The Washington Post -������������ �����December 24, 2003 Wednesday  �����������������������A14


Behind the Turmoil in Venezuela

 The Dec. 14 editorial "Eye on Mr. Chavez" about Venezuela stated as fact the opposition's claim to have gathered 3.5 million signatures calling for a recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez. But the leaders of the opposition have yet to turn the petitions over to the National Electoral Council. Nor has the Organization of American States or the Carter Center or the media seen the signatures. 

The editorial also said that Mr. Chavez "triggered an ultimately unsuccessful coup against himself by ordering police and the military to attack opposition demonstrations."  The Post used an unsubstantiated claim to justify a military coup against a democratically elected government. More than 50 people were killed, and the coup leaders dissolved the country's democratic institutions, including the Congress and the Supreme Court.

Finally, the editorial alleged that Mr. Chavez is dismantling Venezuela's democracy. Every change that our government has made since 1998 has been accomplished using peaceful and constitutional means. Hugo Chavez has twice been elected in voting internationally recognized as free and fair.

This is in sharp contrast to the opposition, which has staged a bloody coup attempt and several economically devastating oil strikes in hopes of unseating a democratically elected president.



Embassy of Venezuela



The Dec. 14 editorial about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was tainted by unfounded allegations concerning Cuban activity in the country and the death of peaceful protesters during last year's coup attempt.

Much has been made of Mr. Chavez importing more than 1,000 Cuban doctors -- as well as numerous teachers and sports trainers -- to work in Venezuela's most impoverished and crime-ridden areas. Much less, though, has been made of the allegations that they have been doing anything but what they are trained to do -- provide primary health care, offer technical support for basic literacy programs or organize community sports programs. The Post has yet to unearth the communist indoctrination the opposition media so often claim is the Cubans' real purpose.

The editorial also said that Mr. Chavez "triggered an ultimately unsuccessful coup against himself by ordering police and the military to attack opposition demonstrations." The coup has been shown to be a well-organized right-wing effort with questionable democratic credentials. Further, members of the metropolitan police -- under the command of the mayor of Caracas and prominent Chavez opponent Alfredo Pe�a -- did most of the killing.

Mr. Chavez should respect the will of the majority should it  choose to revoke his presidential mandate, just as the opposition should respect the will of Chavez supporters who choose to do the same to opposition lawmakers (government supporters gathered more than 2.6 million signatures, enough to call a referendum on 37 opposition lawmakers). This, though, does not justify The Post offering farfetched allegations and rumors as fact.

Martin Austermuhle

Center for Latin American Studies

Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service

Georgetown University