April 23, 2002
Although the coup was denounced by nineteen Latin American heads of state as a violation of democratic principles, the Bush Administration publicly countenanced the military takeover. Not only did Washington demonstrate a radically selective view of the rule of law; it left itself starkly isolated in a hemisphere that has been subject to endless US lecturing on democracy. […] The leading US papers of record so shamelessly parroted the White House in their initial editorials that the New York Times had to apologize. By midweek, Chavez back in power, the Times recanted: “Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how bad he may be, is never something to cheer.” […][12:46 PM]
That said, no one should confuse Hugo Chavez with Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Chilean president overthrown thirty years ago by a similar US-supported alliance of the economic upper class and the military. Chavez has failed to produce much of the radical change he promised. He showed little of the respect that Allende did for authentic democratic institutions. Unlike Allende, whose public support increased before his overthrow, Chavez has seen his original 80 percent support drop to just over 30 percent. And Allende never turned police and armed supporters against peaceful protesters as Chavez did, provoking a shootout that injured scores and killed more than a dozen. […] Chavez’s undeniable charisma flirts with megalomania, his denunciations of all opposition borders on the paranoiac and his antidote to the hollower forms of democracy is often ham-fisted demagogy. Corruption within his regime, an increasingly autocratic style and an inability to make much of a dent in poverty have swollen Chavez’s opposition far beyond the ranks of the pro-American economic elite.