Jackson Diehl's Aug. 2 op-ed account of the Venezuelan presidential referendum ["A Missile From the South"] aptly represented the shrill passions of the anti-democratic opponents of President Hugo Chavez.

The referendum Sunday should be understood as a vote on whether Venezuelans want to go backward or go forward. In the past, our oil wealth benefited a tiny number of well-connected individuals. Today it is being invested in ways that benefit everyone.

Venezuela's state-owned oil company recently increased its investment in health care, education, job training and other programs from $40 million to more than $2 billion.

If the Venezuelan opposition has its way, those programs will be eliminated.

Mr. Chavez has been elected president twice by large majorities in multiparty elections. Both elections were judged free and fair by the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. Our constitutional government has survived a military coup in 2002 and an illegal, management-led work stoppage at our state oil company last year.

What is most infuriating to Mr. Chavez's anti-democratic opponents -- and their promoters in the United States -- is that opposition and government polls alike show Mr. Chavez well positioned to win the referendum.

BERNARDO ALVAREZ

Ambassador

Embassy of Venezuela

Washington

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Jackson Diehl implies that a victory by Hugo Chavez in the referendum Sunday can only be the result of fraud. Given the litany of bad news for Venezuelans that Mr. Diehl blames on Mr. Chavez, it may come as a surprise to learn that, according to several recent polls, most Venezuelan voters seem to support Mr. Chavez. A referendum victory for the opposition is anything but a foregone conclusion. The proper role of the U.S. government is to assist observers in conducting rigorous, impartial scrutiny of the process.

The integrity of the process, after all, is what electoral democracy is supposed to be about, regardless of whether Washington is happy with the election's outcome.

JOHN M. WALSH

Senior Associate

Andes and Drug Policy

Washington Office on Latin America

Washington