|Maduro is dwarfed by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.|
But it's a huge defeat relative to the double-digit victories racked up by ex-President Hugo Chavez, who died six weeks ago.
It's also a defeat compared to the ten-point margin which many polls predicted for Maduro.
It's also defeat when the Chavez sympathy vote is figured in. And it's a defeat when you consider that all of the government was converted into a Maduro election machine.
And it's a defeat in light of the many substantive charges of corruption.
The razor-thin victory of Maduro, Chavez's chosen heir, leaves Venezuela with a weak new president.
|1989 Caracazo rights in Caracas. Coming back?|
Assuming that public protests or a restless military do not oust Maduro, he'll be a president without manuevering room and facing huge challenges, in particular a disfunctional economy inherited from Chavez.
Venezuela has a soaring homicide rate and the highest inflation rate in the region. Stores lack basic foodstuffs. Corruption is rampant. Those are problems which a nation swimming in oil that's at $100 per barrel should be able to deal with - but Chavez's populist policies left Venezuela with huge deficits and expensive subsidies, such as almost-free gasoline. As a weak president with little charisma whose legitimacy is under question, Maduro will not risk generating public discontent by reducing those subsidies - until he's forced to. Once the deficits become overwhelming and the Russians and Chinese refuse more loans, the Venezuelan government will be forced to make huge economic corrections, and deadly riots like the 1989 Caracazo may repeat themselves.
Ironically, El Caracazo is often seen as the origin of Chavismo. Now, the populism-and-bust pattern carries a warning for chavismo.
Already, Maduro's vow to block an opposition protest march suggests that his strategy for holding onto power is to become more authoritarian - like Venezuelan allies Cuba, China, Belarus and Russia.
For Colombia, Venezuela's continued instability is bad news. But it's also a lesson about the great dangers of populism.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours