Dyer nails it as usual:
Venezuela never stopped being a democracy despite 14 years of Chavez’s rule. He didn’t seize power. He didn’t even rig elections, though he used the government’s money and privileged access to the media to good effect (Our Liberals are doing that in BC). He was elected president four times, the first three with increasing majorities—but the last time, in 2012, he fell back sharply, only defeating his rival by 54 percent to 44 percent.
Chavez was an unnecessarily combative and polarizing politician and a truly awful administrator, but he has actually achieved what he went into politics for. Twenty years ago Venezuelan politics was a corrupt game fought out between two factions of a narrow elite. Now the task of using the country’s oil wealth to improve the lives of the poor majority is central to all political debate in the country.
In last year’s election, the Venezuelan opposition parties managed to unite behind a single presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, whose political platform was basically “Chavismo” without the demagoguery. In previous elections, the opposition had railed against Chavez’s “socialism” and Marxism, and lost by a wide margin. Capriles, by contrast, promised to retain most of Chavez’s social welfare policies, and lost very narrowly.
Over the past dozen years Chavez’s governments have poured almost $300 billion into improving literacy, extending high school education, creating a modern, universally accessible health-care system, build housing for the homeless, and subsidising household purchases from groceries to appliances. What made that possible was not “socialism”, but Venezuela’s huge oil revenues.
Capriles had to promise to maintain these policies because the poor—and most Venezuelans are still poor—won’t vote for a candidate who would end all that. He just said that he would spend that money more effectively, with less corruption, and a lot of people believed him. It would not be hard to be more efficient than Chavez’s slapdash administration.
Venezuela today has the fairest distribution of wealth in the Americas, with the obvious exception of Canada (Guess that's why people hate him so much). Venezuela’s “Gini coefficient”, which measures the wealth gap between the rich and the poor, is 0.39, whereas the United States is 0.45 and Brazil, even after 10 years of reforming left-wing governments, is still 0.52. (A lower score means less inequality of income.)
For all of Chavez’s ranting about class struggle and his admiration for Fidel Castro, this was not achieved in Venezuela by taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor. It was accomplished by spending the oil revenue differently. He changed the political psychology of the country, and it now has the potential to be a Saudi Arabia with democracy.
That is not a bad thing to be, and the Venezuelan opposition has finally grasped that fact. It remains for Chavez’s own party to understand that it has actually won the war, and to stop re-fighting the old battles. A spell in opposition might help it to come to terms with its proper role in the new Venezuelan political consensus: no longer an embattled “revolutionary” movement, but the more radical alternative in a more or less egalitarian democracy.