Dating from the Reagan presidency's 'crusade for freedom', democracy promotion has been a central pillar of US foreign policy. Whether claims by George H.W. Bush that 'beyond containment lies democracy', or by George W. Bush that intervention into the Middle East promoted a 'march to freedom in the Muslim world', the importance of democracy to US foreign policy should not be underestimated. Far from promoting democracy, however, critics suggest that it is merely rhetorical cover for intervention and control, thus serving US rather than local interests. While not discarding these insights, this paper suggests that while democracy promotion may support US self-interests, so too does it uphold a US self-image by acting as an ideal around which Washington constructs its identity and worldview. Explored in relation to Latin America, it is argued that US democracy promotion - enabled by authoritarian representations of Venezuela - is central to both a US-authored Latin American identity and, in contrast, integral to challenging it. While Venezuela acts as the reverse image of freedom-loving United States and a democratically abiding Latin America, Caracas also challenges US democratic pre-eminence by extending the very notion of democracy and thereby demonstrates how both democracy and US influence more broadly are increasingly sites of contestation.