Fears about the future of Venezuela’s democracy have abated, at least for now. Despite pre-vote threats about the potential cost of opposing his wishes, President Hugo Chavez has accepted the defeat of his constitutional reform package. The outcome has the potential to rejuvenate a dispirited and divided opposition. But Mr. Chavez retains his tight grip on virtually all levers of power in Venezuela and has outfoxed his opponents at virtually every turn.

Mr. Chavez thrives on conflict. Since winning national elections in 1998, he has waged war against Venezuela’s established power centers, exploiting divisions among the opposition while uniting the poor and disaffected under his plan to build socialism for the 21st century. He has moved to nationalize key parts of the country’s economy, demanded better terms for foreign investment in Venezuela, and established himself as a leader, along with Cuba’s Mr. Fidel Castro, of global opposition to the United States. His international influence has been magnified by Venezuela’s growing oil revenues, estimated at some $60 billion a year.

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