This account by William J Dobson over at Slate of the miserable failure of Hugo Chavez is the best one I have read so far. It has some splendid lines:
The political ideology Chávez left behind, Chavismo, was a demonstrable failure for the Venezuelan people, but it is not as if it ever failed Chávez himself …
… unlike Castro and many other autocrats, Chávez didn’t fear elections; He embraced them. Most opposition leaders will tell you that Venezuelan elections are relatively clean. The problem isn’t Election Day – it’s the other 364 days …
… Chávez took a populist message and married it to an autocratic scheme that allowed him to consolidate power. The net effect over Chávez’s years was a paradoxical one: With each election Venezuela lost more of its democracy
Chavismo as a political project is not possible without Chávez.* As a guiding force, there was no real substance to it beyond the man at the center. What does it stand for? Populism, socialism, militarism, xenophobia, nationalism, Marxism, anti-Americanism, class warfare, Bolivarian revolution, lawlessness, corruption, financial collapse—it depends on where you stand. It was always an amalgam, never something pure, clear, or fixed … A man whose style, voice, and methods were so unpredictable that it took his opponents more than a decade to even understand whom they were opposing.
Even the pieces lauding Chavez and his work for ‘the poor’ are damning but in different ways. One day he met a poor person – and gave her a smart flat! Praise the Lord! The munificent robber handing out the loot!
The strange thing about these nihilistic anti-Western anti-imperialist ravers is that they really do seem to believe in magic. That through sheer intensity of abusive rhetoric and by ignoring basic issues of trustworthiness and responsibility and consistency and honour and prudence they can create a Sustainable New Order (and line their family’s pockets, of course). This vapid ignorant utopianism defies gravity and the rules of the physical world. It has to crash. And crash it does.
In Venezuela’s case the crash was delayed because the country has oil and so can buy time for its leaders’ stupidity. Egypt? Not so fortunate. Look at how pitifully small the loans now needed are, and how even then Egypt struggles to keep its nose above water.
But that oil will sit there as useless sludge in the ground if the world’s best technology firms do not help extract and process it. Chavez treated them with contempt. The lasting result of Chavismo is likely to be these firms and other serious international investors driving a much harder bargain in years to come.
And so, as we have seen elsewhere, the compound interest effects of Chavez’ absurdity will echo on down the generations to come.