The course of Venezuelan politics after the failed 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez contains elements of both change and continuity.

Four years later, Chavez remains the target of U.S. media disinformation. For example, on the eve of the 2002 coup attempt, Juan Forero of The New York Times wrote of Chavez’s “autocratic style and left-wing policies,” which “have alienated a growing number of people.” Shortly after the coup Forero gave credence to the lie that the Venezuelan president had resigned, and hailed his illegitimate would-be successor as a “manager and conciliator.”

Chavez, of course, was almost immediately restored to office by a mass outpouring of the Venezuelan people and with the aid of patriotic elements in the military.

Today, writing about presidential elections slated for this December, Forero heaps praise on an opposition candidate, Julio Borges of the Justice First party. While other opposition parties seem to be favoring an election boycott, Forero has Borges saying that a boycott “only adds to Mr. Chavez’s power and has already made Venezuela in effect a one-party state.” The suggestion is that Chavez has bought the voters’ favor, “having funneled billions of dollars in oil revenue to the poor.”

The electoral opposition is frustrated and divided. After multiple election victories and a parliamentary election boycott last November, the Chavez movement has electoral politics just about to itself now.

Surveys show that almost two-thirds of the adult population is behind the president. His government gets high marks for advances in education (69.4 percent), housing (65.3 percent) and health care (65.2 percent). A Chilean survey last year showed that Venezuelans are first among Latin Americans in viewing their country as “totally democratic.”

Venezuela’s working people have experienced an increase in their buying power. New car sales have risen sharply, due in part to cheap gasoline, and last year shopping mall sales rose 40 percent.

On the other hand, surveys show that more than 50 percent of the people are worried about crime and corruption. Nationwide protests staged on April 6 in response to the murders of three teenage brothers and their chauffeur demonstrate that such concerns can quickly turn into more generalized anti-government agitation.

Police were apparently complicit in the crime. Leaders of the Justice First Party exploited the demonstrations for political gain. The Chavez government announced the formation of a National Institute of Police Reform and the transfer of soldiers to police duty.

U.S. government meddling remains constant. Washington had a hand in the failed coup four years ago; naval ships floated offshore and U.S. money was to the opposition was flowing.

In 2004, the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy transferred more than $50,000 to Sumate, a supposedly nonpartisan group, which organized against Chavez during that year’s recall campaign. Last February, a report appeared that the U.S. “Office on Transition Initiatives” had distributed $4.5 million to opposition parties in 2005.

Tensions are high. Venezuelan officials criticized U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield for staging a provocation on April 7. His small motorcade ventured into a pro-Chavez barrio, where Brownfield handed out sports equipment. Demonstrators pounded on his car and threw eggs and tomatoes. Chavez charged the ambassador with violating diplomatic protocol and threatened to expel him.

Threats mount from neighboring Colombia, where U.S. troops and mercenaries are on the ground, a right-wing government is in power and paramilitaries are available to the highest bidder.

However, the Chavez government still enjoys support from the Venezuelan military. In April 2002, units commanded by General Raul Baduel backed the popular mobilization and were instrumental in returning Chavez to power. Speaking April 10 in Maracay, Baduel reaffirmed the army’s role “in the maintenance of internal order, and active participation in national development.”