The Malaise of Venezuelan Political Parties: Is Democracy Endangered?
John D. Martz
During his victorious presidential campaign of 1973, Carlos Andrés Pérez reiterated both publicly and privately his conviction that the next five years marked "the last chance for democracy" in Venezuela. Comparing conditions to those prevailing in Cuba of the early 1950s prior to the golpe de estado (coup d'état) of Fulgencio Batista, he urged that voters provide the candidates of Acción Democrática (AD) with a mandate to correct fundamental ills, advance the cause of social justice and economic equality, and thereby to rescatar la democracia (redeem democracy). 1 In five years' time his administration had launched a host of ambitious projects, had further extended the role of the central state in national life, and -- buoyed by the extraordinary 1973 and 1974 quadrupling of petroleum prices on the international market -- had succeeded in spending more government funds than those of all preceding regimes since the creation of the Republic in 1830. His party was defeated at the polls by the social Christians, whose leader, Luis Herrera Campins, complained bitterly in his 1979 inaugural address of having inherited a "mortgaged" nation. 2
Herrera initially advocated an austerity program that was intended to cool an overinflated economy and restore a semblance of discipline to the nation. However, when the Iranian Revolution led to dramatic new price increases, he denied his earlier remonstrances, spending in his first three years what Pérez had committed in five. As one Venezuelan observer remarked, "There must be examples of worse fiscal management than that of Venezuela in the last eight or nine years, but I am not aware of them." 3 Following on the heels of a sweeping victory over COPEI that exceeded even the Pérez triumph a decade earlier, Acción Democrática returned to power in February 1984.
The inheritor of a vast economic morass, Jaime Lusinchi uttered familiar language upon his own accession to the presidency. There was a renewed call