Dragon in the Tropics

Dragon in the Tropics: Hugo Chavez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 195
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  • Book Info
    Dragon in the Tropics
    Book Description:

    Since he was first elected in 1999, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías has reshaped a frail but nonetheless pluralistic democracy into a semi-authoritarian regime -an outcome achieved with spectacularly high oil income and widespread electoral support. This eye-opening book illuminates one of the most sweeping and unexpected political transformations in contemporary Latin America.

    Based on more than fifteen years' experience in researching and writing about Venezuela, Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold have crafted a comprehensive account of how the Chávez regime has revamped the nation, with a particular focus on its political transformation. Throughout, they take issue with conventional explanations. First, they argue persuasively that liberal democracy as an institution was not to blame for the rise of chavismo. Second, they assert that the nation's economic ailments were not caused by neoliberalism. Instead they blame other factors, including a dependence on oil, which caused macroeconomic volatility; political party fragmentation, which triggered infighting; government mismanagement of the banking crisis, which led to more centralization of power; and the Asian crisis of 1997, which devastated Venezuela's economy at the same time that Chávez ran for president.

    It is perhaps on the role of oil that the authors take greatest issue with prevailing opinion. They do not dispute that dependence on oil can generate political and economic distortions -the "resource curse" or "paradox of plenty" arguments -but they counter that oil alone fails to explain Chávez's rise. Instead they single out a weak framework of checks and balances that allowed the executive branch to extract oil rents and distribute them to the populace. The real culprit behind Chávez's success, they write, was the asymmetry of political power.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0502-4
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction: The Chávez Revolution in Perspective
    (pp. 1-13)

    This book spotlights one of the most sweeping and unexpected political transformations in contemporary Latin American politics. President Hugo Chávez Frías, in office since 1999 and reelected in 2000 and 2006, has transformed a frail but nonetheless pluralistic democracy into a hybrid regime, an outcome achieved in the context of a spectacularly high oil income and widespread electoral support. Hybrid regimes are political systems in which the mechanism for determining access to state office combines both democratic and autocratic practices. In hybrid regimes, freedoms exist and the opposition is allowed to compete in elections, but the system of checks and...

  5. 2 Power Grabbing and the Rise of a Hybrid Regime in Venezuela, 1999–2009
    (pp. 14-46)

    How did a grassroots movement that began in 1998 as an effort to bring more democracy to Venezuela transform itself into a movement intent on empowering the executive branch above any other actor? The emergence of a hybrid regime in Venezuela cannot be explained easily with functional theories. Such arguments posit the breakdown of democratic institutions as an outgrowth of chronic crises in governability, which prompt political actors—whether in office or in the opposition—to seize and centralize power in order to cope with daunting issues.¹ Between 1999 and 2001, however, when some of the most important changes in...

  6. 3 Economic Policy and the Oil Honey Pot
    (pp. 47-70)

    Venezuela’s regime transformation took place in the context of a distinct economic background—the most spectacular oil boom in the country’s history, between late 2003 and mid-2008. Chávez’s economic policy responded swiftly to the surge in oil revenue. When he took office in 1999, his administration was fiscally conservative and even friendly toward foreign investment. But when oil prices began to rise to unprecedented levels, the regime deployed expansionary fiscal and monetary policies, coupled with a series of nationalizations and other antibusiness measures that smothered private investment.

    Accounts of Venezuela’s economic policy often fail to report these changes in economic...

  7. 4 Institutional Resource Curse: Seizing Political Control of PDVSA
    (pp. 71-97)

    Historically, oil has played an overarching role in shaping Venezuela’s political economy, and its importance did not wane under Chávez.¹ The scale and length of the oil boom following 2003 are too obvious to overlook. Thomas Friedman, in an effort to capture the link between oil and democracy across countries worldwide, argued famously that the price of oil and the degree of freedom invariably move in opposite directions.² He calls this the “first law of petropolitics” and even invokes the case of Venezuela under Chávez as a perfect example. Nonetheless, positing a causal, unmediated relationship between oil and (erosion of)...

  8. 5 Venezuela’s New Foreign Policy: Soft-Balancing and Social-Power Diplomacy
    (pp. 98-136)

    Chavismohas entailed a fundamental revamp not only of Venezuela’s political regime and oil industry but also of its foreign policy. The latter is mostly a result of the former. Regime change and an oil windfall allowed Chávez to transform Venezuela’s historical partnership with the United States into a relationship characterized by suspicion and antagonism. By the mid-2000s, Chávez’s fire-breathing anti-Americanism had become legendary worldwide, especially after his famous speech at the United Nations in 2006 declaring that he smelled sulfur following a presentation by “the devil” George W. Bush. This acerbic anti-Americanism has made Chávez today one of the...

  9. 6 Conclusion: Hybrid Regimes and Populism in Venezuela and Beyond
    (pp. 137-162)

    What insights about the political economy of development can we draw from observing over a decade ofchavismoin Venezuela? In this concluding chapter we discuss lessons learned in three broad areas. First, we summarize what we learned about the nature and actual operations of hybrid regimes—regimes that are neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic. We discuss specifically how Chávez managed to remain electorally competitive while carrying out a process of gradual political closure. Second, we focus on the issue of populism—Latin America’s long-standing practice of deploying state resources to weaken institutions that mediate between the state and...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 163-180)
  11. Index
    (pp. 181-196)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-198)