Reinventing Legitimacy: Democracy and Political Change in Venezuela

Reinventing Legitimacy: Democracy and Political Change in Venezuela

Reinventing Legitimacy: Democracy and Political Change in Venezuela

Reinventing Legitimacy: Democracy and Political Change in Venezuela


What makes for an ongoing, successful democracy in Latin America? The essays in this collection emphasize the inherent dynamicism needed to sustain democratic governance. Organized around analyses of political institutions, political parties, public administration and corruption, public opinion, and continuity and change in Venezuelan politics, the essays advance the proposition that Venezuelan democracy survived recent threats because of its capacity to reform institutions and absorb new actors.


After nearly thirty years of political calm and democratic growth, the legitimacy of Venezuelan democracy has been severely tested over the past decade: violent riots, two attempted coups d'état, and a presidential impeachment shook confidence in the political system in Venezuela and abroad. The signs of political and social deterioration abound in Venezuela. More street crime, a disappearing middle class, and voter abstentionism are only a few examples. However, at the same time, clear efforts are being undertaken to reinvent Venezuelan democracy: citizens' organizations mobilize neighborhoods to press local governments for better municipal services, older unions linked to traditional parties are challenged by new labor movements, and new political parties break open the country's two-party system with stunning victories in elections at all levels of government.

Can Venezuelan democracy regain the political legitimacy it enjoyed for a generation after its foundation in 1958? To answer this question, research must identify the dilemmas facing the country's political system, examine recent political and social changes, and evaluate proposals for political reforms.

To explore the current state of democratic legitimacy in Venezuela, we organized the conference "Compromised Legitimacy?: Assessing the Crisis of Democracy in Venezuela," and invited leading scholars from the United States and Venezuela. The conference was sponsored by the North-South Center at the University of Miami and was held at the Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas, Venezuela in May 1996. Prior to the conference, we asked participants to tackle the slippery concept of democratic legitimacy in Venezuela; their thoughtful and inventive research add tremendously to the study of politics in Venezuela.

Although specific evaluations of the Venezuelan political system vary in this volume, the authors share a general perception that the system's strength is reflected in the responses of citizens, institutions, parties, and civil society organizations to the crises that defined the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the . . .

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