In This Review

Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era: Class, Polarization and Conflict
Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era: Class, Polarization and Conflict
Edited by Steve Ellner and Daniel Hellinger
Lynne Rienner, 2003, 257 pp

An extremely valuable and balanced overview of Venezuela under the erratic reign of President Hugo Chávez, this timely book provides much of the essential background that has, so far, been notably absent in the policy debate. The authors see a cumulative historical failure in Venezuela to translate the benefits of cyclical primary export booms into social and economic progress for the majority of the population. Although Chávez came to prominence as the leader of two failed military coups, he gained power eventually through elections and on the back of a popular movement. The discontentment, alienation, and rebelliousness of the marginalized poor in Venezuela are the roots of the political crisis and of the continuing social polarization that makes arbitration between the government and the opposition so difficult. Despite Ch‡vez's radical nationalist language and independent foreign policy, according to the authors, the day-to-day practice of his regime is, or was until recently, more pragmatic than revolutionary. For them, the military coup and countercoup of April 2002 reveal both the fragility of the Chavista coalition in the face of continuing econmic deterioration as well as the political immaturity of the emerging opposition.