December 03, 2007
The Bush administration on Monday hailed as a victory for democracy the rare electoral defeat handed to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, its most vociferous foe in Latin America.
Chávez narrowly lost a referendum on constitutional reforms that would have allowed him to seek unlimited reelection and press ahead with his socialist revolution. The defeat reinvigorated a Venezuelan opposition humbled by 11 straight election defeats.
The Bush administration kept a low profile during the campaign, wary of transforming an event into a U.S.-Venezuela confrontation. Chávez regularly casts his opponents, both in Venezuela and abroad, as U.S. stooges.
''We congratulate the people of Venezuela on their vote and their continued desire to live in freedom and democracy,'' Gordon Johndroe, a White House National Security Council spokesman, said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald.
The State Department also was pleased.
''We felt that this referendum would make Chavez president for life, and that's not ever a welcome development,'' U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Singapore, according to the Associated Press. ``In a country that wants to be a democracy, the people spoke, and the people spoke for democracy and against unlimited power.''
Florida Republican Rep. Connie Mack, an outspoken congressional opponent of Chávez, shot off a statement headlined ``Freedom wins!''
''The people of Venezuela have spoken,'' he said. ``They want to live in freedom. They have rejected Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution. They despise his vicious assaults on freedom and free markets, and they fear his cozy relationships and friendships with the likes of the Iranian Mullahs.''
But Mack warned that Chávez still has five years in office, ``a long window for him to continue to make mischief in Venezuela and around the world.''
Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, believed the margin of victory was broader in favor of the 'no' vote, but that Chávez had no choice but to admit defeat.
''It will be a bitter pill and he will be slashing in every direction and will provoke another crisis,'' said Noriega, who often engaged in verbal duels with Chávez until leaving office in 2005.
''If he overreaches again or soon, he will be risking everything, and he knows it,'' Noriega said.