As would-be dictators go, Hugo Chavez was on the clownish end of the repressive spectrum. By the end, however, the joke was wearing thin. He was, as Rory Carroll aptly describes him, an "elected autocrat". But if you judge a man by the company he keeps, Chavez's legacy takes a darker turn. In the name of sticking-it-to-the-man (that is, the United States) Chavez chummed himself to most of the world's ghastliest leaders. And, of course, his hero and father-figure was Fidel Castro, governor of the world's sunniest island gulag.
Meanwhile, in Britain and Ireland, his death has been mourned by George Galloway (who deems Chavez a "modern day Spartacus"), Ken Livingstone, Gerry Adams and pretty much every other member of the far-left. That should, as the Daily Mash suggests, tell you everything you need to know about Chavez.
Rhetoric about assisting the poor shouldn't cover-up the fact that Chavez's Bolivarian revolution was a failure and an increasingly grotesque fiasco at that. All the populist bluster in the world could not disguise that awkward reality.
The greater the failure, the more authoritarian Chavez's rule became. Those fortunate enough to be connected to the regime became rich; despite the rhetoric most Venezuelans remained poor.
Of course, Chavez had some reason to dislike the United States. Washington would have been happy to see the 2002 coup attempt succeed. Chavez never forgave the Americans for this and it is true that this helped precipitate his leftward turn.
In truth, Chavez was vastly over-estimated by Washington. Listening to bone-headed Republicans you could have been forgiven for supposing this bullshitting caudillo was a Latin American Stalin. Chavez never represented much more than a modest threat to mainstream American interests. It suited both sides to flatter Chavez and over-estimate his influence.
He didn't matter that much. The lamentations on the left today, however, remind us that posing as a champion of the people seems to impress some people more than actually improving the peoples' lot in life. Prepare yourself for even greater quantities of hagiographical hallucination when dear old Fidel finally shuffles off to his death. (American policy towards Cuba, of course, is only marginally less stupid than Castro's own politics.)
Then again if the left embarrasses itself vis a vis Castro and Chavez, the right did likewise when it mourned the death of Augusto Pinochet. In each case it should be possible to acknowledge that, whatever their achievements, only a fool fails to recognise that the downside to their rule was considerable.
Chavez was a bully and a crackpot. Lamenting his demise is a fool's business. The better response would be to pity Venezuela and hope, though the odds do not seem promising, that something better will follow now the great charlatan has gone.