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Transitions are always a time for reflection, anxiety, and opportunity. Venezuelans face a transition many may not have been expecting, given the lack of transparency about their late leader’s health.  But this transition could bring much good to the Americas and oppressed people everywhere—if the country can reverse its undemocratic trajectory.


Venezuela remains rich in natural resources, with the third largest proven oil reserves on earth, according to the World Factbook. Even the large brain drain of the last 14 years has not wiped out the country’s extraordinary human capital. As Venezuelans of every political stripe look toward the next era, they should remember that times of great change driven by a single personality are often followed by periods of instability. But instability may not be bad, since the so-called “stability” of the previous regime was defined by high inflation, rampant crime, widespread injustice, and corruption.


A new Venezuelan government committed to a few basic principles could help lead the country onto a path of peace, prosperity, and respect for basic political rights and civil liberties.


1. Venezuela should be governed not by men, but by laws rooted in freedom

Charismatic and polarizing leaders are thankfully rare, but a system that allows them extraordinary powers is a system that can be abused by future leaders. Basing government on democratic laws, and not the personal whims of men, protects justice for all, not just the privileged few.


2. The government must be constrained by the Constitution

The Constitution should be respected as the highest law of the land and not remain a tool for populist demagoguery and authoritarian rule.


3. Justice for all

Venezuela has the second highest murder rate in the world. When justice is perverted for political ends and government officials abuse their powers, the rest of society will often follow. The next generation of leaders should govern justly, protect the rights of every citizen, and tackle the legacy of violence, crime, and corruption.


4. Support a self-interested and sane foreign policy

With friends like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, the Castro brothers in Cuba, Bashar al Assad of Syria, Moammar Qaddafi of Libya, and Kim Jong-Il of North Korea, Venezuela didn’t need any enemies. A foreign policy that looks out for the best interests of Venezuelans, instead of Venezuela’s leaders, will help ensure the country has democratic friends for the challenges ahead.


5. Free and fair elections are the best means of maintaining peace and stability

By respecting the choices of Venezuela’s citizens, the next President can maintain legitimacy, stability, and the power to govern. If the upcoming presidential elections are marred by fraud, the future may hold more peril than promise.


Venezuelans face an uncertain future, but they can demand protection of their fundamental rights and accountability from their next leader. The community of democratic nations should find ways to support the people of Venezuela. With wise leadership and support for democratic standards, the next era could be one of hope and opportunity for all Venezuelans.


 Kent Patton is the Freedom Collection Blog Editor.