In 1992, a paratrooper named Hugo Chavez took part in a failed coup to overthrow the government of Venezuela. He was jailed but soon released, much to the chagrin of the nation’s oil-powered oligarchs. In 1999, he swept to power as a pseudo-socialist populist who promised to solve everybody’s problems and be a Simon Bolivar for the new millennium. By the time of his death in 2013, Venezuela was a near-collapsed, crime-ridden basket case, where years of empty rhetoric had failed to paper over catastrophic declines in nearly every institution.
My review of Rory Carroll’s excellent new book on Chavez and his cult of personality, Comandante, ran in PopMatters. Here’s part of it:
Blessed with a subject like Chávez, Carroll writes in Technicolor, his prose splashed with remarkable detail. He shows a ruler obsessed with image and symbol, but incapable at following through on an even the most mundane details of his job. Carroll captures the quiet and determined hum of activity in Miraflores and the hub of surrounding ministries known as “El Silencio”. which looks busy to the casual observer but actually obscured a government in which every decision funneled through one man and nothing was ever followed through on. (Chavez loved to create ministries; nobody could ever keep track of how many there were, much less what they were supposed to do.) …
You can read an excerpt of the book here.