There are a dozen ways of looking at the re-election of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez as the nation's president.

A team of international observers, headed by former President Jimmy Carter, monitored the results. The election was legitimate and should be seen as a blow for democracy. It was also a blow to the United States. With Chavez in league with Cuban President Fidel Castro, the United States comes out a loser in its bid for more influence in the region.

The Chavez election will keep the oil flowing out of Venezuela, however. That's a good thing.

His election also guarantees another regime of ugly threats, strong-arm policies and intimidation. That's not a good thing.

Chavez won by doing what elected officials do to win. He promised prosperity for all, especially the flocks of Venezuela's destitute. And in Latin America, where people have always been suspicious of true justice, aligning yourself with someone in power who can do something for you is seen as the best option. And Chavez has promised a little something for everybody.

He won with a convincing 58 percent of the popular vote. And the election was indeed a popular one. Some 8.5 million of an estimated 14 million registered voters showed up at the polls.

Apathy was not a problem.

The problem was the region's history.

Centuries of disappointment and corruption have conditioned people there to not even think in terms of the rule of law. They look for the rule of someone who has their interests in mind. Chavez convinced them he did.

In an ominous note, some observers claim that the Chavez victory is not a fluke, but that he represents the new face of leadership in Latin America — leaders given carte blanche, democratically, to do as they please as long as they do what they can to help the helpless.

Chavez, like Mexico's Pancho Villa, is a bandit and a thug; but he is a popular bandit.

The United States will have to live with that.

Even more to the point, so will the Venezuelans.

The whole affair should serve as a reminder that desperate people will never be against hiring "desperados" if they feel the lawless class has their welfare in mind.

Sadly, that lesson might not only surface in Venezuela but in many other nations of the world where trust has eroded away and suffering has replaced it.