they're all playing with fire in Venezuela

Following the unsuccesful American-backed military coup in Venezuela last April, when asked whether the Bush administration now recognizes Mr. Chávez as the nation's legitimate president, one White House official replied, "He was democratically elected," then added, "Legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters, however."

Yes, here in the U.S. we understand exactly what he meant, and this week Washington is saying it again. The Bush gang wants a change in the regime in Caracas as soon as possible, and is saying so publicly.

But are they out of their minds? Considering the motives and mindset in question, I shouldn't bother asking. But what about everybody else: Venezuelans, South Americans, Americans not part of the U.S. ruling oligarchy, the rest of the world? Nicholas Kristof, writing from Caracas, thinks they're all "playing with fire."

The international community is playing a very dangerous game here in Venezuela, along with self-described democrats who are calling for military intervention. To consider what could go wrong, just look next door at Colombia, torn apart by civil war for half a century.


A Venezuelan journalist I met, Francisco Toro, is strongly against Mr. Chávez but also worries about the consequences of his removal. "In Colombia in 1948, the oligarchs assassinated [the populist leader Jorge] Gaitán," Mr. Toro said, "because he represented a particular problem that they wanted to solve. They never dreamed that 54 years later, Colombia would still be in civil war. You know how something like this starts, but you don't know how it ends."