Autonomy Proposed in State Legislature of Venezuelan Oil State Zulia

On Tuesday, state legislators from the opposition political party A New Time (Un Nuevo Tiempo) in the oil-rich state of Zulia, Venezuela, proposed a feasibility study for potential autonomy from the federal government, which they compared to the autonomy efforts in Bolivia’s wealthiest province.
An autonomy initiative in Zulia, Venezuela could become a "half-moon" secessionist movement if the opposition prevails in upcoming state and local elections, President Chávez speculated Sunday. (VTV)

Mérida, May 8, 2008 (– On Tuesday, state legislators from the opposition political party A New Time (Un Nuevo Tiempo) in the oil-rich state of Zulia, Venezuela, proposed a feasibility study for potential autonomy from the federal government, which they compared to the autonomy efforts in Bolivia’s wealthiest province, Santa Cruz, last Sunday.

“In light of the results of the autonomy referendum in Bolivia, this seems to us a propitious moment to announce that this commission… is soliciting a study of the feasibility of proposing an autonomy statute,” said state legislator Ángel Monagas.

Legislator Betty Zuleta, a member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), commented, “we have not debated the matter, but it seems to us to be an attempt at the separation of Zulia.”
Monagas, however, insisted he and his colleagues “do not have any secessionist plans, but rather we seek fiscal independence” to improve public services such as the roadways and airports “with a new vision of a more powerful state that gives more protagonism to its citizens,” since “Socialism of the 21st Century did not give any answers to Zulia.”

Alberto Mansueti of the autonomy advocacy group Zulia’s Own Course (Rumbo Propio Para Zulia), one of several non-government political associations allied with Monagas and Rosales, told the press Tuesday, “we want liberalism, the right to compete and the duty to withstand competition.”

An autonomous Zulia would have “self-sufficiency and independence from the four central government powers,” and would privatize the means of production, end economic protectionism and trade barriers, lower taxes, and be free to participate in the international market, according to the Organization for Liberal Democracy in Venezuela, another autonomy movement ally.

Zulia Governor and A New Time party founder Manuel Rosales, who lost to President Hugo Chávez in the December 2006 presidential election, also said he was in favor of autonomy Tuesday on the grounds that the government intends to take power away from states and municipalities, and “centralize everything.”

Tuesday’s proposal met fierce opposition from state legislators who sympathize with the administration of President Hugo Chávez, including José Luis Acosta, who proclaimed, “we [pro-Chavez government] legislators categorically reject this separatist, secessionist proposal of the state because it goes against our values and the integral development of the country,” adding that “We, with the law, with the People in the street, and with the armed forces, will put up a fight.”

According to Acosta, Rosales has met with leaders of autonomy movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and the Ecuadorian province of Guaya, where the elite opposition to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is concentrated and autonomy initiatives are also being planned.

This indicates that autonomy efforts in Zulia are part of an international effort to divide and destabilize countries where socialist governments have been elected, the legislator alleges.

The Bolivian Ambassador to Ecuador, Javier Zárata, took a similar approach to the issue recently, asserting, “What is occurring in Bolivia is not an isolated action.”

“I know there have been coordination meetings last year and the year before among representatives from Santa Cruz and representatives of Guayaquil, and other states of other countries,” Zarate stated without specifying whether officials from Zulia had been involved.

The secessionist movement may even stretch beyond Zulia, President Chávez speculated on his weekly talk show Aló Presidente last Sunday. Were the opposition to take control of the western border states of Zulia, Mérida, Táchira, Barinas, and Apure in the upcoming state and local elections, it could launch a unified separatist movement in the shape of a “half-moon,” Chávez warned, repeating the term used to describe the Bolivian provinces seeking autonomy.

That is why the regional and local elections scheduled for November 23 are “the most important in Venezuelan history,” and revolutionary sectors must preserve unity as the only “vaccine” to separatist efforts, President Chávez insisted.

Acosta announced Tuesday that he and others will denounce the opposition’s plans to “separate Zulia from the rest of Venezuela” before Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), the National Assembly, and the Attorney General of the Republic.

Rodrigo Cabezas, regional Vice President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in Zulia, said the autonomy effort clashes with fundamental values of Venezuela’s constitution, approved by popular vote in 1999, specifically territorial integration, cooperativism, solidarity, and a commitment to co-living.

PSUV Vice President and retired General Alberto Müller Rojas speculated that the autonomy initiative could be prosecuted as treason or a threat to stability in violation of Venezuela’s Penal Code or Military Justice Code.

Müller postulated that those promoting autonomy are “the most extremist and radical sectors of the Venezuelan Right,” and should be distinguished from the opposition that “is working within the rules of the democratic game,” such as the political party Justice First (Primero Justicia).

The former group “acts in favor of North American interests and economic globalization,” and includes the director of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, Miguel Enrique Otero, and the mayor of the wealthy Caracas municipality Chacao, Müller explained. The latter, despite having supported the April 2002 coup, “has shown lately that it is respecting the constitution,” he affirmed.

The party leader left no doubt that any potential autonomy efforts “would be with the support of the United States.”