Chavez's re-re-reelection victory in Venezuela is no surprise.
Chavez is undoubtedly popular, even after 14 years in power. But it's still an open question whether he would have won reelection yet again if not for his ability to convert the whole mechanism of government into a Chavez campaign machine.
I lived in Venezuela during several years of Chavez's presidency, and I left convinced that he wasn't doing much that was constructive in the long term for his country. Another six years of Chavez, which would total 20 years of Chavez presidency, will be disastrous for Venezuela's economy and democratic institutions. Chavez already dominates the judiciary, bureaucracy and legislature. The independent media has been severely weakened. And the state has expanded its control over more and more of the economy. All of these damaging trends will likely only increase.
But Chavez may very well not complete this latest six-year term, since there are persistent questions about his health. And if Chavez dies or is unable to rule, no clear succesor exists to govern the country.
In the meantime, however, Chavez's victory means continuity, if not perhaps stability, in Colombian-Venezuelan relations. It also improves prospects for Colombia's negotiations now just beginning with the FARC guerrillas, where Chavez can be a key mediator.
But all of this depends on Chavez's health holding up, and that's the great unknown.
Incidentally, Chavez idolizes revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar, who famously said this:
"...nothing is so dangerous as allowing the same person to remain in power a long time. The people become accustomed to obeying him, and he becomes accustomed to commanding them, from which comes usurpation and tyranny."
"The perpetuation of authority in the same individual has frequently been the end of democratic governments."
Chavez loves to quote Bolívar, but I've never heard him repeat those lines, for some reason.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours