Electing Chávez: The Business of Anti-neoliberal Politics in Venezuela
By Leslie C. Gates
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010, 208 pp.
The firebrand Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998, when oil prices were low and Venezuela's population was steeply rising. This meant that there were millions of dissatisfied and disorganized poor people -- a ready constituency for an antiestablishment soldier like him. Gates argues that the business class threw more fuel into this volatile mixture, contributing to its own demise in two ways. First, business had become closely associated with ineffective governments widely perceived as corrupt, so voters rejected traditional candidates. (Gates does not judge whether these media-generated perceptions were accurate.) Second, "outlier" business owners, opportunistically seeking future access to a likely winner, betrayed their class and funded Chávez's campaign. So it not just the rejection of free-market "neoliberal" policies that elevated Chávez to power; it was also popular perceptions of business corruption and internal divisions among the business elite.