I was going to write on Mark Weisbrot’s recent piece on what has been accomplished during Hugo Chávez’s governance, but Erik beat me to the punch:
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.
I agree with this. I have had my own questions about how much Chávez is “left,” but by any reasonable metric (i.e., neither those from sycophantic and uncritical Chávez supporters or rabid anti-Chávez opponents), it seems he has been able to truly change the face of society and work towards some degree of social equality in Venezuela. Whether or not those reforms can be institutionalized in a way that allows issues of equality and social justice to continue to improve in a post-Chávez scenario (which will happen sooner or later) remains to be seen.