It is not the intention of this report to pass final—or even interim—judgment on the 14-year presidency of Hugo Chávez, on his style of leadership, or on his importance on the world stage. Much less does this report attempt to evaluate the current state of the Venezuelan economy or political culture. Those are all important questions and they will be addressed in due time.
Photo by Ryan Mallett-OuttrimHere, however, we are interested in exploring what the movement that bears his name—Chavismo—was all about. We are interested in identifying the institutional structures that were created under his leadership and that, to one degree or another, carry out his legacy today. Much of what passes for the history or analysis of the period of Chávez’s presidency—both pro and con—goes no further than to treat the period as the wholly created invention of one man and his compelling personality. Here, we are interested in providing more substance to the debate over Chavismo by coming to grips with what its inventions have actually been, and what they might become.
There are at least four dimensions to what is generally called Chavismo: the social welfare policies embodied in “missions” to impoverished communities, the participatory structures of neighborhood communes and workplace cooperatives, the foreign policy of regional power and cooperation, and the successful electoral machinery that kept returning Chávez to power. In short, we can recognize Chavismo—or the Bolivarian movement—at two levels of political transformation, both of which are covered in this report: that which we associate with the new-found inclusion of the Venezuelan poor in the domestic polity, and that which we associate with the new-found inclusion of the less-developed American countries in the realm of international affairs.
All of it has been supported, promoted, and finally made possible by a vision that Hugo Chávez called “socialism for the 21st century,” by Chávez’s charismatic leadership, and by the high global price of oil.