The day Hugo Chávez was first elected president of Venezuela, on 6 December, 1998, I was studying social policy planning at the London School of Economics. Tony Blair had been in office for 18 months, and when the upstart Venezuelan leader talked about his plans, he liked to refer to the British prime minister’s ‘third way’. At the time, I wanted to believe. Maybe Chávez would be true to his promise to revitalize democracy.
But no one alive in 1998 could miss the warning signs flashing around the former lieutenant-colonel. Chávez had gone from obscurity to global notoriety over a few blood-soaked hours in February 1992 when he tried, and failed, to overthrow the democratically elected government in a coup. All we needed to hear to appreciate what Chávez felt about democracy was the roar of his guns.