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March 2014 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Venezuela’s Caracazo, the name given to the 1989 nationwide riots in response to austerity measures announced by then President Carlos Andrés Pérez. To quell the street protests and end widespread looting, Pérez declared a state of emergency and unleashed the army, which killed hundreds of civilians. Venezuela is still suffering the consequences. Venezuelan social scientist Margarita López Maya notes that “after ordering the repression, neither [the Pérez] government nor democracy itself was able to regain legitimacy.”

Three years after Caracazo, a faction of the army attempted a coup. Although it failed, it helped launch the political career of Hugo Chávez, one of the officers involved. In 1998, Chávez made a successful bid for the presidency, a position he held for 14 years. At the end of his presidency and facing terminal cancer, he named as his successor Nicolás

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  • CYNTHIA J. ARNSON is director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. CARLOS DE LA TORRE is director of international studies and professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. They are the editors of Latin American Populism in the Twenty-First Century (Woodrow Wilson Center Press and The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), upon which this essay draws.
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