[News] Venezuelan ambassador critiques Times coverage

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 20 12:35:12 EST 2007

Blowback: Rule by decree is democratic
Venezuelan ambassador critiques Times coverage of Hugo Chavez's 
dynamic social changes.
By Bernardo Alvarez

February 17, 2007

In your recent editorial, "Venezuela's Theoretical Democracy", you
compare President Hugo Chavez to a dictator while simultaneously
acknowledging that major democratic hallmarks have been implemented
under his administration. As Venezuela's ambassador to the United
States, I have spent much of my time attempting to translate the
benchmarks of our democracy to Washington in the hopes that a
thoughtful dialogue between our two nations could be established, and
with time, even flourish. Editorials such as this one only serve to
confuse the public by admitting, on the one hand, that Venezuela is a
democracy, while, on the other hand, stating that our president,
democratically elected with 63% of the popular vote, is comparable to

President Chavez, as you acknowledge, is not the only Venezuelan
president to be granted the power to pass laws by decree, referred to
in Venezuela as the 'enabling law.' This constitutional power,
granted in both the 1961 and 1999 constitutions, was also granted in
1974 to President Carlos Andres Perez, in 1984 to President Jaime
Lusinchi, and to interim President Ramon Jose Velasquez in 1993.
European constitutions also include clauses for ruling by decree in
their constitutions. Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for
Western Hemisphere Affairs even acknowledges that, "It's something
valid under the constitution... At the end of the day, it's not a question
for the United States or for other countries, but for Venezuela."

President Chavez has this power for only 18 months and can pass laws
in key areas aimed at weeding out corruption, increasing government
efficiency, and bringing more equality to our poorest citizens. These
laws can be modified or rescinded by the National Assembly at any
time and the population has the guaranteed right under our
constitution to nullify any of these laws through a national

Unfortunately, your editorial reflects a misunderstanding that is
common place in Washington today. Instead of viewing the dynamic
social changes underway in Venezuela as authoritarian simply because
they do not fit into the neoliberal model of development touted by
the World Bank as the savior to all of our ills, I invite you to take
a more realistic approach when analyzing Venezuela. The alternative
economic and political model that we have embarked upon, and which is
supported by the overwhelming majority of the population, is
addressing for the first time in our history the disparity between
the rich and the poor and articulating an alternative that creates a
space for the social, economic, and political empowerment of those
who have been historically excluded.

This is not the mark of dictatorial rule but rather a new way of
envisioning popular participation and democracy. Rather than deciding
the terms of development for the poor, we are working alongside them
to jointly create public services, social programs, and public
institutions that best serve our collective needs.

Far from democracy being a "faint pulse" in Venezuela, it is thriving
and expanding to include not just a more vibrant political democracy
but also the economic democracy that has so long eluded our people.

In a similar sense, we have long sought a good relationship with the
American people. Venezuela remains the United States' second most
important trading partner in Latin America and has donated low cost
heating oil to poor communities in the US as part of our deep
commitment to addressing economic disparity around the world. By
misinforming your readers, you stand in the way of an honest and
constructive dialog between our two nations.

Bernardo Alvarez is the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States.

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