Steve Chapman

Thai protesters shut down the Bangkok airport for a week, leaving only when a court outlawed the ruling party and banned the current prime minister from politics. Shortly after, the opposition Democrat Party won parliamentary elections.

A German think tank reported that military coups are going out of style: The number of attempts now averages about five a year, down from double digits in the 1980s. Army officers in the West African nation of Guinea dared to be unfashionable, seizing the government upon the death of President Lansana Conte, who had come to power in 1984 via ... oh, you can guess.

In Zimbabwe, perennial strongman Robert Mugabe had to accept what he called the "humiliation" of agreeing to share power after losing at the polls amid famine and hyperinflation. But he refused to step down, proclaiming, "Zimbabwe is mine." Zimbabweans can only envy Ghana, democratic since 1992, which is preparing for the second consecutive peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another.

The ailing Fidel Castro, 82, resigned as president of Cuba after nearly half a century, but his communist regime showed no inclination to follow him. His disciple, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has indicated he would like to stay in office until 2050, when he will be 96. He lost a constitutional referendum last year that would have let him served beyond 2012, but he is not easily discouraged: Already he is pushing for another vote.

Chavez is one of many rulers of oil-producing nations who are watching their chief export plunge in value and hoping fervently for a strong rebound. He will gain no consolation from reflecting that human rights are also subject not only to busts but, if memory serves, to booms.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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