President Hugo Chávez has been the subject of much frenzied comment, as much at academic conferences as in the press. Criticism has been to a great degree personalised against his very visible public profile. The crisis of democracy in Venezuela has been widely ascribed to faults committed by the traditional parties since the early 1980s and reflected in the coterminous rise in crime and violence. Support for Chávez, or even objective comment, has been at a premium. This article looks at the crisis of democracy across a wider timescale and sees the ‘most stable democracy in Latin America’ to have been deeply flawed from the outset. It reflects an earlier propaganda campaign, similarly short on meaningful analysis, aimed at undermining the popularity of a previous unconventional leader of Venezuela, Marcos Pérez Jiménez. It is claimed that Venezuelans want to preserve democracy but are also ready to support military coups to oust corrupt or inefficient politicians. Is Chávez merely representative of transient anti-party feeling or could the history of Venezuelan democracy have caused a more fundamental change in relationships between the mass of the people and their leader?