Too many socialists have a bad habit of blaming anything bad that happens, or any failure of their own plans, on the machinations of enemies. How else is a committed ideologue to explain things not working when the right people are in charge? This is a habit of ideologues in general rather than socialists in particular -- witness how Republicans blame everything but the free market for American economic woes -- but socialists over the last century often have been the most fantastical and violent in their delusions. Regrettably, the Bolivarian socialists of Venezuela are little different from the rest. And so, as cancer-ridden Hugo Chavez fights for his life today, his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, makes the almost inevitable charge that Chavez was somehow poisoned, either by reactionaries at home or imperialists abroad. This reflexive rage over what was more likely a quirk of fate may have something to do with the expulsion of an American military attache accused of attempting to incite another coup d'etat. Readers may reserve the right not to put anything past the U.S., but its imagined effectiveness in laying low Chavez must seem strange when you think that Fidel Castro now seems likely to outlive his Venezuelan admirer. We know that the Americans tried to kill Castro, but the paranoid imagination no doubt imagines the evil one growing ever more efficient, subtle, etc., so that Castro's survival proves nothing. What makes Maduro and anyone who shares his suspicions idiots isn't their attitude toward the U.S. or their enemies in general. It's the knee-jerk conspiratorial assumption that their leader can't just get sick. For some people, a great leader can no more be brought down by a mere angry little gene or angry little germ than he can be by an angry little nut. Since ideologues know how the world is supposed to operate, the world can't be their enemy -- there must be an evil will at work that twists the world against them. Eliminate the evil and the world will be well; if the world isn't well, there must be more evil to eliminate. Conspiracy theory is secular superstition, but beyond that Maduro may be freaking out because he'll be on the spot if Chavez succumbs. He may be such a Chavez cultist himself that he can't imagine himself or anyone but the great leader sustaining the Bolivarian Revolution. This crazy talk about Chavez's illness reflects poorly on that revolution, suggesting that whatever its material achievements it remains essentially a cult of personality that may not long outlive its idol. That doesn't mean that there won't be people eager to help bring it all down, but that fact in turn doesn't prove that Venezuela isn't simply a victim of historic bad luck.
Update: Maduro is on the spot now. He's just that Chavez passed away little more than three hours ago. I'll try to make a proper comment on Chavez's career tomorrow.