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Published: Thursday, 9/30/2010

Chavez slips

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's political party and its allies lost their two-thirds parliamentary majority in elections this week. The demise of his super-majority means Mr. Chavez now will have to consider the opposition's views before he tries to pass laws by decree or appoint top government officials.

Mr. Chavez is one of those world leaders whom American governments love to hate. And he reciprocates the feeling, despite hopes that President Obama's global charm offensive last year might ease relations.

Mr. Chavez is a dictator, so it's hard to see how he managed to lose ground in the elections. He framed the voting as a plebescite on his rule, particularly his stated policy of directing more of Venezuela's oil wealth to meet the needs of its poorer citizens.

American opposition to Mr. Chavez comes from two quarters. His intervention in Venezuela's oil industry has offended the American oil barons who were close to the George W. Bush administration and are still around.

And he is chummy with Cuba and its leaders, the Castro brothers. He has provided cheap Venezuelan oil to help keep Cuba's failing economy afloat.

Worse, Mr. Chavez has used his country's oil and his forceful personality to cobble together an alliance with other Latin American leaders who are critical of the United States, such as Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Venezuela also has bad relations with neighboring Colombia; border skirmishes sometimes occur between the two countries. Colombia is the United States' favorite South American country: The amount of aid we provide Colombia trails only our aid to Israel, Egypt, and Pakistan, as well as war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

However it came about, the loss of the legislative super-majority has clipped Mr. Chavez's political wings. That is probably better for Venezuelans, and could help improve U.S.-Venezuelan relations. The United States and Venezuela are two countries that don't need to quarrel.

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