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Letter To the Editor, N.Y. Times--Chavez and Hitler

To the Editor:

The article "Chavez Ousts U.S. Diplomat on Spying Charge" (Feb. 3 by Juan Forero) quotes Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld comparing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Adolf Hitler. Rumsfeld says Chavez is "a person who was elected legally just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others."

It should be pointed out that in the last democratic parliamentary election in Weimer Germany on November 6, 1932. Hitler's Nazis won 33.1% of the vote, which actually represented a loss of 2 million votes for the Nazis from the previous election and less than that of the Socialists and Communists combined. A few months and failed cabinets later on January 30, 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor with the support of the non-Nazi conservative parties. A Nazi reign of terror soon stepped up using the pretext of the Reichstag fire that the Nazis themselves started and blamed on the Communists. By March, 1933 Hitler was given dictatorial powers by the liberal and conservative parties and proceeded systematically to abolish the parliament, pulverize the trade unions, and eliminate all democratic rights, press freedom, and political parties, including the ones that had enabled his dictatorship. Concentration camps, mass torture, and anti-Jewish "laws" soon followed.

Hugo Chavez, on the other hand, was first elected President on December 6, 1998 with 56.2% of the vote. Following a 71% favorable vote for a new Constitution promoted by Chavez, there were new elections for all public offices. In July 2000 Chavez was re-elected President with 59% of the vote. In August 2004 Chavez defeated a recall referendum, allowed under the new Constitution, by nearly 60%.

The major rupture in democratic continuity under Chavez was the aborted military coup of April 2002 which, until it collapsed under the pressure of mass pro-Chavez demonstrations, was backed by the Washington Administration in which Mr. Rumsfeld is a top player. In its brief 24-hour life, the coup government of Pedro Carmona did issue decrees abolishing the Venezuelan Constitution and elected legislature.

Mr. Rumsfeld's pathetic employment of the "Hitler metaphor" more than anything tells us how frustrated and desperate the Bush Administration is with the utter failure of its consistent attempts to isolate the popular Chavez, especially among the governments and public opinion of Latin America.

Isaac Nahem
New York, NY 10044
September 9, 2005


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