Updated below and again
I don't follow Venezuelan politics like I used to, but a few years ago I did follow the situation there closely. I met native Venezuelans who lived through the coup in 02 and supported the Bolivarian Circles he instituted when they brought Chavez back into power. What I learned from them is that the western press doesn't usually accurately describe the public sentiment. The MSM focuses in on the dissenters who are largely comprised of the former ruling class that held 80% of the country's wealth while comprising only about 20% of the population.
These are the people who take to the streets to protest Chavez and his programs to help his country's poor and in a way one can understand their hatred for him. Chavez, whom they consider to be an upstart meztito, has instituted socialist policies that have redistributed the wealth and power more equally and it came at their expense. But what bothers me is that the mainstream press spins them as a majority voice when they are far from it.
Now I don't want to get into a debate over whether Chavez is crazy, or a communist or pursuing the right policies for Venezuela. I honestly don't know the answer to that, but I do know that he is a democratically elected leader who still enjoys significant support among the majority of that nation's poor. The press last week trumpeted the student march protesting his proposed electoral reforms. I doubt you'll see an equal focus on the counter-protests when his supporters take to the streets.
The point is, these reforms will be not be enacted by presidential edict or government controlled courts. In just a few more days they will be put to a referendum and decided by the people themselves. Just as he submitted to a recall election engineered by his critics that failed to unseat him by popular vote. Whatever you think of Chavez and his admittedly abrasive style, the majority of his people love him. It strikes me that all this talk about his tyranny is more than a little misplaced considering Venezuelans have more of a voice in their government than we do under Bush.
Update: I'm back from Thanksgiving dinner and in a bit of a trypto haze but let me clarify my point. I am not saying that I personally love Chavez. I don't. But his people do and who knows why? I think the guy is kind of crazy and I don't think he should be president for life but my understanding is, the referendum will extend the term of the presidency from 6 to 7 years and eliminate term limits. The people will vote and decide. That's not really the same thing as declaring a dictatorship, is it?
As Cernig says, I don't want to associate Chavez and his politics with my kind of "lefty" either. I'm not advocating for his policies. As I thought made clear in my post, my critique was of the press coverage that paints this as a popular uprising against his rule. It simply isn't. The dissenters are in the minority. The pro-demonstrations are bigger and don't get the same weight of coverage.
As for my point about the criticism of Chavez, his policies may be bad, but he rules by consent of his people. As far as I know, he has not declared himself a unitary executive. He has not broken his country's rule of law or declared himself above it. He has not issued hundreds of signing statements that say he can ignore the laws the people pass. He has not lied his country into a military conflict with no end.
Our president has and much more. I mean, he ignores the will of the people. He's abolished habeas corpus and posse comitatus, the pillars of our own democracy. He illegally spies on us and keeps databases of our every move. He's turned every government agency into a GOP organ. So when I see the same people who find every way to Sunday to excuse Bush's conduct get outraged over the tyranny of Chavez, you'll have to forgive me if I find the concern a little misplaced. I'd love to see some of that outrage spent on our own president's excesses.
Update two: Having read a few of my critics, the emerging meme seems to be to taint 'the left' with caring only about the 'redistribtion of wealth.' All I have to say to that is advocating for hedge fund billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes and closing loopholes for corporate tax shelters is not at all the same as seizing property and nationalizing private entities. I don't advocate that and I don't know one progressive lefty that does.
Meanwhile, even as my critics decry my equivalences, they make their own and suggest that dissent has not been stifled by this administration. Perhaps, they don't remember free speech zones, or how many have been arrested for wearing tshirts and holding signs, or that you can't get into a live speech by the president except by invitation. Perhaps they have forgotten the photos of injured demonstrators hit by rubber bullets. Oh wait, maybe they didn't see them because they only ran on Indymedia when they had their servers seized and didn't hear about them because almost all the low power broadcasters have been shut down by the FCC in deference to Clear Channel.
Much as my critics would like to spin as such, I'm not saying Venezuela is better than America. I am saying our president is just as much a tyrant as Chavez could hope to be.