"Venezuela just took a democratic step closer to dictatorship," said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. On Sunday, voters gave President Hugo Chavez the "right to seek re-election ad infinitum." Opposition leaders said the balloting was valid, but Chavez couldn't have won without using government money to rally support. He says the people want to make his Bolivarian revolution permanent, "but this was not democracy in action."

Don't worry, said Alvaro Vargas Llosa in The New Republic. While Chavez's victory means he'll be able to run for re-election indefinitely, "it does not mean he will be able to establish a totalitarian state anytime soon." Millions of Venezuelans still "abhor" Chavez's regime, and their "valiant" opposition will continue to prevent Chavez from turning his country into another Cuba.

It's hard to be optimistic, said Mona Charen in National Review Online. "A decade ago Venezuela was a thriving and free (if somewhat corrupt) ally of the United States." Now, after Chavez's efforts to implant a form of socialism that is "barely distinguishable from Castro's," press freedom is a memory. And the larger danger is that, with the global recession leaving more nations facing declining living standards, more despots will follow Chavez's lead.

Actually, the global financial crisis could be Chavez’s downfall, said Britain’s The Times in an editorial. With the "precipitous drop" in prices for Venezuela's oil making it harder to sustain the "profligate government handouts that have bought the noisy support" of the poor, Chavez can't "automatically count on re-election to a third term."