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Venezuela Says Clinton's Remarks Reflect "Profound Lack of Knowledge of Our Reality"

By James Suggett
July 9th 2009 -

In an official statement on Wednesday, the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks on Venezuelan democracy during an interview with the opposition television station Globovision constituted a throwback to past U.S. policy and put into question the sincerity of the Obama administration as the two countries renew their shaky diplomatic relations.

"In a moment in which efforts are being made to improve the relationship with the United States government, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeats the old practice of giving recipes and emitting evaluations of Venezuelan democracy," stated the Ministry.

"The insinuations of the Secretary of State reflect a profound lack of knowledge of our reality," the Ministry's statement continued. "It is difficult to believe in the sincerity of [the U.S.'s] intention of recomposing bilateral relations."

In Washington on Tuesday, Clinton met with two prominent Venezuelan opposition leaders, Alberto Ravell, the owner of the ardently oppositionist television station Globovision, and Leopoldo Castillo, the host of a talk show on Globovision and former Venezuelan ambassador to El Salvador. Castillo has been accused of assisting U.S.-backed death squads in El Salvador during the 1980s.

In an interview that was later broadcast on national television in Venezuela, Castillo asked Clinton what the official U.S. position would be "if the Venezuelan government permanently shut down an independent media." Clinton responded, "Part of what we hope to see over the next months in Venezuela is a recognition that you can be a very strong leader and have very strong opinions without trying to take on too much power and trying to silence all your critics."

In recent years, the government of President Hugo Chavez has sanctioned several private media outlets for breaking laws on social responsibility in the media. In 2007, the government did not renew the expired broadcasting license of a prominent opposition-aligned channel, RCTV, which had participated in a two-day coup d'etat led by elite business and military leaders against Chavez in 2002. Globovision and the U.S. government also backed the coup and immediately recognized the coup government.

Also, Castillo's talk show, "Hello, Citizen," has come under scrutiny for its racist content and for declarations made by a guest on the show that was interpreted as an incitement to assassinate President Chavez.

Also among the U.S.'s "concerns" with regard to Venezuela, according to Clinton, is "the legal order for doing business in Venezuela. We think that Venezuela like many countries can benefit as we do in our country from foreign investment."

"We would like very much to see leaders being effective in helping to create greater economic opportunity for poor people, but we think there are ways that that can work that are not anti-democratic," Clinton explained.

Since President Hugo Chavez's re-election to a second presidential term in 2006, his administration has nationalized or purchased the majority share in several strategic industries including oil, cement, electricity, telecommunications, and the country's largest steel plant, and sanctioned private companies that hoarded food, evaded price controls, and engaged in other illegal behavior.

Clinton also criticized Venezuela for having supported Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following Iran's controversial elections that sparked protests and accusations of fraud last month. "It is not a very smart position to align oneself with a regime that is being rejected by so many of its own people," Clinton said.

Finally, Clinton criticized the lifting of term limits on elected offices in Venezuela, which allows public officials to be candidates for re-election in regular, competitive elections as many times as the people wish to elect them. Term limits were abolished in a national referendum in February in which more than 70% of registered voters participated and 54.9% of voters approved the measure.

"As a general principle, I agree that anybody who stays in power for too long, even if they are initially elected in a free and democratic election, runs the risk of taking on too much power. That is not good for a democracy," Clinton told Castillo.

The U.S. and Venezuela restored their respective ambassadors two weeks ago. The ambassadors had been removed last September. Both Chavez and U.S. President Barack Obama have pledged to promote diplomatic engagement between the two countries, which has helped to thaw the bilateral relationship.

On Wednesday, Clinton said the U.S. is "trying to lower the temperature" with Venezuela, and will engage "with its eyes open," in case Venezuela is found "raising questions about the commitment to democracy." She said democracy "has worked pretty well for us for a very long time, so I would hope that it could be viewed as a good idea for others as well."



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