I wrote recently about the experience of Latin America in the past generation. Much of the continent (Chile is an oustanding example, but far from the only one) has gone from brutal military dictatorship to stable, well-governed constitutional democracy. Parties of the Left have played an important role in that transition. That type of Left is sharply to be distinguished, however, from a stubborn and atavistic political force exemplified in the rule of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Chávez is an authoritarian populist who is much closer to the traditions of corrupt military rule than left-of-centre reform.
I'd recommend in this context an interesting article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "An Empty Revolution: The Unfulfilled Promises of Hugo Chávez" by Francisco Rodríguez, formerly chief economist of the Venezuelan National Assembly. Rodríguez maintains that "Chávez's social policies are inadequate and ineffective", and locates this misrule in a historical context: the populist mismanagement through much of the continent in the 1970s and 1980s. His diagnosis is discouraging:
"Simón Bolívar, Venezuela's independence leader and Chávez's hero, once said that in order to evaluate revolutions and revolutionaries, one needs to observe them close up but judge them at a distance. Having had the opportunity to do both with Chávez, I have seen to what extent he has failed to live up to his own promises and Venezuelans' expectations. Now, voters are making the same realization -- a realization that will ultimately lead to Chávez's demise. The problems of ensuring a peaceful political transition will be compounded by the fact that over the past nine years Venezuela has become an increasingly violent society. This violence is not only reflected in skyrocketing crime rates; it also affects the way Venezuelans resolve their political conflicts. Whether Chávez is responsible for this or not is beside the point. What is vital is for Venezuelans to find a way to prevent the coming economic crisis from igniting violent political conflict. As Chávez's popularity begins to wane, the opposition will feel increasingly emboldened to take up initiatives to weaken Chávez's movement. The government may become increasingly authoritarian as it starts to understand the very high costs it will pay if it loses power. Unless a framework is forged through which the government and the opposition can reach a settlement, there is a significant risk that one or both sides will resort to force."
I hope that a moderate, constitutional Left can make its influence felt. One thing the moderate Left might do in Europe is to make it clear that Hugo Chávez is no hero of ours.