Inevitable outcome of the Populist Left or Economic War: Causes and Character of the Venezuelan Crisis from 2012

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary University of London
Department Name: Politics


Possibly the most enigmatic recent political transformation, Venezuela is a reference point in debates on populism and the viability of left wing political programmes far beyond its shores. Located by scholars as a leading part of the 'Pink Tide', the wave of leftist governments challenging the Washington Consensus in the region (see Grugel and Rigirozzi, 2009; Panizza, 2009), the "Bolivarian Revolution" was lauded by sympathisers for its success in improving a number of social indicators, including poverty, literacy and access to healthcare. Reviving the idea of socialism but in a "21st Century" form, the revolution preceded the resurgence of self-styled socialist politicians in advanced economies. Now, however, Venezuela is more often mentioned by pundits to denigrate by association, and this is because it is currently in a deep crisis. This crisis, which began to emerge in late 2012 and accelerated after the death of President Chavez, has four dimensions:
1. Political - there are seemingly intractable divisions between the government and opposition, and recurrent, often violent, protests;
2. Institutional - there are widespread reports of extensive institutional dysfunction;
3. Economic - Venezuela's already high inflation has now reached hyperinflationary levels and national income has fallen dramatically since its 2012 peak;
4. Social - many social indicators, such as poverty and healthcare access, have deteriorated since the onset of the crisis, reversing the gains made over the previous decade.
The central research question for this project will be "What are the determinants of the Venezuelan crisis?". This crucial question has been insufficiently tackled in the literature. There is little of scholarly quality written, but two main schools of thought exist, which correspond closely to the opposition/government axis. The first draws from the theory of macroeconomic populism (Dornbusch and Edwards, 1989) and claims the crisis is the ineluctable result of the populist nature of Chavismo (e.g. Edwards, 2010; Hausman and Rodriguez, 2014; Nagel, 2014; Lopez Maya, 2014). A key limitation of this literature is that it disregards the context in which Chavismo emerged (see Buxton, 2014), identified determinants are not always adequately proven to be causes rather than effects, and it does not explain the mechanisms through which the "populist features" determine the set of policies. The main rival school draws from dependency theory and argues that the crisis is the result of an "economic war" by domestic elites working in tandem with the US (e.g. Curcio, 2015, 2017; Serrano, 2016). As for the populist school, these writers often make claims inadequately proven by the presented evidence.
Answering this is fundamental in lifting debates not just on Venezuela, but also in wider debates on the viability of left- wing economic policies. By comprehensively identifying and discussing the causes and character of the crisis, the resulting thesis aims to be a significant addition to the literature on Venezuela and the nature of the "Bolivarian Revolution". In addition, it aims to raise questions that can be posed to, or provide potential hypotheses to be tested in, similar cases. This includes other "Pink Tide" countries, and oil economies and developing countries experiencing left-populist political transformations.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2112928 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2018 29/07/2023 Joseph Sammut