Democracy has new life in Venezuela. Despite Pres. Hugo Chavez's efforts to rig the election system in his favor, to muzzle opposition media and to turn the government into a chavista election machine, the opposition obtained about half of the vote. Unless Chavez manages to solve during the remaining two years of his presidential term those huge problems like crime, inflation and an economic malaise which he's failed at during his last 11 years in power, then it appears likely he'll lose his reelection - in a fair vote.
But, from my three years living in Caracas and observing the country since, it sure appears to me that in his heart Chavez does not believe in democracy. He certainly does want to be legitimized by democratic means, but to make sure he wins elections he's used authoritarian methods, such as shutting down opposition media, controlling the court system and employing public institutions to electioneer for him. And, just look at democratic credentials of the sorts of folks he buddies up with - the leaders of Cuba, Iran, Libya, Belarus....
I suspect that, in Chavez's mind, the opposition's success is not democracy but interference by the 'empire' - just as his friend and advisor Fidel Castro stated.
Venezuela's weakened democracy was strengthened by this Sunday's vote, but it's still a close bet whether or not it will survive.
It is certainly important to Colombia that its neighbors have stable democracies with democratic and rational leaders interested in improving the lot of their peoples, not amassing power and spouting obsolete ideology. The evidence is clear: Neighbors Brazil and Peru have healthy functioning democracies, and neither has talked about war against Colombia or threatened to start an arms race. Neither has harbored Colombian guerrillas or closed down its borders. Venezuela, and to a lesser degree Ecuador, (which at this very moment looks like its government may fall) has done all that and more.
Blog written by Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours