Since it seems Hugo Chavez is about to die, it’s worth looking at his legacy a bit. Of course, it’s almost impossible to do so in a measured way. His die-hard supporters (relatively few as they may be in the United States) talk of him in reverent tones, as the sole man to stand up to American imperialism in the last 20 years. Those North Americans invested enough in Latin American politics to hate Chavez think he’s the antichrist and supported the coup attempt against him.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Chavez not exactly an ideal guy for the left to be following. I’ve always thought his version of socialism was too much bombast and not enough good governance. Sticking your thumb in the United States’ eye may have value, but not as much as ensuring good trash pickup for poor people. Anyway, Mark Weisbrot has a pretty good overview, arguing that Chavez may have been able to be Chavez because of oil money (and outright US hostility that only strengthened his hand at home), but at least it went to improving the lives of the Venezuelan people and not into offshore bank accounts.
Like Chavez or not, but don’t deny that life for the average Venezuelan is almost certainly better than when he took power. And even if you think that’s entirely because of high oil prices, remember that corrupt leaders in the past siphoned the money into their own pockets and that Chavez’s enemies want an austerity program in the country that would fall entirely on the backs of the poor. Or for a current example of this, see Nigeria.
On the other hand, Weisbrot co-wrote Oliver Stone’s horrible, fawning, and profoundly shallow documentary on Chavez. Not sure how you live that one down.