In This Review

Dragon in the Tropics: Hugo Chavez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela (Brookings Latin America Initiative)
Dragon in the Tropics: Hugo Chavez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela (Brookings Latin America Initiative)
By Javier Corrales,Michael Penfold
Brookings Institution Press, 2010, 195 pp
Purchase

Easily the best scholarly treatment of Hugo Chávez's hybrid electoral autocracy, Corrales and Penfold's book courageously refutes orthodox explanations -- from the right and the left -- for this unique caudillo's rise and resilience. Chávez gained power not because of neoliberal market reforms and political decay but rather because of the reverse: Venezuela's statist, oil-based economy and prior democratic openings had created the conditions for Chavismo. Especially insightful -- and heartbreaking -- is the story of how Chávez has drained the once proud state oil company of capital to fund his politically driven social programs and ambitious foreign policy agenda. Equally fascinating is how he has cleverly manipulated his international largess and appeal to the region's radical left to mute external criticism of his rule. Most likely, the authors predict, Chávez will sustain his increasingly entrenched neopopulist regime, unless a more unified opposition can build bridges to regime moderates who fear future chaos. This masterful monograph's dissection of Chávez's astoundingly shrewd political tactics will be carefully studied by both his well-wishers and his detractors.