Chavez's Legacy: Worthy of Praise or Scorn?
He was no Stalin, argues Greg Grandin
By Mark Russell, Newser Staff
Posted Mar 6, 2013 1:01 PM CST
In this Jan. 23, 2005 photo, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez holds up a US dollar bill and challenges US President George W. Bush to bet which of them will remain in power longer at a rally in Caracas,...   (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

(Newser) – Don't call Hugo Chavez a tyrant or poisonous dictator, writes Greg Grandin in an in-depth look at Venezuela's recently departed leader in the Nation. Chavez may have been a strongman, but he submitted his leadership and his policies to the people 14 times during his 14-year rule, and won 13 of those votes by a large margin. Even today Venezuela has "at most" 11 political prisoners, hardly the handiwork of another Stalin. Whatever Chavez's failings, they pale before the corruption and desperation that preceded him, and he greatly developed Venezuela's participatory democracy. "I think what really rankled was that Chavez was claiming a privilege that had long belonged to the United States," writes Grandin, "that is, the right to paint its adversaries not as rational actors but as existential evil."

Not so fast, counters Zack Beauchamp at Think Progress. Chavez may have helped the poor, but the move toward greater income equality "reflected a broader egalitarian trend in Latin America and can’t be fully credited to Chavez’s policies." Further, Chavez's policies had a negative impact on Venezuela's currency and caused crime rates to soar, and he exhibited an ugly anti-Semitic side—indeed, nearly half of the country's Jewish population fled during his reign.

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Showing 3 of 37 comments
troy705
Mar 6, 2013 8:41 PM CST
Hugo called Bush a devil. So he was right at least once.
Sundiata
Mar 6, 2013 5:17 PM CST
It has to be a misconception that the transformation of The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela towards socialism was not directly tied to the Vargas Tragedy. In 1999 Venezuela was hit by the worst flood in the recorded history of the western hemisphere. Hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed and nearly 50,000 died. Entire neighborhoods were buried under 10 feet of mud. The economy was decimated. Regardless of what you think of socialism, millions of lives were saved because of it. In the end if you don't think that is important than I question your morals.
JackNelsonSteward
Mar 6, 2013 4:30 PM CST
Just take out the "or" and replace it with "and" ... and remove the question mark ... and you'll be pretty close to the mark. "Mixed bag" is a ... restrained ... characterization.