The death of Hugo Chavez evoked an outpouring of sympathy and even admiration from many on the left, who can't decide whether fidelity to socialism, as Mr. Chavez defined it, is more important than human rights, freedom and democracy.
The Chavez legacy merits neither admiration nor praise. Soon after he was elected president of Venezuela in 1999, he ruthlessly cracked down on opposition movements, censored the media, sneered at human rights and, in the words of Human Rights Watch, a liberal organization, "seized control of the Supreme Court and undercut the ability of journalists, human rights defenders, and other Venezuelans to exercise fundamental rights."
The Center for American Progress, another liberal voice, warned Democrats on its Think Progress blog not to wrap their arms around the Chavez coffin, observing that "Chavez's state-run media hounded Venezuela's small, beleaguered Jewish population -- Mr. Chavez himself once told Venezuelans, 'Don't let yourselves be poisoned by those wandering Jews.'" Tel Aviv University's Kantor Center was cited for reporting an increase in "anti-Semitic manifestations, including vandalism, media attacks, caricatures and physical attacks on Venezuelan Jewish institutions."
Such advice was spurned by less thoughtful voices on the left. The body was still cooling when Rep. Jose E. Serrano, New York Democrat, delivered himself of a doleful tweet: "Hugo Chavez was a leader that understood the needs of the poor. He was committed to empowering the powerless. R.I.P., Mr. President."
The usual suspects in Hollywood, eager to prove they can, too, speak without a script from a professional, piped up as if on cue. "Today, the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had," said Sean Penn. "And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela." Oliver Stone, the king of factoids, was no less lugubrious. "I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place. Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chavez will live forever in history."
Not history, but infamy. Like Fidel Castro, Mr. Chavez leaves his country in a shambles. Driven to build "socialism of the 21st century," he nationalized industries and redistributed wealth not so much to the poor as to his own family, leaving a family fortune said to be worth $2 billion. Despite rich natural resources and huge oil reserves, Venezuela's economy is in ruins, with 20 percent inflation, food shortages and widespread malnutrition.
Socialism is usually more about rhetoric than results, and Commandante Chavez had few peers in the dark arts of demagoguery. His carefully chosen successor learned his lessons well; he blames the United States for "giving" cancer to the comandante. His death leaves Venezuelans with an opportunity to free themselves from the parasites of an evil dictatorship if they can but seize it.
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