Making Chávez Possible

Bernardo Londoy / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
A Review of Venezuela Before Chavez: Anatomy of an Economic Collapse, edited by Ricardo Hausmann and Francisco Rodriguez (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013)

In early 1999, in an event organized by the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington D.C., Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez addressed the U.S. policy community for the first and last time of his 14-year rule. A notably agile Chávez displayed the charm that would help account for his popularity and longevity in office. At a private session before the event, Chávez engaged in banter with some he would surely regard as representatives of the so-called “Washington Consensus” associated with orthodox economic recipes that had been the target of attacks that resonated with most Venezuelans in his successful campaign for the presidency.

Few foresaw what was to come: Chávez’s increasing radicalization and belligerence and his grandiose ambitions on the regional and global stages. At the height of his influence, around 2006, no scenario contemplated that Chávez would die while in office, of cancer, on March 5, 2013.

Among those present at the Washington D.C. event was Ricardo Hausmann, then chief economist at the Inter-American Development Bank and now a professor at Harvard University. Hausmann, who served as Venezuela’s Minister of Planning in the early 1990s, joined with Francisco Rodríguez, another Venezuelan economist currently at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, to assemble a respected group of economists and political scientists to explain in this lengthy book the country’s unrelenting crisis in the 1990s and how, as they put it, “Chávez became possible.” Readers looking for an assessment of the Chávez period, or—of far keener interest today—the likely denouement of Venezuela’s descent into economic and political chaos, will have to look elsewhere. The authors are chiefly concerned with the underlying factors that propelled Chávez to the presidency and that ultimately enabled him to consolidate control over one of the world’s largest oil reserves.

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