Electing Chávez: The Business of Anti-Neoliberal Politics in Venezuela


Electing Chávez: The Business of Anti-Neoliberal Politics in Venezuela
Leslie C Gates
2010, University of Pittsburgh Press
195 pages

IMPORTANT texts are those that step outside the comfortable zones of accepted truths and commonplaces to offer a radically different understanding of a phenomenon that may challenge the narratives that until then have dominated our understanding. Nowhere is this more so than in the case of Venezuela under Hugo Chávez, where institutional failure – in this case of the party system – compounded by policies shaped by petro-corruption is accepted to be the main explanation for the rise of the populist leftwing leader. Leslie Gates has taken a refreshingly different approach, providing compelling evidence that Venezuela’s private sector itself – a fickle and spoiled force spanning the divide between political and civil society that has more often than not aligned against Chávez since 1999 – in fact played a key role in his ascent. In particular, it was the loss of the private sector’s legitimacy and the growing sense of panic that it would lose its privileged access to the corridors of power as challenges grew to an increasingly corrupt political system that caused elements of it to ignore Chávez’s anti-neoliberal inclinations and quietly back him. It’s an extremely important story, for two main reasons: Chávez was in effect the first in a wave of leftwing leaders to come to power in Latin America in this period; and chavismo lurched leftward several years into his rule, fuelling interest in “21st-century socialism”, establishing close links with Cuba and providing something of a template for the left in Latin America and beyond. Gates reinterprets the relationship between businesss and the state during Venezuela’s era of two-party dominance – for a long time seen as the model for stable party politics in the region. She traces the rise of business-related corruption scandals and documents how business became identified with the political establishment, explaining why business opposition to Chávez represented an asset for him. An elite cabal of businessmen eventually supported him despite his anti-neoliberal stance because they feared his rival would be more likely to deny them access to the then corrupt oil state. Proof perhaps that in politics, business is a fundamentally anti-democratic actor, choosing sides not in terms of ideology or the common good but in terms solely of self-interest. – GO’T

Bookmark and Share