1 Dec 2008

President Chávez is enhancing democracy, not undermining it

This was from CIF, Samuel is a very impressive guy.

President Chávez is enhancing democracy, not undermining it
There have been 13 sets of elections while he has led Venezuela. And the media is free, says Samuel Moncada

Your leader column, published on the eve of Venezuela's latest elections, gave the false impression that President Hugo Chávez has been undermining democracy with an "autocratic government" and implies that he no longer "uphold[s] a constitution that guaranteed basic rights" (Chavismo loses its charisma, November 22).

Around 11 million Venezuelans cast their ballots to elect 22 state governors and hundreds of mayors and municipal representatives, in a record 65% turnout for such elections. A clear majority backed the candidates of President Chávez's United Socialist party, which won 17 of the 22 state governor posts. The latest figures show that it also won the popular vote, with around 5.4m votes against the 4.2m obtained by the main opposition candidates. Chávez supporters also won 80% of mayoralties, including the seat of the federal government, and 18 out of 24 state capital cities.

Even though Chávez has a strong democratic record and repeatedly said ahead of the vote that he would respect the electoral outcome, and has done so, you claimed that he threatened to "send tanks on to the streets of those states that end up in the hands of opponents". In stating this, you ignored Chávez's immediate acceptance of his narrow defeat in last year's constitutional referendum. By contrast, the opposition attempted a military coup against Chávez in April 2002.

The basic right of people to participate in Venezuela's political process has been strengthened since the Chávez government was first elected nearly a decade ago. Sunday's vote was the 13th set of elections since Hugo Chávez became president. Extensive voter registration campaigns have seen a 64% increase in the number on electoral rolls and thousands of new voting stations established. Half of all candidates at Sunday's elections were women, up from only 18% in 2004, thanks to new legislation.

Far from Chávez "cowing the media, trade unions and civil society", civil rights are at the heart of the government. The media in Venezuela is 85% privately owned and, as anyone who has been there knows, virulently attacks the government on a daily basis. Trade union rights are guaranteed constitutionally and the International Labour Organisation this year rejected claims that Venezuela violates union freedoms.

You cite policy areas where you claim the Chávez government has failed. Venezuela indeed has many problems to resolve after decades of opposition policies left the country without basic infrastructure and a majority in desperate poverty. But by not giving a similar focus to the enormous social advances that the Chávez government has overseen, you present an imbalanced picture.

Such advances include illiteracy being eradicated, extreme poverty being halved, and two million people being lifted out of poverty. Child malnutrition has dropped from over 20% in 1998 to 4% today. The minimum wage is now the highest in Latin America. That is why President Chávez's government continues to command majority support. Sunday's election results prove that your editorial was right in two respects: Venezuela has a "vibrant democracy"; and the achievements of Chávez's government "command genuine support".

• Samuel Moncada is Venezuela's ambassador to the UK ambassador@venezlon.co.uk

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