To use a Spanish-language expression, Hugo Chavez president of Venezuela is "as cool as a head of lettuce." After his ugly power grab was rebuffed by voters over the weekend, he appeared in public to dispense sweetness and light. He congratulated those who voted against his proposal a proposal that would open the door for him to become president for life. And he asked for calm. He hinted he could have pushed the constitutional changes through but didn't want an ugly victory.
He was, in effect, the gracious loser tossing rose petals in the path of the victors. He sounded like Winston Churchill.
Don't bet on it.
That attitude could be construed as easy cynicism, if it weren't for the president's surly track record. He has comported himself in the past like the classic South American tough a strongman in disguise. He has belittled the president of the United States at official events on American soil and has spouted threats toward anyone in his country who opposes socialism. In short, despite his kind concession, now is not the time to believe Chavez has finally found the wonder of Jeffersonian democracy. Like MacArthur in a tin uniform, he'll be back. He's not going away. And he'll bring more policies that turn Venezuela into a bread-line nation.
Still, there is some relief in the fact Chavez has decided the best ploy is a peaceful ploy. Given his mercurial history, no one would have been surprised if he had not only demanded a recount of his 51 percent to 49 percent loss but if he'd blockaded the downtown streets much the way his friend Andres Manuel Obregon did in Mexico after his mayoral defeat there. With Castro on the decline, Chavez has positioned himself as the future leader of leftist Latin America. He couldn't afford to poison the waters early and have videos of repression streaming around the world. He's a patient old fox.
For the brave Venezolanos who went to the polls to oppose him, we're gratified that his strategy entails a time of concession. Those who pulled the levers to keep him from a perpetual presidency are the real heroes today. And they deserve to have the support and continued watchful eye of all nations that trade in freedom of the press, speech and enterprise.