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Miles thanks for the comment - as I point out, I couldn't agree more that the Western press is as guilty as any for demonising rhetoric on someone who is essentially a democratically elected leader, as you quite rightly highlight. And Chavez' initial popularity owed much to the sense of genuine fury over unjust transnational activity over the country's history. However despite isolated successes such as the Sistema, I have two objections to those who praise how Chavez has led the country over the past decade.

Firstly Chavez' election and re-election, while complying with all the usual international standards, have not been based on true accountability to Venezuelans but instead on creating a dangerous dependency on hand-outs and fuel subsidies, and I would argue that it is the fear of withdrawal of such benefits that drives many to Chavez at the polling stations rather than a true belief in his policies. I think the Venezuelan populace deserve a little more respect. 

Secondly, just as I don't believe Putin can be praised for the 'gains' he achieved for Russia based on pure luck and good timing in coming to power in 2000 just as commodity prices began rocketing, I don't think Chavez can claim to have used windfall revenues from finite resources in a sustainable way for future generations, based on the concerns I outline above. 

I am no fan of Chavez's cult of personality. He appears to have clung to power for too long but has in fact been democratically re-elected a good number of times. Let's not ignore Latin America's long history of being asset-stripped by TNCs as well as by its own corrupt rulers. By all accounts, social programmes in Venezuela have achieved some real gains for the poor (including the music Sistema Venezuela, which has been copied in parts of the UK). This is more than can be said for several other major developing country oil exporters whose industries are probably in little better shape.