Thanks for the article Kat. It gives a perspective of a side rarely given a voice in the mainstream media. I lived for 3 years in Bogota, Colombia from 2010 to 2013 and aside from the influence of the NED, IRI, and NDI, we should also acknowledge the strong influence the Uribistas have not only in the depiction of Venezuela to the general public in Colombia (very antagonistic in general) but within Venezuela itself. I'm not saying the Chavistas and Maduro camp isn't corrupt themselves, or that they haven't mis-managed the economy in certain ways, but what we get from the media on this issue is very biased. Venezuela was a neo-liberalists/capitalists dream in the 50s-70s from all accounts I've heard/read. However, this meant a widening wealth gap, and of course the people who were being exploited to fuel this economic growth were muted under positive press regarding drastically increased standards of living for the elite, and eventually a good portion of the middle class. In the 90s, with the Bolivarian Revolution, Chavez planned to redistribute some of this economic success to the lower classes in forms of social projects/nationalization of profitable enterprises namely oil. Problem is they didn't do it all that efficiently. The elites (and their money) fled the country as their large enterprises were nationalized, oil prices fell, and corruption on part of the Chavez government made things significantly worse. Essentially the standard of living improved a bit for the low class but really went downhill for the elites and middle class.
A big problem I noticed while in Colombia and the little time I've spent in Venezuela, is that the idea of progress and surplus value were/are still the guiding principals behind the Venezuelan government. The culture is fundamentally consumerist in its ideology. The socialist experiment can't work under these ideological conditions; they are contradictory. In terms of Chavez's "brutal oppression" and his label as a "dictator", they are largely media fabrications from what I've gathered. Also, Chavez sort of embraced that image because he was a powerful person who had a voice to criticize the capitalist/imperialist system. Like many a Latin American male, Chavez was a "machista" and loved the limelight, and always defined himself as the mortal enemy of the capitalist/imperialist system.
I'm still waiting for a society that is willing to put their faith and trust in a truly socialist framework. The fact is it has never happened. There is just too much connotation that goes along with the terminology and until we stop jumping to conclusions when we hear "socialism", "communism", etc. it is unlikely to get anywhere. And I think more importantly, until people stop consuming in ways that are detrimental to the exploited class in the 3rd world, the situation will continue to be dire for these people and their environment.
I'm not trying to create a thread drift, just giving support to the idea that we don't get the full picture from the media, and that it is interesting and beneficial to hear other interpretations of the situation. And hopefully, assuming not many people here on BPL actually have had the opportunity to live and immerse themselves in this part of the world, such a discussion can bring us past the knee-jerk responses we get whenever this subject is brought up, and foment more questions that will guide us toward further investigation.