There will be plenty of negative commentary on Chavez in the US press (and after reflecting on the recent Malaysia scandal, I wonder how much of that will be directly financed by Venezuela's Chamber of Commerce, Fedecameras, which headed the conservative opposition to CHavez).
So this is just a brief diary seeking to counterbalance likely negative news and support the proposition that Chavez was in fact a highly successful leader if we judge success in terms of leaving the people of Venezuela much better off than when he took power.
First, while Venezuela had some weakening of democratic institutions like a free press and an independent court system, Chavez also changed Venezuela's election process into one that is significantly less subject to anti-democratic sabotage than the US's:
In Venezuela, voters touch a computer screen to cast their vote and then receive a paper receipt, which they verify and deposit in a ballot box. Most of the paper ballots are compared with the electronic tally. This system makes vote-rigging nearly impossible: to steal the vote would require hacking the computers and then stuffing the ballot boxes to match the rigged vote.
Former Pres. Carter once remarked that Venezuela's elections were in fact among the world's best: "of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world."
But it's Venezuela's economic record and the widespread participation in wealth that is central to Chavez's legacy, and that I believe makes him a clearly successful leader:
Since 2004, when the government gained control over the oil industry and the economy had recovered from the devastating, extra-legal attempts to overthrow it (including the 2002 US-backed military coup and oil strike of 2002-2003), poverty has been cut in half and extreme poverty by 70%. And this measures only cash income. Millions have access to healthcare for the first time, and college enrollment has doubled, with free tuition for many students. Inequality has also been considerably reduced. By contrast, the two decades that preceded Chávez amount to one of the worst economic failures in Latin America, with real income per person actually falling by 14% between 1980 and 1998.
Some further stats that suggest a central part of Chavez's legacy is likely to be leaving the country significantly better off economically than he found it: