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Venezuelans Test Democracy

After enormous difficulties, uncertainties, and constant attempts to derail the process, Venezuelans will vote on August 15th to decide whether President Hugo Chávez should be recalled and new presidential elections held. This plebiscite marks the latest stage in a bitter campaign to unseat a president who has already survived a coup, a two-month general strike, and a previous attempt to force a vote on his leadership.

Chávez himself appears to have tacitly, if reluctantly, accepted that the recall vote will be held this August. So is he on the way out? Not necessarily. But, no matter what happens, the battle between Chávez and the opposition has already tested - and will continue to test - the strength of Venezuela's democracy.

Independent supervision of the referendum must be agreed upon soon. The Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center, named for former US President Jimmy Carter, have been active in facilitating the process. Together with a group of friendly countries, the OAS and the Carter Center helped convince Chávez of the inevitability of a recall vote.

It is to be hoped that similar external cooperation can ensure that the mid-August poll is conducted fairly, so that the results reflect the will of Venezuelan voters. Although Chávez has railed against outside interference in the referendum, he surely understands that its legitimacy needs to be guaranteed in the eyes of a watchful foreign press and other international observers.