The following exchange is an edited version of a lengthy discussion that has been taking place on our website. Please go to InTheseTimes.com to join in.
Debating Hugo Chavez
Steve Ellner's analysis ("Chavez Wins Again," January) of what is going on in Venezuela casually dismisses all criticism of Chavez's authoritarianism as opposition propaganda.
But many on the Venezuelan left have also issued strong criticisms of Chavez's governing style, constant power plays, and transparently anti-democratic maneuvering.
It should be possible to support the general thrust of Chavez's economic policies, acknowledge that he hasn't totally undermined Venezuela's fragile democracy, while also being able to see that Chavez is a demagogue who has strong authoritarian tendencies.
Any reasonable person who follows world events may fairly recognize Chavez as a demagogue. This doesn't mean that he's a dictator, but he's been reaching for a level of personal power that's unhealthy for any society that values democracy.
A better article would have told us more about the nature of the opposition to Chavez, including its diversity.
I took Steve Ellner's account to be a necessary corrective to the mainstream news accounts that have portrayed the recent elections almost exclusively as a defeat, when in fact the results are mixed. It's fair to criticize the macho character of Chavez's leadership, or to debate the wisdom of changing the constitution, but Venezuela is a more democratic place today because of, in part, Chavez's leadership.
And it would be more democratic if Chavez adhered more to the "participatory" and "protagonistic" spirit of the Bolivarian constitution.
St. Louis, Mo.
Anybody who writes, as Ellner does, that "many Venezuelans ... chafe at some of the concrete results of his (Chavez's) rule" cannot be much of an apologist. The same goes for his statement that die government's failure to face the problem of shortages "does not speak well for the efficiency and administrative capacity of the Chavistas. …