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The Chávez Phenomenon: Political Change in Venezuela

Ronald D. Sylvia and Constantine P. Danopoulos
Third World Quarterly
Vol. 24, No. 1 (Feb., 2003), pp. 63-76
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3993630
Page Count: 14
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The Chávez Phenomenon: Political Change in Venezuela
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Abstract

This article focuses on the advent and governing style of, and issues facing colonel-turned politician Hugo Chávez since he became president of Venezuela in 1998 with 58% of the vote. The article begins with a brief account of the nature of the country's political environment that emerged in 1958, following the demise of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship. Aided by phenomenal increases in oil prices, Venezuela's political elites reached a pact that governed the country for nearly four decades. Huge increases in education, health and other social services constituted the hallmark of Venezuela's 'subsidised democracy'. Pervasive corruption, a decrease in oil revenues and two abortive coups in 1992 challenged the foundations of subsidised democracy. The election of Chávez in 1998 sealed the fate of the 1958 pact. Chávez's charisma, anti-colonial/Bolivarist rhetoric, and increasing levels of poverty form the basis of his support among the poor and dissatisfied middle classes. The articles then turns its attention to Chávez's governing style and the problems he faces as he labours to turn around the country's stagnant economy. Populist initiatives aimed at wealth redistribution, land reform and a more multidimensional and Third World-orientated foreign policy form the main tenets of the Chávez regime. These, coupled with anti-business rhetoric, over-dependence on oil revenues and opposition from Venezuela's political and economic elites, have polarised the country and threaten its political stability. The brief overthrow of Chávez in April 2002, ongoing daily demonstrations, and divisions within the army and society have brought the country to the brink of civil war.

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