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Clouded view of Venezuela

February 21, 2009

Re "Hugo Chavez's staying power," editorial, Feb.17

The Times' editorial made the encouraging suggestion that Venezuela and the United States have "many issues of mutual interest and importance" -- too many, in fact, to remain at odds diplomatically.

The editorial's claim that Venezuela is moving toward dictatorship after a national referendum, however, sadly negates that attempt at greater understanding.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment to end term limits for elected officials in a process that was free and fair and, according to reports quoting State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid, "fully consistent with democratic practice."

Duguid also has avoided weighing in on the result of the referendum, deeming it "a matter of the Venezuelan people," while reports have said that State Department spokesman Noel Clay praised the election's "civic spirit." It is ironic that The Times' call for reengagement with Venezuela comes not as a result of respect for this democratic spirit but rather of the fallacious claim that Chavez has become an "autocrat."

George Ciccariello-

Maher

Oakland

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The Times' editorial claims that "Venezuela just took a democratic step closer to dictatorship." The truth is the opposite. Venezuelans will be able to reelect their president, governors and mayors if they choose, just as Californians are able to reelect Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer without limit.

You forgot to mention that Chavez was subject to a recall referendum in 2004, a process that did not previously exist in Venezuela but that he proposed be added to the constitution. He won this referendum with nearly 60% of the vote. In 2010, if enough voters sign on, he can be subjected to another recall election.

I wish America's democracy were similar to Venezuela's. That way we would have had the chance to get rid of George Bush two years ago.

Ricardo Moreno

Pasadena

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