The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela

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The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela

by Jennifer L. McCoy and David J. Myers
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004
368 pp. $49.95
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This sobering postmortem reveals with depressing clarity the conditions that gave rise to Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. The "Dutch disease" -- easy oil wealth, in Venezuela's case -- distorted economic incentives and spawned excessively cozy public-private liaisons that equated representative democracy with privilege and waste in the popular mind. Richard Hillman provocatively faults an antiestablishment intelligentsia for helping to tear apart representative democracy without designing viable alternatives. The Venezuelan people, for their part, have preferred a paternalistic state and fiercely resisted attempts at market-oriented economic reform. According to Moisés Naím, a fixation on corruption rather than bad policy as the main problem helped pave the way for a charismatic populist. Particularly fascinating is Nelson Ortiz's insider account of the private sector's self-destruction; also worthwhile is Luis Salamanca knowledgeable detailing of a "late-blooming" civil society unable to match Chávez's political skills and resources. Amid all this angst, Harold Trinkunas uncovers one bit of good news for Venezuela's worried neighbors: by politicizing his military, Chávez has depleted its combat capabilities.