April 21, 2013, 5:25 p.m. ET

Latin Leaders Abandon Democracy in Venezuela

Despite serious election irregularities, they rush to recognize Nicolás Maduro as president.



As Latin American governments rushed to endorse the so-called election of Hugo Chávez acolyte Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela last week, the ghost of Gen. Augusto Pinochet must have been regretting that he hadn't ruled as a Stalinist. Latin American leaders are apparently fine with military governments—as long as they are communist dictatorships.

Even Venezuela's government-controlled national electoral council only gave Mr. Maduro a margin of victory of less than 2% in the election held on Sunday April 14. By Thursday, serious questions about the veracity of such a narrow win forced Mr. Maduro to accept a review of the tallies and of irregularities alleged by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

Zuma Press

Brazil is now letting it slip that it played a major role in getting the audit agreement. But that didn't stop the Union of South American Nations (Unasur)—which includes all the continent's governments but is dominated by Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela—from recognizing Mr. Maduro as the winner on Friday in an emergency, closed-door summit in Lima. Mexico had already done so. Meanwhile, in Caracas, the head of the unicameral congress had announced that no opposition members would be permitted to speak until they acknowledge Mr. Maduro as the new president.

Venezuelans could be forgiven for doubting that the recount will produce a fair outcome, or that Unasur is interested in one. During 14 years in power, Chávez stripped individuals of their right to free speech and due process of law, and nearly eliminated independent media. He also put Cuba in charge of intelligence and the state security apparatus. Tens of thousands were murdered in the mayhem that he inspired, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that government intimidation played a role in the latest voting.

In a better world such repression would have provoked objections from the Organization of American States. Its Democratic Charter is a pledge by all members to stand up for democratic principles throughout the hemisphere. Yet since the charter was ratified in 2001, the OAS has done nothing to stop the destruction of institutional checks and balances by left-wing caudillos like Chávez.

It has used its power, under the leadership of Secretary-General Miguel Insulza (a Chilean socialist) since 2005, to beat up on countries that push back against what Chávez called "21st century socialism."Honduras, which constitutionally removed its president for an attempted power-grab in 2009, is a prime example. Instead of respecting that nation's sovereignty and its observance of the rule of law, the OAS suspended Honduras's membership and tried to isolate it. The ultimate double-crosser was Mexico's then-President Felipe Calderón. He invited the deposed Manuel Zelaya to Mexico and feted him as Honduras's rightful head of state.

Regional leaders also work overtime to encourage the Cuban dictatorship, one of the world's most notorious human-rights violators. In 2011, in Caracas, they formed their own club of 33 nations called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) so that they could exclude the U.S. and Canada. Celac made Raúl Castro its president at a January meeting in Santiago, Chile.

Chilean President Sebastian PiĖera celebrated that decision. One irony is that only a month earlier Castro denied Rosa Maria Payá—daughter of the late world-renowned Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá—permission to travel to Chile for a workshop. Another is that Mr. PiĖera, a billionaire, would never have enjoyed the opportunities he has had in Chile had Castro's ambitions there 40 years ago been realized.

Now, as Venezuelans fight for their freedom, this sad mix of leftist ideologues are delighted with Mr. Maduro, and center-right pragmatists—notably in Mexico, Colombia and Chile, who seem interested only in how best to position themselves for another six years of chavismo—are of no help. Venezuelans deserve better.

The April 14 contest did not provide even minimal transparency. The Capriles camp was never allowed to inspect the results of the partial audit done on election night. The opposition also says its election witnesses were expelled from hundreds of voting centers, and that in many places voters were followed into voting booths by government enforcers.

There were more than 100,000 Venezuelans who turned 18 in the past six months but were not given an opportunity to register to vote. The opposition claims that more than 500,000 Venezuelans living in exile have also been denied voter registration they are entitled to by law.

Mr. Maduro is not likely to budge from Miraflores palace. His government—and Cuba—have too much to lose by conceding. But it is still worth lighting one candle to challenge the legitimacy of the process rather than simply cursing the darkness. At some point the current system will collapse and Venezuela will try to rebuild a free society. It would be nice if Venezuela's neighbors had even a shred of moral authority left when that day comes.

Write to O'Grady@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared April 22, 2013, on page A13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Latin Leaders Abandon Democracy in Venezuela.