3 Books That Can Help Explain the Crisis in Venezuela

As conflict in Venezuela intensifies and a recently elected constituent assembly prepares to rewrite the country’s constitution, here are three books that offer essential background and one vision for a way forward.


American Liberator

By Marie Arana
603 pp. Simon & Schuster. (2013)

To understand the landscape of Venezuelan politics, one must first understand the role of Simón Bolívar, who was known in the United States as the George Washington of South America for liberating Venezuela and much of the continent in the 1800s. Though progressive in many regards — for instance, he called for the abolition of slavery in 1816 — his vision was not of a democratic state. Instead, he insisted that the racial diversity in the region necessitated an “infinitely firm hand,” which in his view meant uniting the newly independent countries into one grand Latin American federation and implementing a presidency-for-life system, naming himself the “Liberator and Dictator.” These ideas lost him the support of the United States and inspired an assassination attempt by a group of his own associates. Bolívar’s political and military exploits are recounted in this entertaining volume.


Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela
By Rory Carroll
302 pp. The Penguin Press. (2013)

Hugo Chávez, who ruled Venezuela for 14 years, from 1999 to 2013, won over the masses by promising what Rory Carroll describes as a “Bolivarian revolution, a self-styled radical effort to transform state and society into a vision worthy of Bolívar, a beacon of democracy, socialism and enlightenment.” At first, he seemed successful; he used the country’s wealth from oil revenue to fund programs that advanced social causes. But after a few years, Chávez became frustrated with the slow pace of democracy, and opted for more expedient but corrupt means. He intimidated government ministers and provided irresponsible, unsustainable handouts to Venezuela’s poor. In this posthumous biography, Carroll, who covered Venezuela for The Guardian for six years, explains why Chávez kept getting re-elected, arguing that the self-proclaimed savior of Venezuela was a master “illusionist” who manipulated the country’s citizens and news media to dismantle its democracy and create “a laboratory of power and charisma that veered between hope, dread and farce.”


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