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March 11, 2013 2:00 PM After Hugo Chavez

By Mark Kleiman

Hugo Chavez is dead, but it looks as if Chavismo lives on. Even with an honest count, Chavez’s successor is likely to win handily. People who know more about Venezuelan politics than I do tell me that’s too bad: Chavez shifted the political window sufficiently that the alternative is no longer the rule of the local plutocrats and their multi-national partners.

I’m struck by one aspect of the news coverage: No one seems to mention the role of the U.S. government – specifically of the Bush the Lesser regime – in cementing Chavez in power.

In April, 2002, Chavez (elected three years earlier) was deposed by a military coup and replaced by the head of the businessmen’s association, in a move supported by the largest labor union, the Catholic Church, the mass media, and the military.

At that point, the U.S. had three reasonable options: keep quiet until the outcome was clear, support the coup and make sure it stuck, or support the right of the elected government to stay in power.

Instead, the State Department issued a statement welcoming the coup shortly before it fell apart: some of the anti-Chavez forces didn’t want go along with tossing out the constitution and abolishing the congress and the courts, the army didn’t like the appointment of an admiral to the defense ministry, and there was an unexpected surge of support for Chavez from the poor neighborhoods of Caracas.

All of this left Chavez in a much stronger position; if some of his supporters display a notably paranoid style, it’s hard to say that they don’t have real enemies. And of course it gave Chavez and his friends a devastating reply to complaints about Chavista departures from democratic norms, which have been substantial (though not by the standards of Galtieri or Pinochet or D’Aubuisson).

So, once again – as in putting in the Shah to replace Mossadeq – the cynicism of the self-proclaimed “realists,” with their constant search for “our sonofabitch” – backfired.

As Michael Walzer once said, there is neither advantage nor honor to be gained from doing evil badly.

[Originally posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles.