Venezuela: Crowding out the opposition by Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold

April 27, 2007

This is a
very long article with a good synthesis of the last eight years from a political
point of view. It summarizes quite well what has happened and is happening
today in Venezuela.
I could not find a link to it, so I decided to post the whole text. It appeared in
the Journal of Democarcy

Crowding out the opposition
by Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold

For the past few
years, Venezuela’s
President Hugo Chávez Frías has enjoyed a favorable political situation at home.
Economic growth, fuel­ed by rising oil prices, has been spectacular since 2003.
Chávez and his allies have won four decisive electoral victories since 2004,
the most recent being his sweeping 63
percent walk to a fresh six-year term in the
December 2006 presidential
race. And since 2005, the opposition has become increasingly tame, while street
turmoil is on the decline and seldom results in violence. In addition, Chávez
has achieved complete control of all check-and-balance institutions, including the
unicameral National Assembly, which after the opposition boycott of the
December 2005 elections now contains not a single opposition legislator. These
political advantages would be the envy of any world leader. And yet, Chávez has
been governing as if Venezuela
faces some kind of emer­gency. He has been busily concentrating more authority,
even receiv­ing a grant from the National Assembly of “enabling powers” to rule
by presidential decree for eighteen months starting in February 2007.

How did a
movement that began in 1998 as a grassroots effort to bring democracy back to
the masses turn into a drive to empower the executive branch at the expense of
every other actor? The acceleration of authoritarianism in Venezuela
cannot be explained by recourse to functional theories. These theories, which
draw on Guillermo O’Donnell’s famous explanation of the origins of bureaucratic
authori­tarianism in 1960s Latin America,
posit that authoritarianism grows out of chronic governability crises which
prompt actors—whether in office or opposition—to seize and
centralize power in order to cope with dire circumstances.1 Prior to
2004, one could argue that Venezuela was suf­fering from a governability
crisis—albeit one that was likely at least partly fabricated—and that this
crisis might justify some of Chávez’s increasing concentration of powers. Since
2004, however, Chávez has had almost no reason to feel politically threatened
or encumbered yet has notoriously leaped in the direction of authoritarianism.

the rest is here

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