By Jorge Castañeda | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Dec 7, 2007 | Updated: 4:23 p.m. ET Dec 7, 2007
Most of Latin America's leaders breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week, after Venezuelan voters rejected President Hugo Chávez's constitutional amendment referendum. In private they were undoubtedly relieved that Chávez lost, and in public they expressed delight that he accepted defeat and did not steal the election. But by midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d'état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world. So after this purportedly narrow loss Chávez did not even request a recount, and nearly every Latin American colleague of Chávez's congratulated him for his "democratic" behavior. Why did these leaders not speak out? Surely they knew of Chávez's machinations, and with the exception of Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Bolivia's Evo Morales and, to a large extent, the Argentine Kirchner duo, none of the region's heads of state sympathizes with the Venezuelan revolutionary.
The reason for the silence: these leaders know Chávez can count on a fifth column in nearly every country in the region.
And this last point, is key, in my humble opinion.