CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A postelection crisis appears to be setting into a slow boil in Venezuela, with the government and opposition trading bitter accusations but holding back for the moment from moves that would escalate into direct conflict.
The government is threatening to jail opposition leader Henrique Capriles on charges of masterminding postelection violence but has given no indication it has any immediate intention of acting against him. Capriles, meanwhile, is boycotting an audit of the vote and plans to challenge his narrow loss in court. He is almost certain to lose in the government-controlled court system, but hasn't hinted that he will call his followers to the streets anytime soon.
"This isn't a struggle just for one day," Capriles said late Thursday. "This wasn't a fight for the presidency, rather to have a better country, a different one. A country in which institutions function."
For Capriles, open confrontation could bolster accusations that he only wants violence. His strategy for now appears to be waiting out the socialist government, which is struggling to keep its narrow margin of popularity from being eroded by food shortages and daily electrical blackouts that independent observers and the opposition link to mismanagement of the economy and national infrastructure.
For the government, jailing Capriles while he's seeking resolution in the court system could bring international condemnation and drive more people into the opposition camp.
"There are ways to express opposition to the government without risking violence or confrontation. It's a very fine line. Capriles has shown he's very smart and he can figure out where that line is," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. "The government, I think, they have to keep up some of the rhetorical attacks and threats ... at the same time they have to be careful not to go too far, that would provoke a strong backlash within Venezuela but also among Venezuela's neighbors."
The conflict is not just rhetorical, however. The government says postelection attacks by Capriles supporters killed nine members of the ruling Chavista movement, left dozens injured and damaged government offices and medical clinics. The opposition and independent observers dispute the accusation.
Meanwhile, the opposition says hundreds of government workers have been fired and threatened with punishment for supporting the opposition. And a 35-year-old American documentary filmmaker, Timothy Tracy, was arrested Wednesday and is being held by Venezuela's intelligence service, accused of being a spy who paid right-wing youth groups to create post-vote unrest. The government said Thursday that it planned to charge him promptly, then repeated that statement on Friday, without providing details.
A member of Venezuela's top electoral authority said Friday that it had formally decided not to meet opposition demands for a top-to-bottom audit of the April 14 presidential election, a move that will keep tensions high over the almost evenly split and contested vote.
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