Venezuela had a close call. The mutiny against democratic government failed. The army put it down. The battle was within the military, between units. President Carlos Andres Perez has a good chance to finish out his term next year and hand over to a democratically elected successor, no doubt an opponent, as he did in 1979. But the well organized coup attempt suggests that this is less than a sure thing. Combined with the so-far successful coup in Haiti, the Venezuelan mutiny suggests that self-congratulations on Latin America's inexorable shift to democracy are premature.
Mr. Perez presides over the highest growth in the hemisphere. Inflation is down. Foreign reserves are up. Venezuela's influence is at an all-time high. It is replacing the U.S. as protector of micro-states in the Caribbean. The president is admired throughout the world for his diplomacy, including the brokering of peace in El Salvador, quick provision of exile for Haiti's toppled president and the urging of democratic reform in Cuba.
But the gap between rich and poor is worse than ever. Strikes by aggrieved professions are endemic. Half the people, by government estimate, make do with one meal a day. The regime is widely suspected of corruption in state contracts. A newspaper poll said that 81 percent of Venezuelans have little or no trust in the government.