Monday, March 03, 2003[posted by jaed at 9:03 PM]
Venezuela: The Petrostate Explained
Caracas Chronicles has a three-part series on Venezuelan society, politics, and oil. Too extensive to excerpt:
Well, OK, a couple of excerpts:
Another key part of the petrostate model that's often overlooked is that by creating this huge patron-client networks, the political parties became big and strong enough to make democracy viable. The web of social relationships created by clientelism - now such a reviled word - were actually healthy for society back then. Those relationships ensured that enough people were socially and emotionally attached to democratic institutions, that enough people felt they had a personal stake in the political system, to keep the whole society stable and democratic. And it worked, the system worked. There were elections every five years, parties routinely and peacefully alternated in power, Venezuela was an island of democracy and stability in a continent torn apart by Marxist insurgents and coup-plotting reactionary generals.
The February 27th riots were a kind of September 11th moment for Venezuela: they transformed the country deeply. Until then, Venezuelans had seen themselves as different, more civilized, more democratic, better than their Latin American neighbors. 31 years of unbroken, stable, petrostate-funded democracy had made us terribly cocky. In a sense, the riots marked Venezuela�s entry into Latin America. The country was no longer different: just another hard-up Latin American republic struggling to put its democracy on a stable footing.
In 1998, the voters wanted to hear someone tell them that the country is rich, that prosperity is their birthright, and that the only reason they are poor is that their share of the oil money was stolen. They wanted to hear that because that was what they intimately believed. And Ch�vez articulated it brilliantly. With amazing vigor and charisma, he captured the volcanic anger they felt at the breakdown of the old model. Ch�vez became their voice. So they voted for him. What could be more natural?
There's just one minor inconvenience: the Ch�vez era has made the petrostate model even more unworkable than it was 4 years ago, much more unworkable.