Andrew Boyd has recently managed to sneek his reactionary views onto the pages of the London Times. His piece is notable for a series of misrepresentations of Hugo Chavez's regime, and the Venezuelan situation generally. Of all the perpetuating myths that inform Boyd's analysis, the one I'd like to focus on here (in brief) is that of Venezuela's "stable democracy" previous to the 1992 coups that precipated Chavez's startling rise to power.
The common wisdom holds that Venezuela enjoyed a healthy democracy in the years following the Cuban Revoltion, while, at the same time, the rest of Latin America suffered dictators and economic ruin. It is certainly true that Venezuela escaped the sort of political turbulence that plagued the region in the twentieth century's second half (despite several guerilla wars in the 60s). Nevertheless, its relative economic success and political stasis obscure serious deteriorations that eventually led Chavez and his cronies to attempt regime change.
Venezuela in the post-Punto Fijo era exhibited hopeful signs of political stability. The restructuring of its sociopolitical institutions, however, proved to be damaging in the long term. Civilians asserted control over the military by dividing it into constituent wings that were each given administrative autonomy. In the absence of any central command structure, military leaders were forced to compete for power, which reduced the probability of military revolt against the civilian government.
Yet, while restructuring the military lessened the likelihood of a coup, it inadvertently created cleavages between high-ranking and junior officers that deepened as autonomy within the different branches increased. Competition for resources between military commanders led to relationships between high-ranking officers and ruling elites. These links, in turn, produced widespread corruption throughout the upper tier of the armed forces.
Meanwhile, as Deborah Norden has pointed out, junior officers were coming into increased contact with the popular classes through newly designed officer training programs. Military men, like Chavez, grew ideological attachments to the lower-classes of civilans by attending classes with them in public universities, and socializing with them in student organizations. When an economic downturn hit Venezuela in the 1980s, the popular classes suffered, and the junior officers sympathied (and were hurt as well). The convergence of these two institutional factors go along way to explaining the causes for the '92 coups. They also show that by 1992, the Venezuelan government was a hollow shell of its once promising self.
Commentators like Boyd don't bother with these complicated explanations, however. It's much more convenient for them to to blame the troubles of Latin America on polarizing figures like Hugo Chavez.