Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

Corrales, Javier and Michael Penfold. Dragon in the Tropics: Venezuela and the Legacy of Hugo Chavez

Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

Corrales, Javier and Michael Penfold. Dragon in the Tropics: Venezuela and the Legacy of Hugo Chavez

Article excerpt

Corrales, Javier and Michael Penfold. Dragon in the Tropics: Venezuela and the Legacy of Hugo Chavez (second edition). Washington D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2015.

Hugo Chavez was one of the most visible and controversial political figures in recent Latin American history. Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold examine Chavez's legacy three years after his death in the second edition of Dragon in the Tropics. The authors argue that the major legacy of Chavismo is the creation of a competitive authoritarian system (elections, but with built-in advantages for the ruling party), although Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro has made the system less competitive and more authoritarian. This, the authors contend, has led to the most profound economic crisis in Venezuela's history.

Venezuela's democracy in the 1990s was frail, yet it was plural and checks and balances were largely in place. Chavez systematically eliminated the checks and balances, thus concentrating tremendous power in the executive branch. For example, Chavez awarded the executive branch complete control over promotions in the armed forces without legislative approval. Venezuela's 1999 constitution transformed the country's political system into what many have called a high-stakes model: the advantages of holding office and, conversely, the costs of remaining in the opposition were significantly expanded. When the stakes of holding powers are high, the incentives for incumbents to give up power to the opposition decline, and the acceptability for the opposition of the status quo stand is dramatically reduced.

The book is also essential to understanding the dilemma the opposition in Venezuela faces. Should it participate in a system that is clearly rigged in favor of the ruling party, thus implicitly legitimizing it? Chavez had been capable of dividing the opposition by accepting some of their demands but not others, thus constantly creating an intra-opposition struggle between those who seek to operate within the set of rules (such as Henrique Capriles) and those who argue that there is little point in standing for office merely to be humiliated by constantly moving goal posts (as the opposition in Venezuela's National Assembly is currently finding out).

Although the authors exhibit a remarkably well-balanced understanding of Venezuelan politics, their account of events in 2002 is rather one-sided. They describe the 2002 coup against Chavez as a series of coups, arguing that Chavez' return to power constituted a coup against Pedro Carmona, even though the latter had no constitutional legitimacy. …

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