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Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy

Participation, Politics, and Culture under Chávez

Edited by David Smilde and Daniel C. Hellinger

Publication Year: 2011

Published by: Duke University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword: Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy

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pp. ix-xxii

Venezuela during the Ch

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Introduction: Participation, Politics, and Culture—Emerging Fragments of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy

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pp. 1-27

Hugo Chávez’s rise to and consolidation of power in Venezuela over the last decade has set into motion perhaps the most controversial political processes in contemporary Latin America. The structure of the Venezuelan government was transformed by the constitution of 1999. The structure of the economy has been transformed by a far-reaching renationalization. Popular participation has become an integral part of state policy...

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1. Defying the Iron Law of Oligarchy I: How Does “El Pueblo” Conceive Democracy?

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pp. 28-57

The Venezuelan constitution declares in its preamble (“Exposition of Motives”) that the Bolivarian Republic will have a government whose political organs “shall always be democratic, participatory, elective, decentralized, alternative, responsible and pluralist, with revocable mandates.” In letter and spirit, the goal of the Constitutional Assembly of 1999 was to check the oligarchic tendencies that undermined the 1961 constitution and the regime of Punto Fijo (1958–1998)...

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2. Participatory Democracy in Venezuela: Origins, Ideas, and Implementation

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pp. 58-79

Since 1999 the Bolivarian government has been promoting “participatory and protagonistic” democracy in response to a broad and deeply felt aspiration in Venezuelan society that dates back to the 1980s. Unlike the case in the countries of the Southern Cone, in Venezuela democracy was never interrupted by military dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s. For this reason, in the 1990s Venezuelans did not experience a transition from authoritarianism to a restricted democracy, as occurred, for example, in Chile or Argentina...

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3. Urban Land Committees: Co-optation, Autonomy, and Protagonism

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pp. 80-103

The Urban Land Committees (Comités de Tierra Urbana—Ctus) are among the most important popular social organizations that emerged from participatory democracy sanctioned in the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999. They have had a broad impact on the right of citizens to dignified and adequate housing and to city space. According to information from the National Technical Office for Regularization of Urban Land Tenancy...

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4. Catia Sees You: Community Television, Clientelism, and the State in the Ch

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pp. 104-130

In the sociologist Javier Auyero’s critique of the paradigm of clientelism, he argues that “‘political clientelism’ has been one of the strongest and most recurrent images in the study of political practices of the poor—urban and rural alike—in Latin America, almost to the point of becoming a sort of ‘metonymic prison’ for this part of the Americas” (1999, 297). As Auyero notes, scholars typically define political clientelism as the hierarchical relationships...

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5. Radio Bemba in an Age of Electronic Media: The Dynamics of Popular Communication in Chávez’s Venezuela

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pp. 131-156

HOST: Our great friend Nicolás Díaz is calling from the sector Santa Cruz. They have a cofradía [brotherhood] for the organization of San Juan Bautista of Macarao, and they’re inviting all of the community in general to participate in the Encuentro de Tamboreros [Meeting of the Drummers] that will happen tonight in the street Río de Santa Cruz, on Saturday July 2—today—at two in the afternoon...

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6. “We Are Still Rebels”: The Challenge of Popular History in Bolivarian Venezuela

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pp. 157-185

On April 2, 2005, voters in the 23 de Enero neighborhood in downtown Caracas took to the polls to participate in a historic election. Over two dozen candidates representing a wide variety of local groups, but linked nevertheless in shared support of President Hugo Ch

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7. The Misiones of the Ch

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pp. 186-218

The goal of several contributors to this volume is to determine whether Chavismo and the Bolivarian Revolution are capable of creating the kind of participatory democracy the movement advocates or if instead there is some reversion to traditional forms of clientelism and top-down control. Each of these contributors affirms that the answer to this question is not an exclusive choice but is instead a matter of degree and variability...

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8. Defying the Iron Law of Oligarchy II: Debating Democracy Online in Venezuela

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pp. 219-243

Shortly after the polls closed on December 2, 2007, Venezuelans learned that for the first time since the presidential election of 1998, a period covering ten national elections, their charismatic president, Hugo Ch

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9. Venezuela’s Telenovela: Polarization and Political Discourse in Cosita Rica

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pp. 244-270

From September 2003 to August 2004, two melodramas intertwined reality and fiction as they shared the heated Venezuelan stage: the rocky road to the recall referendum of President Hugo Chávez and the successful telenovela Cosita Rica, which garnered top ratings during those eleven months.1 This show, a fascinating example of the world’s most watched television genre...

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10. The Color of Mobs: Racial Politics, Ethnopopulism, and Representation in the Ch

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pp. 271-297

Contemporary political tensions in Venezuela suggest that the struggle for the streets not only occurs in public spaces but also in the private sphere, where citizens consume media messages. Streets are thus mediated. The evidence that supports interpretations of events, and hence future actions, circulates in the printed press and television: how many supporters each side has; who the acceptable political subject (so- called civil society) is...

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11. Taking Possession of Public Discourse: Women and the Practice of Political Poetry in Venezuela

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pp. 298-314

In her study of democratic women’s organizing in Venezuela, Elisabeth Friedman states that one of the “broad concerns facing scholars and practitioners of democratization” in Latin America is how to integrate those members of civil society who exist outside the centers of political power and influence (2000, 10–11). Friedman also states that the most urgent question in the transition remains, “What mechanisms—formal or informal—will allow all citizens to pursue full citizenship...

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12. Christianity and Politics in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy: Catholics, Evangelicals, and Political Polarization

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pp. 315-339

Somewhat unexpectedly, religion has become one of the primary media of conflict in Venezuela during the tumultuous decade of Hugo Chávez’s presidency. Given the crisis of Venezuela’s traditional political parties the Catholic Church has been one of the few institutions with enough credibility to counter the Chávez administration and has done so virtually from the first days of the government. At almost every turn—from the National Constitutional Assembly to the April 2002 coup...

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Afterword: Chavismo and Venezuelan Democracy in a New Decade

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pp. 340-342

In his introduction to this co- edited volume, David Smilde points out that “an overwhelming focus on the central institutions of the democratic state and organized political actors such as parties and unions” in the vast majority of Eng lish- language literature on Venezuela from the twentieth-century “left scholars and journalists under- appreciative of the extent of discontent and the burgeoning forms of alternative participation growing...


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pp. 343-367


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pp. 369-371


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pp. 373-381

E-ISBN-13: 9780822394310
E-ISBN-10: 0822394316
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822350248
Print-ISBN-10: 0822350246

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 13 illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Chávez Frías, Hugo.
  • Democracy -- Venezuela.
  • Representative government and representation -- Venezuela -- History.
  • Venezuela -- Politics and government -- 1999-.
  • Political participation -- Venezuela -- History.
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