevance on the world stage, Chavez is diverting oil revenues from meeting the needs of the poor back home in order to buy his way onto the Security Council.   He should be soundly rebuffed as a fraud who wants to sabotage the Security Council for his buddies, to the detriment of international peace and security. 

 

As a group of self-described “Venezolanos suffering (no peace, no prosperity, no hope) from Chavez lies” recently commented on the Internet (but would dare not write in any local Venezuelan newspaper for fear that they would end up like the murdered journalists): “We are Venezolanos living in Venezuela that want to apologize to the American People for the entropy that HUGO wants to create. He only has created fear and mistrust among the Venezuelan people and wants to do the same all around the world.”  The people suffering under Chavez’s yoke know him best and detest him.

 

In its previous four elections to the Security Council,
Venezuela received over 90% of the votes and was elected in the first round.  This time, it appears that less than half of the countries of Latin America are currently supporting
Venezuela.  Some of these countries have expressed resentment at Chavez’s interference in their elections.  They know their neighbor better than any country could outside of the region and do not trust him.

 

It is time for the President of the General Assembly to end Chavez’s theater of the absurd immediately and call for the election of a member state from the Latin American region that meets the minimum qualifications for a seat on the Security Council.

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Regime Change Only Solution for Iran, Israeli Expert Says

Regime Change Only Solution for Iran, Israeli Expert Says
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
October 19, 2006

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – The time for imposing sanctions on Iran is over. The only way to deal with Iran now is through regime change, an Iranian expert said here on Thursday.

The issue of Iran topped the agenda when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian President Vladimir Putin met this week. Olmert’s three-day visit to Moscow ended on Thursday.

Israel is eager to convince Russia, which is helping Iran complete its nuclear reactor in Bushehr, to support international sanctions against Tehran. Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has been dragging its feet on the issue.

Israel, the U.S. and Europe believe that Iran is secretly developing a nuclear bomb under cover of its civilian nuclear program. Tehran denies it and Russia backs Iran’s right to have nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Before his trip, Olmert said that Iran represents an “existential threat” to Israel and the world. Israel “cannot countenance” a country like Iran possessing non-conventional capabilities, he said following his meeting with Putin.

“I made it clear that the State of Israel has no margin of error, has no privilege to err. There is no way to prevent nuclear arms, if Iran is not afraid,” he said.

The Iranians “need to fear” the consequences if they continue in their nuclear pursuits, Olmert said, adding that he did not discuss specifics of what Israel would or would not do.

Olmert’s Cabinet Secretary Israel Maimon said on Thursday that Putin was just as worried as Israel about the prospects of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, the radio reported. But Olmert admitted that there are “still differences in approach between Israel and Russia.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the RIA news agency on Wednesday as saying that “reports from Iran do not indicate a real threat to peace and security.”

For more than a year, the U.S. has been trying to get the issue of Iran’s nuclear development referred to the U.N. Security Council. That finally happened after Iran ignored an August 31 deadline to halt its uranium enrichment program – a process that can be used to make nuclear fuel or an element necessary for an atomic bomb.

Since then, there has been no agreement on sanctions.

But Iranian affairs expert Menashe Amir said it’s already too late for sanctions.

“The only solution is to topple the regime,” said Amir, an Iranian who has lived in Israel for decades. There needs to be a breakthrough in the European and American behavior, he said, where they realize the great danger of Iran.

The problem with sanctions, said Amir, is that first of all there aren’t any. After the U.N. decides on sanctions, they will be too “weak and feeble” to influence the regime. Even if there is an escalation in the sanctions, it will take years, he said. “It doesn’t help. It will not really endanger the regime.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated many times recently that Iran would not halt its uranium enrichment program. And in a speech last week, Ahmadinejad said he did not believe that the West would do anything to confront Iran.

“The enemies are completely paralyzed, and cannot in any way confront the Iranian people. If our people maintain unity and solidarity, they [the enemies] must expect a great [Iranian] victory, because we have [only] one step remaining before we attain the summit of nuclear technology,” he was quoted as saying by the Iranian Fars News Agency.

But Amir, who hosts a Farsi language radio program, which is broadcast into Iran, said the people are waiting for change. Amir has contact with Iranians through the weekly phone-in program broadcast by Israel’s government-run Kol Israel (the Voice of Israel) as part of its Farsi (Persian) language broadcast.

Amir said he attended a special reception in the U.S. last week with President Bush. “I told him I have a message [for him]. The message is: ‘The Iranian people are waiting for you to come and rescue them.'”

Israel’s Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said on Thursday that Israel was not responsible for leading the international campaign against Iran’s nuclear pursuits. It is up to the U.S., Europe and Russia, he said.

Difference between Iran, North Korea
Even though North Korea recently conducted a nuclear test, Amir said a bomb in Ahmadinejad’s hands is much more dangerous.

“Iran is a very sensitive place,” said Amir.

In North Korea, the leaders want an atomic bomb so that they can extort money from the West. But the reason Iran wants a nuclear bomb is for the purpose of exporting their revolution and converting all human beings into Shiites. “There is a big difference between Iran and North Korea,” he said.

“When you have a lunatic president that claims a direction connection with God and is waiting for the Shiite messiah [who is] dangerous, adventurous, and an [un]stable person, having a [nuclear] bomb is the biggest danger,” Amir said.

Iran News reported this week that Ahmadinejad said he was assured of victory.

“I have a connection with God, since God said that the infidels will have no way to harm the believers. Well, [but] only if we are believers, because God said: You [will be] the victors…If we are [really] believers, God will show us victory, and this [a] miracle,” Ahmadinejad said. (A translation was provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.)

Iran President Ahmadinejad: ‘I Have a Connection With God, Since God Said That the Infidels Will Have No Way to Harm the Believers'; ‘We Have [Only] One Step Remaining Before We Attain the Summit of Nuclear Technology'; The West ‘Will Not Dare To Attack Us’

Iran President Ahmadinejad: ‘I Have a Connection With God, Since God Said That the Infidels Will Have No Way to Harm the Believers'; ‘We Have [Only] One Step Remaining Before We Attain the Summit of Nuclear Technology'; The West ‘Will Not Dare To Attack Us’

In an Iftar address to an audience of his supporters, including members of the Union of Islamic Engineers and supporters of the Khat-e Emam, [1] on October 14, 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that he had a connection with God, and promised that Iran would continue to develop nuclear energy, and would not give in to the West’s demand to suspend its uranium enrichment “even for one single day.”

The parts of Ahmadinejad’s address regarding his connection with God were reported by the independent Iranian news agency Iran News, which is active within Iran, on October 15, 2006, under the title “A Different Report by Iran News on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s New Shocking Address at the Iftar of the Engineers Union.”

Like Ahmadinejad, other members of Iran‘s upper echelons have also recently expressed their objections to a suspension of uranium enrichment like that undertaken by the previous president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami. At a meeting with the heads of Iran’s ruling authorities, Iran’s Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khamenei said, “Had we not taken the path we took two years ago, [i.e.] consented to suspend uranium enrichment, perhaps today we would be kicking ourselves, [saying] ‘Why didn’t we try that path?’ But today we are moving ahead [towards our goal], with complete confidence and with absolute control, and [today] no one can claim any longer that we were mistaken in the path we took [i.e. our current refusal to suspend enrichment] in the nuclear issue, because we did try the other path [i.e. consent to suspend enrichment]…” [2]

The reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd reported that Ahmadinejad had said in his address that Iran “must stand firm [in its nuclear policy]; we have one more step, and if we pass that, this [matter] will be attained.” [3]

A few days previously, on October 11, 2006, Ahmadinejad had made similar statements on the nuclear issue, in a speech in the city of Shahriyar:”…The enemies are completely paralyzed, and cannot in any way confront the Iranian people. If our people maintain unity and solidarity, they [i.e. the enemies] must expect a great [Iranian] victory, because we have [only] one step remaining before we attain the summit of nuclear technology.” [4]

In that speech, Ahmadinejad underlined the West’s inability to act: “The enemy will never confront us. An attack on Iran is nonsense.” [5]

The following are the main points of the Iran News report of Ahmadinejad’s Iftar speech: [6]

The Second Islamic Revolution

“…I told you that the second wave of the [1979 Islamic] Revolution has already begun [with my election to the presidency in 2005], and that it is bigger and more terrible than the first…” [7]
The Connection to God and the Anticipated Muslim Victory Over the Infidels

“On the nuclear issue, I have said to my friends on many occasions, ‘Don’t worry. They [i.e. the Westerners] are only making noise.’ But my friends don’t believe [me], and say, ‘You are connected to some place!’ I always say: ‘Now the West is disarmed vis-à-vis Iran [on the nuclear issue], and does not know how to end this matter [with us].’ But my friends say: ‘You are uttering divine words! Then they will laugh at us!’

“Believe [me], legally speaking, and in the eyes of public opinion, we have absolutely succeeded. I say this out of knowledge. Someone asked me: ‘So and so said that you have a connection.’ I said: ‘Yes, I have.’ He asked me: ‘Really, you have a connection? With whom?’ I answered: ‘I have a connection with God,’ since God said that the infidels will have no way to harm the believers. Well, [but] only if we are believers, because God said: You [will be] the victors. But the same friends say that Ahmadinejad says strange things.

“If we are [really] believers, God will show us victory, and this miracle. Is it necessary today for a female camel to emerge from the heart of the mountain so that my friends will accept the miracle? [8] Wasn’t the [Islamic] Revolution [enough of] a miracle? Wasn’t the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] a miracle?… “

Iran‘s Nuclear Policy

“They (Westerners) did two ugly things. First, they attacked Lebanon in order to extract concessions from us [i.e. Iran]. Second, they took the [nuclear] issue to the [U.N.] Security Council. Of course, now they are sunk in a quagmire, and don’t know what to do with us. We, for our part, did not retreat one millimeter. First, because if we retreat [even] a little, that is, if we agree to suspend [uranium enrichment even] for a single day, they will say that the Iranians retreat under pressure. And second, if we do this, they will tell the entire world that the Iranians have finally stopped their [uranium] enrichment. Didn’t we stop the enrichment in the previous round [of talks]? What did we gain by that?…

“I say that now, by the grace of God, we have gone most of the way; be confident that they will not dare to attack us.”

Attitude Towards the U.S. and Bush

“… The president of America is like us. That is, he too is inspired… but [his] inspiration is of the satanic kind. Satan gives inspiration to the president of America…

“[With regard to the news that U.S. aircraft carriers have been sent to the Persian Gulf,] I say to you now to let your minds be at ease. If two warships come, let them come… Why did you say nothing two months ago, when 140 of their warships left? Actually, I think that the fact that they are coming means that there is no possibility that anything will happen.

“What is dangerous is if they leave the region; then, it will be clear that they have a plan. That is exactly what I said at the Supreme National Security Council meeting some time ago. [I said,] be certain that the departure of those American warships from the Persian Gulf is the beginning of a bad event. Then [indeed] we saw that they caused the Lebanon war.”

Report: N. Korean leader, Kim Jong Il Regrets Nuclear Test

Report: N. Korean leader, Kim Jong Il Regrets Nuclear Test

October 20, 2006 5:49 a.m. EST

Jacob Cherian – All Headline News Staff Writer

Seoul, South Korea (AHN) – A South Korean newspaper has reported on Friday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il regrets the nation’ s nuclear test and that he is willing to return to six-party talks, conditional to Washington’s withdrawal of isolationist campaigns against North Korea.

Chosun Ilbo reported Kim as telling a Chinese envoy, “If the U.S. makes a concession to some degree, we will also make a concession to some degree, whether it be bilateral talks or six-party talks.”

The newspaper also reported that Jong Il told the Chinese delegation that he is “sorry about the nuclear test.”

State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan led the Chinese delegation and met with Kim on Thursday in Pyongyang, in hopes of persuading North Korea to disarm. China is communist nation’s key trading partner and ally.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to arrive in Beijing on Friday.

Nightmare scenario: A-bombs for al-Qaeda from North Korea

 

Nightmare scenario: A-bombs for al-Qaeda

DOUG SAUNDERS From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail

LONDON — The most alarming thing about Kim Jong-il’s new weapons, to many knowledgeable observers, is not the nuclear threat itself. It is the way the world’s major powers might respond to them. The worst-case scenario goes something like this: Terrified by the nuclear threat next door, the Japanese decide to build their own nuclear arsenal, to the deep alarm of China. The United States beefs up its Pacific bases and begins threatening attacks on North Korean missile sites. In response to this new U.S. presence near its shores, China drastically increases its military strength and begins making overt threats, setting off a chain of military escalation. And North Korea, isolated and desperate after losing its last sources of economic support, sells its nuclear devices to al-Qaeda.“It’s more realistic today than it was yesterday,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, who was the U.S. State Department’s chief official on nuclear proliferation issues until last year.In his opinion, which is shared by many other Western officials, the greatest threat is that an isolated North Korea, desperate for food and fuel after it has been isolated by its former supporters, will sell its weapons to terrorist groups or rogue states.

 After all, Pyongyang has shown no qualms about making such sales: International observers such as the International Atomic Energy Agency believe North Korea sold 1.7 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride to Libya in 2000. And it does not lack desperation: China, the main source of food and fuel for the impoverished nation, expressed outright fury Monday at its neighbour’s desperate act. If it cuts off aid, North Korea could become an even more dangerous state.“I have felt for a long time that this is the process where North Korea is trying to get recognition for itself even at the expense of aggravating its main supporters,” said James Grayson, president of the British Association for Korean Studies. “My worry is that they would be pushed even further into the corner and become more dangerous.”Chinese leaders Monday suggested that they might punish North Korea in such a fashion. Their wrath at their communist neighbours’ defiant act was reflected in the unusually hostile diplomatic language used in their condemnations.“I think China is very furious with North Korea right now,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said Monday. “So I think that China is inclined to show its displeasure by maybe slowing down the oil flow, slowing down investment trade assistance. . . . China is perhaps more relevant to causing or preventing the worst-case scenario.”But some say Chinese leaders are likely to respond more aggressively to an increased Japanese and U.S. military presence, triggered by the nuclear threat, than they are to North Korea itself.Japan’s ruling politicians, leading a population opposed to most forms of war, are still very much against increasing the country’s military role in the region. But there is a Japanese minority that believes the country should have a nuclear arsenal, and that faction could become much larger and more influential as a result of the North Korean weapon.One potential benefit is that the very real possibility of North Korea selling its nuclear knowledge to terrorists could lead to an agreement among China, Japan and the United States to search all North Korean container ships for radioactive material.Indeed, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, suggested Monday that the neighbouring powers and the United States might have reached a previously elusive agreement to punish North Korea.“I would say that there was a consensus in that meeting for a strong and swift response,” he said Monday of the UN Security Council emergency meeting.While this could bring a new strategic unity to these usually fractious partners, many observers say it is highly unlikely to take place, precisely because it would seem like such an overtly military act. And the inspection of ships, which would require an effective naval blockade of North Korea, would look like a military act.“My guess is that they’re likely to be hesitant about taking steps that could lead to a further escalation,” Gary Samore, another former U.S. State Department non-proliferation official, said Monday. “They want to put pressure on North Korea, but steps that could seen as an act of war, [such] as a naval blockade, those are things that they are going to be very wary to support. If you’re going to have some kind of an enforceable ban on military trade, you’re going to have some kind of a military regime. . . . The Chinese and Russians are afraid to use something that could cause an escalating conflict.”And that is what could keep this development from producing any visible response. The fear of a fast-escalating conflict or regional calamity outweighs any larger concern about North Korean weapons.

 

The Left’s Diplomacy Pays Off

The Left’s Diplomacy Pays Off
By Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | October 9, 2006

SCORE ONE FOR BILL CLINTON and Jimmy Carter.

As of this writing in the early morning hours of October 9, President Bush is expected to announce that North Korea has conducted an underground nuclear test. Unlike the abortive launch in July, last night’s explosion netted the Stalinist gulag valuable information and packed a lethal impact. At 9:35 p.m. EST, the U.S. Geological Survey measured a 4.2 magnitude disturbance approximately 240 miles northeast of Pyongyang.

The Left quickly attempted the shopworn tactic of pinning the blame on the Bush administration’s rhetoric or unwillingness to bribe Kim Jong-il. Early this morning, Joseph Cirincione of the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress told CNN, “They had numerous opportunities to negotiate a deal…They did not.” He concluded, “I think the North Koreans came to that conclusion: that there is no deal to be had with this administration, and they decided they had nothing to lose.”

By way of commentary, the popular left-wing blog The Daily Kos quoted Selig S. Harrison from the international edition of Newsweek:

North Korea’s missile tests in July and its threat last week to conduct a nuclear test explosion at an unspecified date “in the future” were directly provoked by the U.S. sanctions. In North Korean eyes, pressure must be met with pressure to maintain national honor and, hopefully, to jump-start new bilateral negotiations with Washington that could ease the financial squeeze. When I warned against a nuclear test, saying that it would only strengthen opponents of negotiations in Washington, several top officials replied that “soft” tactics had not worked and they had nothing to lose.

 The Kos feels no need to explain which U.S. provocation justified the birth of the North Korean nuclear program in 1994 – during Bill Clinton’s presidency – nor that the DPRK’s “‘soft’ tactics” entailed firing a missile over the Japanese mainland and threatening to strike the United States.  Worse yet, Kim Jong-il’s methods have paid off handsomely. Each act of brinksmanship has brought cash, supplies, oil, nuclear reactors, or additional concessions from the West. Within two months of the Taepo Dong missile scraping across Nippon in August 1998, President Clinton sent North Korea a multi-million dollar aid package and reopened bilateral negotiations.  

The Dear Leader’s nuclear test could not have occurred without Bill Clinton’s decade of dalliance. Clinton could have obliterated the Yongbyong reactor with one strike when he first learned of North Korea’s covert nuclear program in 1994. Instead, he allowed Jimmy Carter’s private foreign policy to preempt him. Upon completing the “Agreed Framework” in 1994, Clinton stated, “This agreement will help achieve a vital and long-standing American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula.” We now know the $4.6 billion bribe gave the Communists the two nuclear reactors they used to create their current arsenal.

If the Left’s policies allowed Stalinists to arm, they left Americans defenseless. The Democratic Party has defined its defense policy in opposition to the concept of defense. For more than two decades, the Democratic Party has worked in concert to block any missile defense program and castigated those who tried to shield the United States from a doomsday device. When President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983, Ted Kennedy promptly denounced it as “Star Wars.” The New York Times called it “a projection of fantasy into policy,” and other outlets fretted the abandonment of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) would encourage the United States to pre-emptively attack the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton pledged his support for a missile shield in theory during his 1996 re-election campaign, then withheld critical funds and scheduled deployments in his second term. When George W. Bush pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty – negotiated in the 1970’s with a nation that no longer exists – the Left branded him a “unilateralist.” During the 2004 campaign, John Kerry adviser Rand Beers said North Korea was able to acquire a nuclear weapon, not because naïve leftists insisted on bribing its playboy despot, but because “Bush and his closest advisers were preoccupied with missile defense.” Twenty-three years after President Reagan’s vision of “rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete,” the United States remains vulnerable to madmen like Kim Jong-il…or whoever purchases his wares. Ironically, the Left’s got it wrong on SDI twice: the mere idea of missile defense caused the Soviet Union to spend itself into bankruptcy, and the fact that it remains merely an idea emboldens tinhorn dictators to engage in nuclear blackmail.

 The Left has specialized in sidelining those who would conduct a vigorous foreign policy, so impugning this president’s integrity as to render anything he says suspect. When the media dubbed the assessment of every intelligence agency in the world that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs “wrong,” it could not merely acknowledge that statesmen must act on the best information available to them at the time. Instead, they had to brand the commander-in-chief a “liar” and “fraud.” Ted Kennedy famously thundered, “Week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.” Congressional Democrats demanded an investigation into whether President Bush coerced intelligence agents into “sexing up” Iraqi intelligence. (Multiple reports proved he did not.) Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid then shut down the Senate last November 1st to demand investigations into whether the Bush administration twisted intel ex post facto. Sen. Pat Roberts’ Senate Intelligence Committee recently released two documents that exonorated him on that point, as well. Yet the current cover story of Mother Jones magazine is, “Lie by Lie: How Our Leaders Used Fear and Falsehood to Dupe us Into a Mideast Quagmire: A Timeline.” Having claimed Bush “lied” about Iraqi WMDs, he finds himself circumscribed in dealing with other rogue regimes; after all, who would follow a “liar” into war twice? 

Even this has been insufficient for today’s partisans, who demand Bush’s full demonization. Comparisons to Hitler early became ubiquitous. Al Gore bellowed, “He buhtrayeed Amurrucuh”; Howard Dean referred to Bush-43 as “Big Brother”; and Air America, the British Guardian newspaper, and a new motion picture have pined for his assassination. If Kim Jong-il is insane, in the Left’s view, he is not materially worse than our president.

Not all blame can be placed on the Left, though. This administration’s foreign policy has sent an uncertain message in its second term. The Bush team has offered Kim Jong-il bilateral relations, the Dear Leader’s penultimate goal. (The ultimate goal being U.S. aid. Such prominent Democrats as John Kerry and Hillary Clinton also advocate rewarding Korean belligerence with direct talks.) Having dealt with the result of the Clinton-Carter Agreed Framework of 1994, President Bush offered Iran essentially the same deal. At stages, the war in Iraq has been carried out half-heartedly: backing off Fallujah, allowing anti-Americans prominent governing positions, doing little to stop supplies and terrorists from crossing the Syrian and Iranian borders, etc. There are even reports Yemen “will generate power through nuclear energy in cooperation with the United States and Canada.”

And there are troubling signs of a creeping failure of nerve. Chief of Staff Andy Card, brought in to “shake things up,” has publicly advocated firing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in favor of James A. Baker III. Jim “F-ck the Jews” Baker’s Iraq Study Group will soon release a study reported to call, in broad strokes, for the president to back down in Iraq, “the central front in the War on Terror.”

Today’s crisis has also raised eyebrows. According to early leaks of today’s UN Security Council proposal, the administration’s requested sanctions would exclude China’s oil trade, which provides some 85 percent of Pyongyang’s fuel.

The Bush administration could present a robust plan of action to the United Nations Security Council today as its needed rebound. China will likely veto any measure to curtail its oil exports, but the U.S. could support Japan’s desires to build an appropriate defense. We could and should do the same for Taiwan, as well. In addition to providing a counterweight to Pyongyang, this would apply long-term geopolitical pressure to Beijing. The president would also be well advised to use the crisis to push through greater funding for missile defense, the only ultimate hope of “rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” 

Or he could acquiesce to Foggy Bottom’s wisdom and issue yet another empty threat or ineffective sanctions package, followed by offers of diplomatic carrots, which would reinforce the growing perception that, rhetoric aside, the United States is too paralyzed by internal debate to prevent apocalyptic madmen from acquiring nuclear weapons. Like a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, backing down before Kim Jong-il’s pressure will send a clear message to people like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and other aspiring tyrants.

 Before making such a move, President Bush must remember there is something worse than meeting the advance of evil with inaction: that is resisting evil only strenuously enough to give the enemy the thrill of victory.

North Korea says conducted nuclear test

Mass Venezuela opposition rally


Mass Venezuela opposition rally

By Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Caracas


Tens of thousands of people have marched through the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, in support of the main opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales.
Mr Rosales will face President Hugo Chavez in December’s presidential poll. The march, which filled the main avenues of the city centre, was the biggest opposition rally Venezuela has seen since early 2004. Then, protesters made an unsuccessful bid to oust Mr Chavez from power in a recall referendum. Chance to unite Young and old took to the streets to throw their weight behind the campaign of Mr Rosales, a middle-class Social Democrat who governs the state of Zulia, on the Colombian border. Many claimed that they were seeking liberty and democracy and that made Mr Rosales their only option: “The problem of the opposition is that before we had a lot of candidates and people couldn’t make up their minds whom to support,” one woman said. “Right now we have just one candidate and I believe that we have a better shot if we have just one candidate against Chavez.” For some it was simply a day out to enjoy the sunshine, but for most it was a chance to listen to a speech by Mr Rosales, who declared that Venezuela was “at a crossroads”. Mr Rosales condemned what he called the cheque book diplomacy of Mr Chavez, accusing him of giving away Venezuela’s oil wealth to foreign powers. If Mr Rosales can keep up this kind of pressure against his rival, the election results may not necessarily be a foregone conclusion. But for now, Mr Chavez still enjoys a clear lead in opinion polls because of a sense of loyalty that poor and working-class voters feel towards him.  

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