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Latin America's leaders say Chavez’s victory strengthens democracy in the region

In a joint statement, 10 Latin American presidents congratulated Chavez for his “clean and peaceful democratic victory”.
The US Department of State backed former US President Jimmy Carter on the integrity of the electoral process, but the opposition keeps on crying foul on fraud.

The leaders of 10 Latin American countries, including Mexico’s, Brazil’s and Argentina’s presidents, congratulated on Wednesday their Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez for his “clean and peaceful democratic victory” in Sunday’s referendum on his mandate. The US State Department acknowledged the results, as backed foreign watchers, as former US President Jimmy Carter and Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States on the integrity of the electoral process.

“We have no reason to doubt neither the integrity of the electoral process nor the accuracy of the referendum results,” Carter had asserted at a news conference on Monday. However, in a desperate move, the self proclaimed “democratic opposition” denounced a “giant fraud” but failed in providing with evidence of irregularities during the voting.

Anyway, in order to dispel allegations of vote-rigging, foreign watchers ordered a partial audit to the process only to find opposition’s refusal to participate. The contradictory behaviour of Chavez’s foes does not help to prevent more upheaval in a politically divided country, where the poor majority supports the current president as shown in the appalling results of the referendum.

Carter made clear that the opposition won’t have a leg to stand on if they keep crying foul after the audit, which he said should be completed by Thursday. “It should be sufficient to address the remaining concerns that have been expressed by the opposition,” Carter said at the nationally broadcast news conference.

It was expected for Wednesday that witnesses and local election officials check a random sampling of results from 150 voting stations to dispel any doubt on the cleanness of the process. According to sources in the Capital, Caracas, the opposition is waging to call on a new referendum, which would, in fact, lack of constitutional value to oust Chavez.

Strengthened by his victory, Chavez moderated his hard-line rhetoric against “imperialism”, personalized in the figure of the US President George W. Bush and the internal opposition. In an aired speech on Monday, the Venezuelan leader congratulated to event those who voted against him, for the democratic example of the Venezuelan people.

Also, Chavez promised to keep on improving oil pumping levels to bring stability to the crude market and struggle hard for a multilateral world and to reduce poverty.

Chavez’s clean victory dispelled concerns among some critics that he intends to install a Cuban-style dictatorship, expressed even though elections and the referendum held since he was swept to power in a 1998 have been clear and fair.

Hernan Etchaleco