Venezuela Says Clinton’s Remarks Reflect “Profound Lack of Knowledge of Our Reality”

The Venezuelan
Foreign Relations Ministry said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's
remarks on Venezuelan democracy 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.

By James Suggett

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (center), Leopoldo Castillo (left), and Alberto Ravell (Globovision)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (center), Leopoldo Castillo (left), and Alberto Ravell (Globovision)
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Mérida, July 9th 2009
(Venezuelanalysis.com) -- 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."