Venezuela continues to make headlines globally, for example for the disturbing (however absurd) threats launched by U.S. President Donald Trump against the Bolivarian government. On the other hand, after the election of the Constituent Assembly the internal situation in the country seems to be in many ways changed, especially because of the way President Nicolas Maduro has managed the upcoming regional elections. The division of the Venezuelan right (structurally authoritarian, racist and disposed to making coups) is still good news. But that isn’t the focus of this article.
We are interested in thinking about what we see as a profound crisis of the Bolivarian project, as part of a more general crisis of the Latin American “progressive” governments of the last 15 years. Those governments represented an important bellwether for the left and for social movements in many parts of the world (including Europe) and which seemed to be a promising point of reference within which to test a theory and practice for social transformation in the 21st century.
We are hard pressed to deny, from this point of view, the importance of the Venezuelan experience. What seemed to emerge in the early years of chavism was indeed a clear indication of a twofold problem that came across in all the “progressive” governments of the region: on the one hand, the conquest of the government through the elections meant occupying a top position within an institutional structure of the state historically characterized by the rule of oligarchy and long-term processes of exclusion of the vast majority of “popular” and subordinate sectors; on the other hand, the economy of the country turned entirely around the oil yield, controlled by a narrow elite within precise imperial geographies.