Commentary: Venezuela finds spirit of democracy

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

Venezuela's democracy advocates are proving to be tougher than President Hugo Chavez expected. Despite everything Mr. Chavez has done to crush the spirit of electoral democracy in Venezuela, millions defied him at the polls on Sunday to win races in several key states and cities. The results should give heart to Venezuelans who want to keep their country from becoming a Castro-style socialist regime.

Last December, voters rejected Mr. Chavez's plan to alter the constitution to give himself vastly increased powers, a stunning reversal reflecting growing alarm over the president's bid to become a virtual dictator. This time, opponents captured the Caracas city hall and the governorships of the three most populous states. Just as important, the pro-Chavez candidate lost the Caracas suburb of Sucre, home of the sprawling slum of Petare, destroying the myth of Mr. Chavez's invincibility in the barrio and further eroding his credibility as a champion of the poor.

Mr. Chavez, to be sure, remains popular. His candidates won about 55 percent of the popular vote in all gubernatorial races and 17 of the 22 contested governorships. But the opposition won five governorships, whereas in 2004 Chavez allies won all but two of the governor's races and a majority of local offices while opponents urged a boycott.

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