In This Article Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela

  • Introduction
  • Human Rights, Law, and the Bolivarian Constitution
  • The Military
  • Populism and Chavismo
  • Elections
  • Polarization and Conflict

Latin American Studies Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
by
Daniel Hellinger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0074

Introduction

The scholarship on Hugo Chávez and the “Bolivarian Revolution” is nearly as polarized as Venezuelan politics. Fortunately, Venezuelan culture also is characterized by a conviviality that has fostered civility among academic experts and political opponents at face-to-face meetings and conferences, toning down direct attacks upon one another. However, passionate opinions about Chávez inevitably color the analysis of even the most detached social-scientific and historical scholarship. Only in 2005 did Chávez proclaim the Bolivarian Revolution to be “socialist” at a speech before the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He characterized it as “socialism of the 21st century,” signaling his affinity with leftist intellectuals who maintain the importance of distinguishing new socialist experiments from the failed model of the Soviet Union. As the name implies, the foundation for Venezuelan socialism was to be found, according to Chávez, in the thought of the country’s heroic and iconic historical figure, Simón Bolívar. Bolívar’s liberalism is closer to Rousseau’s than to Locke’s, and his ideas were forged in a social context that included non-Western elements. He died eighteen years before the Communist Manifesto was published, So, Bolivarian socialism is a somewhat uneasy synthesis of Bolívar and Marx. Some sectors of the opposition to Chávez see the Bolivarian project as a pernicious attempt to import and impose the Cuban model (i.e., 20th-century socialism). The friendship between Venezuelan president and Fidel Castro is well known. But Venezuela is an oil-exporting nation with a consumer culture and, despite disillusionment with the performance of the electoral democracy between 1958 and 1998 (known as the “Punto Fijo” era), a popular commitment to pluralist politics. While Bolivarian socialism is yet to be precisely defined, we can safely say that its ideological components include participatory democracy, an economic development model based on solidarity rather than competition, respect for human rights, and diplomacy calculated to put Bolívar’s dream of Pan Americanism back on the hemispheric agenda. To succeed, the Bolivarian project will have to overcome the intense opposition of those convinced that Chávez is an autocrat interested in little more than keeping his own power. However, there is a second, perhaps more serious obstacle. Even in the literature sympathetic to the project, one finds acknowledgement that Bolivarian socialism will have to somehow overcome the deeply seated elective affinity in Venezuela toward centralized personalist rule. Those who want to study Venezuela under Chávez had best be advised to triangulate conflicting studies, discount the conclusions of the most polemical literature (on either side), consult a range (across race and gender, not just political perspectives) of Venezuelan views, and pay close attention to the methodologies employed by researchers.

General Overviews

Most of the recent works on Venezuela concentrate on the collapse of the Punto Fijo system and on the character of Chavismo and the Bolivarian government. While some recent scholarship offers basic background on Venezuelan history and culture by way of introduction, it rarely proves as thorough and comprehensive as needed for the researcher who is new to Venezuelan history and would delve deeply into the Bolivarian project. For this reason, this section highlights first literature, mostly published before 1998, that provides deeper historical background or a wide survey (Venezuelan History and Politics), and then separately considers works that offer a broad overview of The Chávez Era itself.

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