Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Venezuela: Does the World want our Brand of Democracy Anymore?

On Sunday, Venezuelans voted 54 to 45 percent in favor of lifting term limits for their country's politicians, including president Hugo Chavez. Woe the tide of dictatorships that can sweep over Latin America, which has always teetered on the brink of totalitarianism. As Venezuela reshapes its constitution to accommodate a dictator, one has to wonder: does the world want a U.S. and western European brand of democracy anymore?

It's shocking and saddening that a once vibrant and cosmopolitan country like Venezuela is shrinking into the desperate seclusion of countries like Cuba and Iran. If a U.S. model of democracy is ever an option for a people, why wouldn't anyone opt for that? Ask the people of Vietnam or Iraq for an answer - clearly, not everyone thinks our way is the best way to govern.

Does Venezuela, or the world, deserve an unencumbered Hugo Chavez grandstanding for time indefinite? As the world tries to move forward, past a global economic crisis and the threat of nuclear armament by rogue regimes, can we tolerate the presence of the swashbuckling Hugo Chavez, preening for media attention and sabotaging every attempt at fairness and democracy on the world stage?

The answer, of course, is no. However, the world is sending us a clear message: Our way doesn't work for everyone.

And that's a challenge the Obama administration seems ready to take on. We can't compromise our values and we can't applaud the agendas of Chavez, Castro and other dictators, but we can certainly promote dialogue with the hope of winning hearts and minds, and limiting the impact individuals like Chavez have on the rest of the world.

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