Based on more than fifteen years' experience in researching and writing about Venezuela, Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold have crafted a comprehensive account of how the Chávez regime has revamped the nation, with a particular focus on its political transformation. Throughout, they take issue with conventional explanations. First, they argue persuasively that liberal democracy as an institution was not to blame for the rise of chavismo. Second, they assert that the nation's economic ailments were not caused by neoliberalism. Instead they blame other factors, including a dependence on oil, which caused macroeconomic volatility; political party fragmentation, which triggered infighting; government mismanagement of the banking crisis, which led to more centralization of power; and the Asian crisis of 1997, which devastated Venezuela's economy at the same time that Chávez ran for president.
It is perhaps on the role of oil that the authors take greatest issue with prevailing opinion. They do not dispute that dependence on oil can generate political and economic distortions—the "resource curse" or "paradox of plenty" arguments—but they counter that oil alone fails to explain Chávez's rise. Instead they single out a weak framework of checks and balances that allowed the executive branch to extract oil rents and distribute them to the populace. The real culprit behind Chávez's success, they write, was the asymmetry of political power.
Javier Corrales is a professor of political science at Amherst College and the author of Presidents Without Parties: The Politics of Economic Reform in Argentina and Venezuela in the 1990s (Penn State Press, 2002).
Michael Penfold is professor of political economy and former dean of the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administracion in Caracas and the author of Dos Tradiciones,Un Conflicto: El Futuro de la Descentralización (Debate 2009).
U.S.-Venezuela Relations since the 1990s explores relations between these two countries since 1999, when Hugo Chavez came to office and proceeded to change Venezuela's historical relation with the United States and other democracies. The authors analyze the reasons for rising bilateral conflict, the decision-making process in Venezuela, the role played by public and private actors in shaping foreign policy, the role of other powers such as China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in shaping U.S.-Venezuelan relations, the role of Venezuela in Cuba and Colombia, and the impact of broader international dynamics in the bi-lateral relations.