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No matter how aggressive the press gets in challenging Bush on issues where it is now acceptable, i would never have expected them to challenge the official government line that Chavez is anything other than a dictator; a Castro-lite.

QUESTION: Okay. The elections in Venezuela, do you have a reaction to those, please? The overwhelming sweep by Mr. Chavez's party.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. I'd note that the Organization of American States and European Union both have observer missions that were there for these elections. They have yet to make their reports or make their statements, so I'd hold off on any sort of final assessment until conferring with them.

At this point, just to make a couple of remarks. First of all, the abstention rate was very high. Second of all, you know, given that rate of abstention, plus expressions of concerns by prominent Venezuelans, we see -- we would see that this reflects a broad lack of confidence in the impartiality and transparency of the electoral process, which is worth noting. And we would certainly look to Venezuela to address the issues of transparency and impartiality for the benefit of Venezuelan democracy.

QUESTION: Isn't that a bit of a reach? Fifty percent of the people in this country don't vote. You just don't like Venezuela very much.

MR. ERELI: I think the abstention -- there are about 25 percent participated in this.

QUESTION: Well, we don't have a terrific turn out here in this country. You're not going to congratulate the winners or anything like that?

MR. ERELI: Well, again as I said, let's wait to see what the observer missions have to say.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you think President Chavez is making any PR progress in this country with the announcement expected tomorrow that now some New York neighborhoods will be taking his discounted heating oil?

MR. ERELI: I'm not in the PR business.

QUESTION: I asked you --

QUESTION: Oh, yes, you are. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

By fnord12 | December 7, 2005, 12:59 PM | Liberal Outrage