Moisés Naim and Francisco Toro write: Today, Venezuela is the sick man of Latin America, buckling under chronic shortages of everything from food and toilet paper to medicine and freedom. Riots and looting have become commonplace, as hungry people vent their despair while the revolutionary elite lives in luxury, pausing now and then to order recruits to fire more tear gas into crowds desperate for food.
Not long ago, the regime that Hugo Chávez founded was an object of fascination for progressives worldwide, attracting its share of another-world-is-possible solidarity activists. Today, as the country sinks deeper into the Western Hemisphere’s most intractable political and economic crisis, the time has come to ask some hard questions about how this regime — so obviously thuggish in hindsight — could have conned so many international observers for so long.
Chávez was either admired as a progressive visionary who gave voice to the poor or dismissed as just another third-world buffoon. Reality was more complex than that: Chávez pioneered a new playbook for how to bask in global admiration even as he hollowed out democratic institutions on the sly. [Continue reading…]