Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela

By Donald L. Herman | Go to book overview

9
Venedemocracia and the Vagaries of the Energy Crisis

Robert J. Alexander

During the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, the Venezuelan economy felt the full impact of the dramatic shifts in world demand and supply for petroleum, the country's major export. The four administrations that governed during this period sought to deal with the resulting problems in different ways. But the democratic system that the Venezuelans frequently call the "Venedemocracia" had remained intact since 1958 in spite of the violently shifting economic currents of the period. Orderly elections brought new administrations to power every five years, and the two major parties, Acción Democrética ( AD) and Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente ( COPEI), alternated in power with each election.

President Rafael Caldera, who was in office from 1969 to 1974, presided over the end of one phase of economic development. During the quarter of a century before his coming into power, Venezuela had been undergoing a process in which import-substitution industrialization had been the principal motor force for development. This strategy had been deliberately launched during the trienio of 1945 to 1948, in which Acción Democrética had been in power for the first time. The governments of that period had established the Venezuelan Development Corporation and had begun to expand greatly the economic and social infrastructure with the avowed purpose of "sowing petroleum," which in part at least meant expanding the country's industrial base.

Although the dictatorship that ruled Venezuela from November 1948 until January 1958 had nothing that would pass for a deliberate policy of development, the expansion of oil exports during the period helped to expand the internal market, and the process of import substitution went on, rather in spite of the government than because of it. However, with the return to power of President Rómulo Betancourt early in 1959, the Venezuelan government energetically and

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