Venezuela′s Bolivarian Democracy

Participation, Politics, and Culture under Chávez

Venezuela′s Bolivarian Democracy

Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 12 photos, 1 map, 13 tables, 8 figures Published: August 2011

Latin American Studies > Andes, Politics > Political Science, Sociology

Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy brings together a variety of perspectives on participation and democracy in Venezuela. An interdisciplinary group of contributors focuses on the everyday lives of Venezuelans, examining the forms of participation that have emerged in communal councils, cultural activities, blogs, community media, and several other forums. The essays validate many of the critiques of democracy under Chávez, as well as much of the praise. They show that while government corporatism and clientelism are constant threats, the forms of political and cultural participation discussed are creating new discourses, networks, and organizational spaces—for better and for worse. With open yet critical minds, the contributors seek to analyze Venezuela’s Bolivarian democratic experience through empirical research. In doing so, they reveal a nuanced process, a richer and more complex one than is conveyed in international journalism and scholarship exclusively focused on the words and actions of Hugo Chávez.

Carolina Acosta-Alzuru
Julia Buxton
Luis Duno Gottberg
Sujatha Fernandes
María Pilar García-Guadilla
Kirk A. Hawkins
Daniel Hellinger
Michael E. Johnson
Luis E. Lander
Margarita López-Maya
Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols
Coraly Pagan
Guillermo Rosas
Naomi Schiller
David Smilde
Alejandro Velasco


“Taken together, these chapters make a number of important observations…. The book’s main contribution is therefore to highlight some of the tensions that exist within contemporary Venezuelan democracy, and to show the diverse ways in which citizen participation expresses itself. The strength of the book is that it shows that serious empirical research on Venezuela is being undertaken.” — Oliver Heath, Journal of Latin American Studies

Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy makes it clear that, while transforming the political landscape, the Chávez era also embodies important continuities with the country’s recent past. The serious problems that the country faces and the social movements that support Chávez did not emerge overnight; they are rooted in the inequities of the oil economy that took hold during the twentieth century. This book is a must read for anybody trying to make sense of the ongoing process of change that is remaking Venezuela.” — Miguel Tinker Salas, author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela

“This book evaluates Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela with a clear eye. Through nuanced attention to new empirical research in a rapidly changing context—who speaks, what people believe, who decides, and how power works—it offers a framework for analyzing the intertwined democratic and nondemocratic aspects of politics as it is practiced and lived. This multisited approach—looking from neighborhoods to media, activists to government institutions—could be applied with equal success to the postrevolutionary regimes of Cárdenas or Castro, the populist governments of Vargas or Perón, and the liberal democracies of the present.” — Jeffrey W. Rubin, Boston University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David Smilde is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Georgia and the president of the Venezuelan Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association. He is the editor-in-chief of the journal Qualitative Sociology and the author of Reason to Believe: Cultural Agency in Latin American Evangelicalism.

Daniel Hellinger is Professor of Political Science at Webster University in St. Louis and the former president of the Venezuelan Studies Section. He is the author of Comparative Politics of Latin America: Democracy at Last? and a co-editor of Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era: Class, Polarization, and Conflict.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword: Venezuela's Bolivarian Democracy / Julia Buxton ix

Introduction: Participation, Politics, and Culture—Emerging Fragments of Venezuela's Bolivarian Democracy / David Smilde 1

1. Defying the Iron Law of Oligarchy I: How Does "El Pueblo" Conceive of Democracy? / Daniel Hellinger 28

2. Participatory Democracy in Venezuela: Origins, Ideas, and Implementation / Margarita López Maya and Luis E. Lander 58

3. Urban Land Committees: Co-operation, Autonomy, and Protagonism / María Pilar García-Guadilla 80

4. Catia Sees You: Community Television, Clientelism, and the State in the Chávez Era / Naomi Schiller 105

5. Radio Bemba in an Age of Electronic Media: The Dynamics of Popular Communication in Chávez's Venezuela / Sujatha Fernandes 133

6. "We Are Still Rebels": The Challenge of Popular History in Bolivarian Venezuela / Alejandro Velasco 159

7. The Misiones of the Chávez Government / Kirk A. Hawkins, Guillermo Rosas, and Michael E. Johnson 188

8. Defying the Iron Law of Oligarchy II: Debating Democracy Online in Venezuela / Daniel Hellinger 221

9. Venezuela's Telenovela: Polarization and Political Discourse in Cosita Rica / Carolina Acosta-Alzuru 246

10. The Color of Mobs: Racial Politics, Ethnopopulism, and Representation in the Chávez Era / Luis Duno Gottberg 273

11. Taking Possession of Public Discourse: Women and the Practice of Political Poetry in Venezuela / Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols 300

12. Christianity and Politics in Venezuela's Bolivarian Democracy: Catholics, Evangelicals, and Political Polarization / David Smilde and Coraly Pagan 317

Afterword: Chavismo and Venezuelan Democracy in a New Decade / Daniel Hellinger 342

References 345

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5041-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5024-8
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