Electing Chavez

Electing Chavez: The Business of Anti-neoliberal Politics in Venezuela

Leslie C. Gates
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vkf5d
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  • Book Info
    Electing Chavez
    Book Description:

    Venezuela's Hugo Chávez was the first anti-neoliberal presidential candidate to win in the region.Electing Chávezexamines the circumstances that facilitated this pivotal election. By 1998, Venezuela had been rocked by two major scandals-the exchange rate incidents of the 1980s and the banking crisis of 1994-and had suffered rising social inequality. These events created a deep-seated distrust of establishment politicians. Chávez's 1998 victory, however, was far from inevitable. Other presidential candidates also stood against corruption and promised a clean break from politics as usual. Moreover, business opposition to Chávez's anti-neoliberal candidacy should have convinced voters that his victory would provoke a downward economic spiral.InElecting Chávez, Leslie C. Gates examines how Chávez won over voters and even obtained the secret allegiance of a group of business "elite outliers," with a reinterpretation of the relationship between business and the state during Venezuela's era of two-party dominance (1959-1998). Through extensive research on corruption and the backgrounds of political leaders.Gates tracks the rise of business-related corruption scandals and documents how business became identified with Venezuela's political establishment. These trends undermined the public's trust in business and converted business opposition into an asset for Chávez. This long history of business-tied politicians and the scandals they often provoked also framed the decisions of elite outliers. As Gates reveals, elite outliers supported Chávez despite his anti-neoliberal stance because they feared that the success of Chávez's main rival would deny them access to Venezuela's powerful oil state.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7373-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. LIST OF ACRONYMS
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Part I. Introduction
    • 1 THE UNLIKELY ELECTION OF AN ANTI-NEOLIBERAL
      (pp. 3-13)

      In 1998, Venezuelans elected a “staunchly anti-neoliberal” president (Ellner 2004, 11). During his ultimately victorious presidential campaign, Hugo Chávez, the former paratrooper and failed coup leader, “inveighed against neoliberalism and its tendency to exacerbate inequalities” (Ellner 2003, 16). He railed against neoliberalism’s market-opening economic reforms, such as the privatizing of state-owned enterprises and the elimination of price controls, declaring such policies “savage” (Peña 1998). Instead, he called for a reversal of themany neoliberal policies introduced to Venezuela in the 1990s, for a partial moratoriumon foreign debt payments (Cooper and Madigan 1998), and for an economy that “puts people first” (Gutkin...

    • 2 EXPLAINING CHÁVEZ’S ELECTION
      (pp. 14-36)

      We cannot understand why Chávez won the 1998 presidential election in Venezuela without appreciating the factors that created an opening for candidates who, like Chávez, campaigned as political outsiders. Indeed, most scholars explaining the results of that year’s presidential election focused on this issue. They have focused, that is, on why Venezuelans lost confidence in their two-party political establishment. Their explanations for the growing disillusionment with the political establishment can be grouped into three main theses: (1) the corruption thesis, (2) the failed institutions thesis, and (3) the social polarization thesis. Each thesis sheds light on why Venezuelans elected Chávez...

  7. Part II. Voter Support for Chávez
    • 3 THE ROLE OF ANTI-BUSINESS SENTIMENT
      (pp. 39-58)

      Why would Venezuelans vote to place their nation in the hands of a presidential candidate who provoked strong opposition from the business community? The reasons why Venezuelans were willing to do so are not obvious. One might naturally assume that business leaders opposed to Chávez could have dissuaded voters from supporting Chávez by convincing them that a Chávez government would severely destabilize the economy the way that Allende’s democratically elected socialist government destabilized Chile during the early 1970s. Business leaders might also have persuaded voters that electing Chávez would provoke a political reaction that would result in the restriction of...

    • 4 THE SOURCES OF ANTI-BUSINESS SENTIMENT
      (pp. 59-82)

      There are at least two plausible sources of anti-business sentiment in Venezuela other than Chávez’s own rhetoric. One is Venezuela’s long history of corruption scandals that implicate business (i.e., business corruption), and another is the visible, or prominent, role of business in Venezuelan politics (i.e., business prominence). Since I have demonstrated that the public’s lack of confidence in business had an impact on the outcome of the 1998 election, it is important to establish the plausible origins of anti-business sentiment and whether they affected that dwindling level of confidence in business in 1998. Doing so reveals several new ways that...

  8. Part III. Business Assistance for Chávez
    • 5 DEPENDENT PROMINENCE AND ELITE OUTLIER CALCULUS TO ASSIST CHÁVEZ
      (pp. 85-110)

      Many of the business elites I interviewed had no difficulty remembering their disdain for Chávez during the 1998 presidential election. For example, one of Caracas’s real estate barons scoffed, “I thought he didn’t have any idea about economics. And, he had three or four socialist ideas that came from Marxism” (Interview 19, 9).A titan of Venezuelan industry explained why he dismissed Chávez, saying, “I didn’t see anything in Chávez’s policies that inspired me to think that, with his government, we would have sustainable development. Indeed, I saw the opposite” (Interview 24, 8).Another conglomerate executive recalled trying to persuade the U.S....

    • 6 POLITICALLY PROMINENT BANKERS AND THE HISTORICALLY ROOTED CALCULUS TO ASSIST CHÁVEZ
      (pp. 111-131)

      The government’s response to Venezuela’s 1994 bank crisis shaped the political calculus of a core group of the elite outliers who reportedly assisted Chávez in 1998. As described earlier, the bank crisis was the font of numerous corruption allegations against both high-ranking government officials and bankers. It was the political prominence of business in the midst of this scandal-driven crisis, however, that fueled divisions among bankers in 1994, divisions that shaped the political calculus of bankers in 1998.We can discern this historically rooted political calculus of the elite outliers only by looking beyond the immediate interests of businesspeople and considering...

    • CONCLUSION: Theoretical Implications of Chávez’s Election
      (pp. 132-146)

      This book has presented new evidence regardingVenezuela’s political environment during the country’s forty years of two-party democracy (1959– 1998). Using this new evidence, I have sought to explain why it was Chávez who emerged as the victor in the 1998 presidential elections. My explanation rests on solving two puzzles that his victory poses: a voter puzzle and a business assistance puzzle. Business opposition should have made it particularly unlikely that a staunchly anti-neoliberal candidate like Chávez would emerge the victor. Business opposition should have made it more difficult for Chávez to defeat so many other presidential candidates who similarly attacked...

  9. APPENDIX A. INTERVIEWS CONDUCTED
    (pp. 147-148)
  10. APPENDIX B. CORRUPTION SCANDALS
    (pp. 149-150)
  11. APPENDIX C. POLITICAL BIOGRAPHIES
    (pp. 151-154)
  12. APPENDIX D. ELITE OUTLIERS
    (pp. 155-156)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 157-174)
  14. REFERENCES
    (pp. 175-190)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 191-195)