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The Latin Americanist, September 2012 VENEZUELA’S PETRO-DIPLOMACY. HUGO CHáVEZ’S FOREIGN POLICY. By Ralph S. Clem and Anthony P. Maingot (eds.). Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011, p. 144, $65.00. This excellent collection of essays is the result of a 2008 symposium on Venezuela’s foreign policy in the Hugo Chávez era, convened by Florida International University’s Latin American and Caribbean Center. The participation of internationally-renowned scholars of Latin America, including Jorge Castañeda and Javier Corrales, adds to the volume’s significance and makes it required reading for those interested in the topic. There presence , however, contributes to a recurring problem. Corrales and Castañeda have been vocal opponents of Chávez for more than a decade (as are some of their co-contributors), and the literature on contemporary Venezuela in general is dominated by pro- and anti- Chávez camps that sometimes put political or ideological imperatives ahead of scholarly rigor. In my view, a book-length invective against Chávez would not have been particularly important or illuminating. Editors Ralph Clem and Anthony Maingot confront this problem honestly, admitting to “the critical slant of most of the essays in this volume” (9). They address it by creating space for alternative perspectives and, most importantly, for critical analyses that evaluate Venezuela’s foreign policy from the perspective of Chávez’s stated goals as opposed to those of the United States or self-styled defenders of democracy. The factual information contained in the volume is, naturally, a bit dated, but the conclusions of the various contributors remain timely as a result of the thoughtful design of the collection. Clem and Maingot assert that, given Venezuela’s inescapable dependence on the price of oil, “no domestic or foreign policy assessments can be completely time-based.” Instead, they establish a focus on “the deep-rooted and enduring orientations of Venezuelan political culture and their influence on foreign policy, with special attention to the historical role [of] petroleum” (1). Their introductory chapter places Chávez’s Bolivarian government in the context of his nation’s history, and ably shows that Chávez’s rhetorical attempts to separate himself from the regime he replaced are often disingenuous . The discussion, however, does not devolve into depictions of the democratically elected leader of Venezuela as a “socialist autocrat.” Such language is unfortunately de rigueur for many publications in the United States and, especially, Europe, as Julia Buxton (chapter 9) points out (141). Instead, Clem and Maingot let Simón Bolı́var himself offer judgment against “a few strong wills” who dominate a “multitude [who] follow their audacity” (2). The first four chapters in the collection address the main goals and strategies of Chávez’s foreign policy. Harold Trinkunas’ (chapter 1) superb analysis recognizes the key aspect of contemporary Venezuela’s stated foreign policy – “its identification of the United States as the main threat to Venezuela, and U.S. hegemony as a threat to the international community” 116 Book Reviews – and takes it at face value. Trinkunas outlines the successes and failures of the Bolivarian government over its first decade in power clearly and evenhandedly . He should also be lauded for reminding policy makers in the U.S. that Venezuela poses no real national security threat: “At best, it rises to the level of a national security irritation” (28). John Magdaleno (chapter 3) offers an in depth look into public opinion shifts within Venezuela regarding Chávez and his policies, though most of his data comes from 2002. Corrales (chapter 2) and Marı́a Teresa Romero (chapter 4) present important insights of their own, but their narratives are too often derailed by invective. Corrales flippantly asserts that “[e]veryone” in Latin America understands that Chávez’s enormous monetary contributions to socialwelfare projects are “mostly a publicity stunt meant to camouflage serious domestic abuses and dubious international pretentions” (35). Romero goes a step farther. In her telling, not only does Chávez have “little regard for majority opinion” (69), but is intent on “pursuing an expansionist foreign policy, and with using [Venezuela’s] vast resources – including alleged profits from drug trafficking – to demolish democracy in the region...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1557-203X
Print ISSN
1557-2021
Pages
pp. 116-117
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-25
Open Access
No
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