The Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, Dr. Bernardo Alvarez, will visit Chicago for a public presentation, March 28. The following is a recent letter Alvarez wrote to the U.S. press.

The United States was founded upon two premises: that all men are created equal, and that everyone will have the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness. As a beacon of hope throughout the rest of the Americas, it should come as no surprise that the same premises form the basis of other constitutions across the Western Hemisphere – including Venezuela’s.

The United States ratified its Constitution 214 years ago. Venezuela ratified hers 37 months ago.

The drafting and passage of Venezuela’s constitution marked a profound and historic breakthrough for the rights and the preservation of the dignities of our people, particularly our poor, women and elderly. Passed in December 1999, our constitution banned discrimination, guaranteed rights to – and recognized the historic heritage of – our indigenous population, created the government’s obligation to make a quality education available to every citizen, improved the social security pension system for senior citizens and guaranteed everyone the right to housing and health care.

Our constitution also guaranteed the direct political participation of citizens who had been left out of the process of choosing their leaders. It also created the ultimate check-and-balance system: the direct-recall referendum of all elected politicians. I believe America’s Founding Fathers would be proud of our constitution.

Needless to say, such broad and sweeping reform has not come without dissension. Unsurprisingly, and again borrowing from the writings of some of America’s Founding Fathers, the Venezuelan constitution protects the free speech rights of every citizen – including those calling for the president to stand down. (By the way, one of the principle “framers” of our constitution, and the one most credited with bringing it to a vote, is President Hugo Chavez.)

In a nation that has been ruled and used by a handful of political and economic groups that have become fabulously wealthy, the passage of the constitution in Venezuela was only possible by the agreement of the overwhelming majority of Venezuela’s population.

The people of Venezuela made these choices as they are made in the United States – at the ballot box, in free and open elections. Similar reforms have been and are about to be made across South and Central America.

Some critics … might not approve of the short-term results of some of these choices, but they cannot honestly state that what has occurred in Venezuela was unwelcome, unfair or undemocratic.

Mr. Chavez and the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans take the premise and the promise made by our constitution very seriously. We believe in free speech, democracy, the rule of law and an open, market-based economy developed in the context of social justice. We believe in the value and dignity of all of our citizens. And, despite being distracted by a coup last April – as well as the attempt of a small group of industrialists, supported by each of the four private broadcast TV stations, to cause the partial paralysis of some sectors of our economy – Venezuela and all constitutionally based democracies should be proud of the progress we have made in such a short period of time.

The U.S. media, standing tall upon the shoulders of great Americans who have fought for freedom, must be prepared to accept what the newly enfranchised choose to do with their freedom … At a time in history when the values of peace, freedom and democracy are especially dear, the recent choices made by the people of Venezuela should be respected and encouraged.

The forum will be at:

The Chicago Temple

77 W. Washington St.

Chicago, IL 60602

Friday, March 28, 7 pm