Chavez's victory


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gained re-election this week. That outcome disappointed the U.S. government, which hasn't achieved a working relationship with Mr. Chavez during his 14 years in power.

Mr. Chavez, 58, won his fourth term by nearly 10 percentage points over his opponent, Henrique Capriles, 40, a former state governor. The election appears to have been relatively fair, and Mr. Capriles conceded defeat.

If Mr. Chavez continues to survive the cancer he has been fighting, he will serve another six years, through 2018. If he dies or leaves office during the first four years of his term, there will be new elections. If he were to leave during the last two years, under the Venezuelan constitution, the vice president would succeed him.

But Mr. Chavez has not named a vice president. He needs to do so.

Mr. Chavez was re-elected largely on the strength of his vigorous socialism. He has redistributed much of his country's considerable oil wealth to many of its poor citizens through housing, health care, education, and other social services.

Mr. Chavez has achieved a position of some leadership among Latin American countries; a strain of thought opposes what it considers to be a U.S. tendency toward trying to impose hegemony in the region. Venezeula provides cheap oil to Cuba — a policy bound to get under the skin of some American officials.

Venezuela's problems under Mr. Chavez include rampant inflation, inefficient oil production, and a high crime rate. His heavy-handed rule has politicized governance at all levels.

After a failed attempt to oust Mr. Chavez through premature support of a coup d'etat in 2002, the United States lapsed into an approach that parallels its policy toward Cuba: Wait for its leaders to die and hope for the best.

The United States cannot ignore Mr. Chavez, given its position as America's fourth largest foreign oil supplier and its leadership role in Latin America. Neither of those elements, however, has been enough to spur harmonious relations with Venezuela during the administrations of three U.S. presidents.