What is most surprising about the Venezuelan opposition’s overwhelming electoral victory on December 6 is that so many people were surprised. In any normal democracy, when a government is responsible for a massive economic recession, runaway inflation, endemic shortages and a collapse of personal safety, voters can be expected to dole out harsh punishment at the ballot boxes.

Venezuela—needless to say—is not a normal democracy. It is a country where checks and balances, military subordination to civilian authority, freedom of the press and the right to dissent have all but vanished. The opposition’s victory is therefore not the ultimate proof of Venezuela’s democratic virtues, as members of the government have argued, but instead an opportunity to rebuild democracy based on tolerance, pluralism, and republican principles, all of which were systematically disdained by chavista governments. Read more

Hugo Chávez was supposed to be sworn in for his third term as Venezuela’s president on January 10 but he hasn’t been seen in public since he went to Cuba for cancer surgery five weeks ago. John Paul Rathbone, the FT’s Latin America editor, and Jonathan Wheatley, deputy emerging markets editor, discuss the implications of this uncertainty for Venezuela and its debt.

a demonstration in support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, December 15, 2012It could hardly have gone much worse for Hugo Chávez’s opponents in Venezuela’s regional elections for state governorships yesterday, almost all of which were won by “chavistas”.

The one saving grace for the opposition was that their de facto leader, Henrique Capriles, scraped a victory in Miranda state, but it doesn’t leave him sitting very comfortably if presidential elections really do have to be held again any time soon.

And that seems to be a very real possibility, given the state of Chávez’s health – even if it is also perfectly possible that he recovers. Read more

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then “chavistas” (followers of Hugo Chávez) are from Mercury and their opponents are from Neptune.

Like the radically contrasting opinion poll data being released these days, that’s also the impression you get from the differing interpretationsof Venezuela’s first quarterly GDP results released today.

Celebrating the fact that the economy grew 5.6 per cent during the first three months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011, officials gushed with optimism about the state of the economy, which planning minister Jorge Giordani ventured could grow by as much as 7 per cent in 2012 (double some analyst expectations), talking of “a new phase of expansion”. Read more