For much of the second half of the twentieth century, Venezuela was one of Latin America’s few bastions of democracy and stability. Today, with inflation soaring and protests mounting, instability seems inevitable, and the country is on edge. How did this happen? In this broad, accessible overview of the country’s political history, Salas finds the roots of most, but not all, of today’s problems in the rule of Hugo Chávez, who served as Venezuela’s president from 1999 until his death in 2013. Salas recounts how during an economic slump brought on by low oil prices at the end of the 1990s, Chávez boldly set the country on a new footing. In 1999, he called for a new constitution, and he subsequently spearheaded new regional alliances that excluded the United States. Not surprisingly, Chávez’s policies deeply polarized Venezuelan society and provoked multiple attempts by the opposition to remove Chávez from power, ranging from an attempted military coup in 2002, to oil strikes, to a failed recall referendum in 2004. But Salas also finds much to applaud in Chávez’s project to revolutionize Venezuela: for example, the sharp decline in poverty rates between 2002 and 2010 and the success of various programs aimed at improving health, literacy, and housing. As he sees it, the main problem is that Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” was not sufficiently institutionalized. Chávez’s death, along with a severe drop in oil prices and the lackluster performance of Chávez’s handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, has left the country adrift.
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