|All Vote Together, in Venezuela's National Assembly|
With the seating of a new Venezuelan National Assembly, with only a slim Chavez majority, imminent, Chavez has found a way to be rid of that nuisance while retaining democratic appearances - made it irrelevent.
In the past days, the outgoing parliament has given Chavez power to rule by decree for 18 months, further restricted the media, including the internet, neutered the university's political power and, most dramatically, slashed the frequency in which the new Assembly will meet. To minimize annoyance from any local anti-Chavez politicians, the government has created pro-Chavez 'communes', and transferred much of the budget to them.
Is Venezuela still a democracy? Well...it does hold elections - but then so do Cuba, Iran, Belarus and lots of other dicatorships, which also happen to be Venezuelan allies.
Why should Colombia be concerned? Historically, authoritarian governments are much more inclined to launch military attacks, and Chavez constantly seeks external demons to blame domestic problems on. More authoritarianism in Venezuela also means less oversight from the media or opposition political parties - and so more opportunity for Chavez to support Colombia's guerrilla groups, which are considered terrorists by Colombia's and many other governments.
It's quite sad, since Venezuela had South America's longest tradition of democratic government. But those governments were corrupt and did not solve the country's poverty, despite its great petroleum wealth and other resources.
It will be sad watching Venezuela's likely accelerating slide into a dictatorship resembling Cuba's.
However, as in North Korea, Belarus, Cuba and Zimbabwe, the rest of the world will do (and can do) little to rescue democracy. In any case, the U.S., which did so much to prop up authoritarian right-wing governments when they served its interests, will also tolerate left-wing authoritarianism when the alternative would mean higher gasoline prices.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours