Academic journal article Social Justice

Venezuela: The Political Crisis of Post-Chavismo

Academic journal article Social Justice

Venezuela: The Political Crisis of Post-Chavismo

Article excerpt

During the two years of PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ'S ILLNESS, THE VARIOUS imbalances that had characterized Venezuelan society since the beginning of his first term in 1999 deepened. His death, on March 5,2013, left an immense political vacuum. During the 14 years of his rule, political power and decision making were concentrated in the presidency. On December 8,2012, before leaving for Havana to undergo a last surgery from which he would never recover, Chavez announced that his successor would be Vice President and Chancellor Nicolas Maduro. Following the guidelines stipulated in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (CRB V), upon declaration of his death presidential elections were immediately convened and took place on April 14.

Maduro won, but the results were closer than the polls and analysts had anticipated. As had become the norm in the Chavez era, the electoral competition was characterized by the use of state resources for the campaign of the ruling party. State media and employees were also involved in the campaigns, further demonstrating the elimination of boundaries between state, government, and ruling party, with state powers subordinated to the "Revolution" (Lopez Maya and Lander 2013; see also www.oevenezolano.org). The situation turned combative when the National Electoral Council (CNE) published its first bulletin reporting data from 90 percent of the polling places. The report showed only a 1.7 percent advantage for Maduro over Henrique Capriles Radonski of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). (1)

Maduro's triumphant discourse that night sounded awkward because it was out of proportion to the very slim lead he had. Six months earlier, candidate Hugo Chavez had won the presidential elections with an advantage of 11 percent. This noticeable weakening of power put Maduro and the ruling party in a difficult political position vis-a-vis the opposition and the Chavista base. In the following days, the president, his government, and his party opted to harden the polarizing discourse, denouncing a potential coup d'etat from the extreme Right--whose head would be Capriles Radonski. They gave signs of condoning acts of violence against opposition leaders and supporters. This deepened the political crisis even more.

The Political Context (2)

The political crisis developing in Venezuela is marked by extensive political imbalances. These result from the dismantling of the liberal democratic institutions established in the CRB V and their being replaced with a new state of direct democracy, led "from above," during the second term of President Chavez (2007-2013). The new emerging regime has characteristics of authoritarian populism. The CRBV state has been replaced by a non-liberal "communal state."

Chavista Populism

Although scholars have not yet reached a consensus about the nature of populism, the definition proposed by Ernesto Laclau (2005) describes it as a universal form of doing politics characterized by an aggressive and polarizing political discourse that divides society into "the people" (the good, the poor, the powerless) and "the oligarchy" (the bad, the elite, the powerful). Populist politics centers on a charismatic leader who establishes direct relationships with his followers, without mediation. Because of this, authors such as de la Torre (2008) and Peruzzotti (2008) consider it to be a form of direct democracy: it simplifies the political discourse, generates a powerful potential for mobilizing that facilitates political cohesion among movement participants, and transforms the relationship between society and the state. On the one hand, these authors assert that in countries where populism has recently gained momentum (Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela), processes of justice and social inclusion have occurred. On the other hand, sustaining this form of politics over time results in the weakening and/or destroying of mediating institutions and political representation, creating the conditions for anomie and authoritarianism. …

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