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Chavez Voters Have Spoken

August 21, 2004

By refusing to accept defeat, the Venezuelan opposition keeps digging its own grave even deeper. It must instead recover its compass, recognize the victory of President Hugo Chavez in Sunday's recall referendum and try to get ready for the next round.

To say that the process was marred by a massive electronic fraud, as the opposition has done, is irresponsible, considering there is no proof to back up the assertions.

Further harming the group's own case is that the opposition took part in a preelection audit of voting machines after tamper-proof software was installed, and agreed to accept the outcome of the vote. It then turned around and refused to abide by the verdict of international observers such as the Carter Center and the Organization of American States when the results were not to its liking. Finally, it declined to participate in an audit to resolve the dispute, after demanding it be carried out.

The opposition -- more than 40% of Venezuelan voters opted to oust Chavez -- is right when it points out that the president is a lousy administrator whose erratic policies and hateful speeches have harmed the country's economy. Judging by some of Chavez's efforts to intimidate the private sector, the media, unions and the Catholic Church, one can certainly question his democratic credentials.

Despite it all, it is undeniable that Chavez won the presidential election in 1998 and 2000, and has just been ratified as president in a democratic, though probably not flawless, process. Further, by now the official results of the referendum have been recognized by the heads of state of several Latin American countries, including Alvaro Uribe from neighboring Colombia, who has had serious differences with the loquacious Venezuelan populist.

Back in 2002, the Bush administration shamefully, albeit briefly, lent support to the leaders of a coup against Chavez. This time, let's try working with him.

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