As was the case with Fidel Castro, there are basically two kinds of people who supported Hugo Chávez. The kind that predominated outside of Venezuela liked him because (a) he was anti-American like them, and (b) they don’t know anything. The kind that predominated inside Venezuela supported him because (a) he was lower class like them, and (b) he gave the upper classes their long-overdue comeuppance, by whatever means necessary.
Presumably, even a ranting idiot such as London’s Ken Livingstone didn’t support Chávez in overturning the Venezuelan constitution by fiat, silencing the free press, and ransacking opposition offices, TV stations, and Jewish community centers. Like the fellows over at The Nation (I was on NPR debating one of them today), most Chávez supporters outside of Venezuela don’t know anything about all that. They’re like the left-wing journalists who spent decades travelling to Cuba without ever noticing Castro’s terror-police dictatorship. They couldn’t be accused of justifying it — they never even knew it was there!
There is a very big difference between that and Hugo Chávez’s Venezuelan supporters. The latter don’t have the excuse of utter ignorance. They know all the cruel things he did. They love him for it. They love the fact that he punished those “squealing pigs” and “vampires” in Venezuela’s capitalist classes, and never let bourgeois constructs like “due process” get in his way. They sniggered when his thugs beat up “pro-democracy” activists among university students and ransacked the offices of opposition television stations and political candidates. They pumped their fists when they heard the nationalist-socialist slogan of his revolution — “Fatherland! Socialism! Or Death!” They nodded approvingly when he warned Venezuela’s Jews to tell “their government” to stop enslaving the Palestinians. When he humiliated opposition leaders in public, dismissing them as “flies,” they beamed.
The moral of the story in Venezuela is the same as for the Cuban Revolution. Never underestimate how much people enjoy being sadistic toward one another once the politics of vengeance has given them a taste of it.