Chavez's victory in Venezuela garners international support
VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press Writer
Monday, August 16, 2004
(08-16) 18:15 PDT (AP) --
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HAVANA (AP) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won international approval from supporters and detractors alike Monday on his decisive referendum victory over opponents trying to oust him.
Cuba's communist government and Spain's left-leaning parties said the triumph confirmed the legitimacy of Chavez's government, arguing that it could jump start leftist movements across the region.
Though Chavez foes inside Venezuela quickly claimed fraud after Sunday's vote, his adversaries elsewhere withheld judgment.
The United States, a frequent critic of Chavez's leftist politics, said the fraud allegations should be investigated but stressed its support for a spirit of reconciliation with Venezuela.
"The important thing about this process is that it helps achieve a peaceful, democratic, constitutional solution to Venezuela's ongoing political crisis," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
With the victory, which was endorsed by international monitors, Chavez converted one of the biggest challenges of his presidency into an even broader mandate to carry on his "revolution for the poor."
Chavez is seen as a hero by Venezuela's majority poor, despite an economic recession and 15 percent unemployment in the oil-rich nation of 24 million. Critics, particularly among the wealthy and business sector, accuse him of fueling class tensions and authoritarian tendencies.
Cuba's Communist Party daily Granma devoted most of its front page to the results, topped by a bold red headline: "Chavez's resounding victory."
Cuban President Fidel Castro, a close ally of Chavez, has sent thousands of doctors, dentists and nurses to work in Venezuela's marginalized neighborhoods -- a move observers say helped increased Chavez's support among the country's majority poor.
"I think the presence of Cuban doctors certainly played a very important role," allowing some poor Venezuelans to receive medical attention for the first time in their lives, said Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
Birns predicted that Chavez will now move to "open the door to more events in which Cuba will play an increasingly important role" -- perhaps even membership in the Mercosur trade bloc of other South American countries.
Latin American leaders in the Dominican Republic for the inauguration of President Leonel Fernandez also congratulated Chavez.
Colombia's conservative President Alvaro Uribe called the vote "a beautiful lesson in democracy," while Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's Worker's Party said "Venezuela's democratic process strengthens South America's democratic integration."
Chavez said he had received personal phone calls from Silva, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and leaders from China, Russia and several Arabic countries.
Reaction was mixed in other countries.
The victory was welcomed by El Salvador's Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a former leftist rebel group turned political party, but the country's president, Tony Saca, a conservative U.S. ally, had no immediate response.
In Nicaragua, national police reinforced security at the Venezuelan Embassy and around Ambassador Miguel Gomez's residence Monday after Gomez received death threats during the balloting.
In Spain, home to the largest Venezuelan expatriate population after the United States, the ruling Socialists and the United Left coalition both congratulated Chavez.
The referendum "brings an end to a period of political uncertainty and opens the way for the recuperation of economic and political stability," the Spanish Socialist party's Trinidad Jimenez said.
United Left leader Gaspar Llamazares encouraged Chavez "to continue with the social advances" begun and said the victory should serve "as an example for the entire Left."
Birns agreed Chavez's victory could resound across the globe.
"This becomes a very useful model to the rest of the world that elections can be used to resolve even the most bitter of divides," he said.
Diego Garcia Sayan, a member of the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, painted a less rosy picture in an interview with local radio in his native Peru.
"The referendum doesn't do anything more than reflect a country divided in two," said Garcia Sayan, who was foreign minister under Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo. "For that reason the future of Venezuela will depend on what is done starting today."