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.