Thursday, January 17, 2019

Polarization in Venezuela

María Pilar García-Guadilla and Ana Mallen, "Polarization, Participatory Democracy, and Democratic Erosion in Venezuela’s Twenty-First Century Socialism," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 681, 1 (2019): 62-77.


This article analyzes the emergence and consolidation of political polarization in Venezuela during the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, led by Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro from 1999 to 2018. We also examine the conditions under which polarization in Venezuela became pernicious, and contributed to erosion of democracy. Given the underlying class cleavages that were associated with pro- and anti-Chavista identities, we argue that the central dimension of polarization began with a political-ideological rift around competing concepts of democracy—participatory and representative, the rights that each vision privileged (individual civil and political rights vs. collective social and economic rights), and the interpretation of participatory democracy as a complement or substitute for representative democracy. As a result, the inclusion of representative and participatory models of democracy in the 1999 Bolivarian constitution failed to deepen democracy. Instead, they came to be seen as mutually exclusive or incompatible. The result was a polarized democracy that became increasingly authoritarian.
I agree with the idea that cleavages emerge between "participatory democracy" and "representative democracy." The same is true of Cuba and Fidel Castro brought it up all the time to highlight how the U.S. was not really democratic.

However, I don't think we can say that Hugo Chávez created polarization. There is a chicken and egg issue here. Chávez became prominent because of polarization. In a non-polarized society, the leader of failed coups would never become a hero.
Despite Venezuela’s historic high levels of poverty, social inequality, and social class differences, the country did not suffer class warfare or overt polarization before President Hugo Chávez came to power.
This just doesn't jibe for me. Chávez became a hero because he channeled the polarization created by all the problems noted above. The authors actually seem to acknowledge this.
Moreover, in 1989, the acute oil-related economic crisis led the government of Carlos Andrés Perez to apply neoliberal macroeconomic adjustment policies that caused widespread riots and political instability, with high costs for the legitimacy of the entire political party system, which the popular sector viewed as broadly collusive.
In other words, CAP holds a lot of responsibility for polarization. This actually becomes a distraction from the more interesting and relevant points about different definitions of democracy. One reason the opposite can't gain traction is the widespread view that its vision of democracy is not participatory and is entirely elite-centric. It may be "representative" but in the past dominant parties had a stranglehold on how got represented.

In fact, right now the discourse is all about elections and you hear nothing about how the poor and marginalized will be brought into the system.


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