Veni, Vidi, Venezuela

FIGHTING tyranny with tyranny clearly didn't work in oil-giant Venezuela last week. And now coup-plotting military officers and the reinstalled president, Hugo Chavez, need to show Latin America that their tyrannical tactics are at an end.

President Chavez – a former Army coup-meister himself, who was elected three years ago – has abused his popular mandate with heavy-handed measures based on a Constitution largely rewritten by himself and his supporters. He has sometimes talked of remaining president past the year 2020. And his economic promises to the poor are in shreds, while his diplomatic flirtation with leftist world dictators only hints at his inclinations to gain more power.

But Latin America has moved beyond coups, and this pivotal nation in a hemisphere of democracies has the means to remove Mr. Chavez by constitutional and especially nonviolent means.

His two-day removal from office began when he tried to stack the board of the state-owned oil company in his favor. The company's executives revolted, threatening a cutoff of oil. That was a catalyst for pent-up opposition to Chavez. Business groups and labor unions joined in a giant protest, perhaps knowing that portions of the military were on their side. When gunshots were fired during a march on the presidential palace last Thursday, killing more than a dozen, military leaders forced Chavez to step aside. But then international pressure and renewed domestic support for Chavez forced the generals to let him take office again.

The Bush administration all but welcomed the coup, tarnishing the US role as a champion of democracy. It, too, has a reason to repent.

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