Friday, June 6, 2008

Democrats or Demagogues: AD, COPEI and the Rise of Hugo Chavez


This paper considers the rise to power of one of today’s most interesting and engaging
autocrats: Hugo Chavez Frias. For those who love him, Chavez is the Latin American savior,
driving neoliberalism to its knees, and forcing out elitist, corrupt partidocrats who have hoarded
the power and resources to themselves for decades while the vast majority suffered in dire
poverty. His policy on social spending has improved living conditions in the slums, revamped
education and healthcare, and redistributed more than twenty billion in oil revenue back to the
people; even making discounted oil available to poor Americans to heat their homes through
CITGO [1]. To those who hate him, Chavez is a dictator, power monger, friend of terrorists and
troublemaker to the Western Hemisphere. His 1999 Constitution flies in the face of democracy
by tilting the balance of power clearly in favor of the executive (Shifter, 2006).
Rather than join the debate on Chavez’s policy, personality, style, tactics, or even his
presidency, this paper instead compares the executive/legislative relationship under the 1961
Constitution with that of the 1999 Constitution. After offering a brief historical overview of
Venezuela, this paper investigates the traditional powers of the Venezuelan presidency, the
history of the executive/legislative relationship in Venezuela under the 1961 Constitution, and of course, the political domination of the two major parties Accion Democratica (AD) and the
Comite de Organizacion Politica Electoral Independiente (COPEI).

After close comparison with the 1999 Constitution, the paper ultimately concludes that
from a practical standpoint, very little has changed in Venezuela. While there are those that
promote the idea that Venezuela is now less democratic because of Chavez, there are also those
that insist the very opposite is true. Equally debatable, for example, is the charge that by
increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to thirty-two, and then stacking the additional
twelve with Chavistas, Chavez corrupted the judiciary (Corrales, 2006).
However controversial Chavez’s dealings with the courts may be, there is also a broad
consensus that “the courts were corrupt” all along (Coppedge, 2005, p. 291). Therefore, given
these, and the many other arguments presented both for and against Chavez and his style of
governing, this paper avoids the temptation to label Venezuela either democratic, semi-
democratic, liberal or illiberal for two reasons: the first reason is that the goal of this paper is not
to wrangle with the multiplicity of definitions for “democracy.” The second reason is that,
especially in the case of Venezuela, democracy is in the eyes of the beholder. And while much to
the relief of some, and the chagrin of others, there is no monopoly on perspective.


The nation of Venezuela, officially the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, was of course
once a Spanish colony. Christopher Columbus coined Venezuela as “Tierra de Gracia” (“Land of
Grace”), a nickname that sticks to this day. There are two popular myths surrounding the origin
of Venezuela’s name. The first is that the name Venezuela was chosen by the explorers Alonso
de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci, who were reminded of the city of Venice when they saw the
palafitos (stilt villages) that the residents had built over the water (Dydynski, 1994). With the
ending zuela in Spanish denoting the diminutive, the result is “little Venice.” Another myth
promotes the notion that the name comes from the Summa de Geografia by Martin Fernandez
de Enciso, a geographer in Vespucci’s crew. According to the Summa, the inhabitants were
known as “Veneciula” (Wikipedia, 2007).

Venezuela was settled by Spain in the 16th century. In 1819, it was included in the newly
proclaimed Gran Colombia, but remained under Spanish rule until 1821 when local forces led by
Simon Bolivar defeated the Spanish at Carabobo (Alexander, 1982). Venezuela’s lengthy ten-
year battle for independence from Spain led to a number of civil wars, ultimately destroying the
small aristocratic class. The central power of the state was minimal for most of the 19th century.
Many moved to the Andes during this period to escape the persistent bouts of warfare
(Kornblith & Levine, 1997). The Federal War decimated the cattle industry, and coffee
production soon took its place.[2] Due to coffee production, the Andean region eventually
prospered and became powerful enough, that a group from the region returned to Caracas and
took control of the government in 1899. This group was led by General Cipriano Castro, a
caudillo from Tachira. Castro created many enemies in the European and U.S. communities over
border disputes and debt repayment. In November of 1908, Castro traveled to Germany for
medical attention of a kidney problem. His field commander General Juan Vincente Gomez,
whom Castro had left in charge, seized control and remained in power until his death in 1935.
In the wake of WWI, amidst an ever-increasing global dependence on oil, Venezuela entered
the global economy with a new export: oil (Rabe, 1982). Gomez used the newfound money and
contacts that came with the petroleum industry to wipe out his enemies, bringing traditional
19th century politics in Venezuela to an end:

Traditional political parties and military caudillos disappeared; political opposition and protest soon began to take new tacks, working for the creation of mass politics and political democracy....the Gomez autocracy laid the bases of modern
political life, leaving an open field and a growing potential clientele to the organizers of new movements. (Kornblith & Levine, 1997, p. 40).

Michael Coppedge drives home the point that “from a Latin American perspective,
Venezuela has often been a contrary case. It was one of the last South American countries to
give any kind of democracy a try” (Coppedge, 2005, p. 289). While the first Venezuelan attempt
at democracy failed in November of 1948 (when AD president Romulo Gallegos was
overthrown by a military coup), by the 1960s, it was one of only three democracies in Latin
America. “While dictatorships were the norm in the 1960s and 1970s—only Colombia, Costa
Rica, and Venezuela avoided authoritarian rule during those decades” (Valenzuela, 2004, p.5).
The Gallegos administration was ousted during a time of intense conflict between the
two political parties AD and COPEI. Over the next ten years, Venezuelan politics were ruled by
the military. In 1957, then dictator Marco Perez Jimenez, was overthrown. In 1958, AD and
COPEI signed the Pact of Punto Fijo, essentially agreeing to cooperate with one another and
make democratic government a priority. In 1959, AD’s Romulo Betancourt was elected
president (Coppedge, 2005). Betancourt was the first Venezuelan president to ascend into office
via a democratic election, and the first to relinquish his office to another via the same process. In
fact, in the 132 years prior to Betancourt, Venezuela had only been ruled by civilian-led
governments for roughly ten of those years. But Betancourt was “devoted to transforming
Venezuela from the violent, arbitrary, extremely personalist, and often chaotic caudillist state
into a more or less modern democratic nation” (Alexander, 1982). By 1969, the first official
peaceful transfer of power to an opposition president took place in the election of COPEI
president Rafael Caldera. The two parties would dominate Venezuelan politics, peacefully
alternating power between them via free and fair elections, until 1994 when Caldera was elected
president for a second term, this time as an independent candidate. Coppedge argues that even
though Venezuela was an established democracy during these years, (especially compared to
most of its neighbors), it was also a very troubled democracy: inefficient, corrupt and
“excessively institutionalized” (Coppedge, 2005, p. 291).

The high oil revenues Venezuela received in the 1970s gave a false sense of economic
security. The people had high hopes for the future. But the leadership betrayed the people’s
confidence and trust with corruption and foolish spending. Coppedge (2005, p.309) concludes
that it was the people’s “moral outrage” that “magnified the impact of economic decline.” When
the 1980s brought the economic crisis, the people widely blamed it on the government.
Neoliberal economic policies only fueled the people’s anger and resentment toward the political
elite in general, and the two parties AD and COPEI in particular. While Venezuela’s oil
revenues in theory should have brought wealth to the country, roughly 80% of its population
languished in poverty. Most blamed the political and business elite for pocketing the vast
majority of the profits (Weyland, 2001).

The 1990s arrived with both considerable economic and political problems in Venezuela.
The GDP had experienced consistent increases up through 1977, but reverted to below 1970
levels in the early 1980s. It plummeted even more throughout the decade hitting a twenty- year record low by 1989 (Crisp & Rey, 2001). Some suggest that Venezuela’s oil revenues kept the
democracy going, arguing “oil is the lubricant that eases the social frictions that arise in a
democracy” (Coppedge, 1994a, p.397). While Coppedge would deny this argument, he does
concede that oil was a factor, just not the only factor. Either way, Venezuela did not suffer
hyperinflation such as Bolivia, Argentina or Brazil (Coppedge, 2005). In this respect, it did
enjoy an advantage during these years, and for some time it was considered the Latin American

Venezuela has long been regarded as something of an outlier in contemporary Latin American politics. The abundance of money from petroleum gave leaders a valuable cushion, and the nation’s ability to sidestep the ideological polarization, organizational and political decay, and authoritarian rule so common elsewhere in the hemisphere led many observers to assume that Venezuelan politics were so unique as to be irrelevant. (Kornblith & Levine, 1997, p. 38).

Coppedge contends that “Venezuela was so out of step with its neighbors that it tended to
be written off as an exceptional case. Its concerns were not on the regional research agenda, and
the theories developed for other countries were assumed not to apply to Venezuela” (Coppedge,
2005, p. 289). But Coppedge asserts that perhaps they do apply after all. Oil or no oil,
Venezuela’s troubled democracy eventually started to exhibit the tell-tale signs of deterioration:
increasing abstentation at the polls (from less than 10% in 1978 to 39.8% in 1993), growing
public discontent (as evident in the riots and looting crushed by the military in 1989), two
attempted coups in 1992, and most importantly, the highly institutionalized system of centrally
controlled parties (partidocracia) began to come apart, opening the political space for Chavez’s
rise to power. The two parties lost nearly 50% of their vote share by 1993, an election year that
saw Rafael Caldera elected as an independent (Coppedge, 2005).

While Brian Crisp and Juan Carlos Rey (2001) acknowledge that public discontent with
Venezuela’s partidocracia was the stronger factor in the parties’ loss in vote share, they also
propose two other, lesser reasons. The first reason is that 1993 marks the first election year in
which electoral participation was not mandatory. The second reason is that in 1993, Venezuela
used a mixed-member proportional system (MMP) to elect the Chamber of Deputies.[3]
In an effort to address the multifaceted problems facing Venezuela, Jennifer McCoy
(2004) lists four vulnerabilities of the Punto Fijo democracy. The first is Venezuela’s
dependence on oil revenue and the state’s distributive policy. The second is the failure of the
elites to implement regulations, which only added to difficulties incurred when oil prices
dropped. The third vulnerability was the centrality of the party system. The fourth arose from
the rigid power-sharing agreement that proved exclusive to the urban poor and the growing
middle class, and also as a point of resentment to the military. McCoy supports the idea that
Venezuela suffered two distinct, yet intertwined crises: a crisis of distribution and a crisis of

As the distributive policy of the state proved faulty, the citizens stopped believing in the
fairness of the political system. Each exacerbated the other. Growing socioeconomic inequality
and dire poverty further impacted the representation crisis as new demographic groups,
excluded from the elite power-sharing pact of 1958, threw in their lot with the poor.
But Venezuela was not alone in its struggles. Coppedge observes that Venezuela’s
troubles with democracy “presaged or coincided with setbacks in democracy in Peru, Guatemala, Paraguay, Ecuador, Columbia and the Dominican Republic.” Rather than toss out any hope for
Venezuelan democracy, however, Coppedge takes a more optimistic approach. By entertaining
the possibility that Venezuela was actually more democratic than general theories predicted it
should be, Coppedge is able to label the current situation more of a correction rather than a
collapse. Coppedge claims that Venezuela is actually at a point of democratization appropriate
for “a country in its situation” (Coppedge, 2005, p. 289-90).

Venezuela is now a federal republic. Yet many of Chavez’s critics are blatantly calling
him a dictator and his government an authoritarian regime, even though Chavez was voted into
office in 1998 with 57% of the vote after clearly announcing in his campaign exactly what he
intended to do: convene a constituent assembly, create a new constitution, bring reform to the
political institutions in Venezuela, lead an attack on poverty and corruption, and regulate
spending. Clearly, the majority of the people at the time agreed with his proposals. And once
elected, 88% of the voters supported Chavez’s call for a constituent assemble, 82% were in favor
of his plan of action to reform the political system, and 70% backed the new constitution (Gibbs,
2006). As already mentioned in the introduction, to those who support Chavez, he is the answer
to poverty and inequality in “the world’s most unequal region” (Shifter, 2006, p. 45).

Kurt Weyland (2001) on the other hand, compares Chavez to a number of other populist
leaders such as Argentina’s Carlos Menem, Brazil’s Fernando Collar, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori,
and Ecuador’s Abdala Bucaram; all of whom came to power with promises much like Chavez’s.
Their anti-party, anti-elite rhetoric appeals to the poor and working classes, on whom they rely
for their popular support. Weyland insists, however, that the populist leaders’ charisma and
charm can only get them into power, usually in times of severe economic hardship. To continue
in power, Weyland declares that they have to make substantial changes. Otherwise, like Collar
and Bucaram, they will fall out of power as quickly as they rose to power. Weyland also
indicates that while Fujimori and Menem managed to stay in power for quite some time, the
conditions in their countries were much more catastrophic (rampant insurgency and
hyperinflation) than in Venezuela (chronic social and economic troubles), and demanded drastic
solutions more befitting the populist dictator role. Weyland predicts that Chavez, like those who
have fallen before him, will also face the day when the tide of popular support will turn against
him; particularly so given Venezuela’s unique set of problems.

That said, Weyland (2003) is not at all surprised to see Chavez rise to power in
Venezuela. He maintains that populist leaders are by no means the exception in Latin America,
much owing to the severe economic conditions in the area. Particularly in Venezuela, Weyland
maintains that the severity of the economic situation bred an optimism in the people toward
Chavez not seen in many decades, and that this belief in Chavez stemmed more from the
people’s collective need to believe, than from Chavez’s ability to perform.
The three stated goals of the Bolivarian Revolution from the outset were to (1) increase
the state’s role in the economy, (2) raise the standard of living, especially among the very poor,
and (3) radically reform the political machine (Figueroa, 2006). Weyland (2001) has set forth
that while Chavez has done much to rid Venezuela of its largely corrupt political elite, he has
gained very little ground against the age-old problems of poverty, crime, high unemployment
rates and a stagnated economy. What’s more, Chavez is committing the same classic blunder
that most every populist leader makes: replacing qualified experts with loyal appointees. Filling
top government positions with ill-qualified friends and allies may make good politics, but it
proves foolish at best in dealing with problems of the magnitude that face Venezuela. One of the
more urbanized countries in Latin America, Venezuela has been called the “oldest extant
democracy in South America.” (Crisp, 1998, p.142).

But Venezuela has also been one of the more troubled countries. Coppedge (2005) credits
much of this trouble to years of perceived wealth, which afforded the OPEC nation the ill-fated
luxury of turning a blind eye to corrupt dealings, wastefulness, foolish spending and unwise
investment policies. Is Venezuela’s democratic system consolidating under Chavez, or breaking
down before our very eyes?

1961 Constitutional Powers

The 1961 Constitution was one of 27 different constitutions in Venezuela since 1811. It
spanned nearly four decades, and was replaced by the most recent 1999 Constitution (Gibbs,
2006). Crisp (1997b, p.2) carves out the claim that even though the president had “meager
constitutional powers” under the 1961 Constitution, “Venezuelan presidents are widely held to
dominate politics.” In this section I will examine this paradox by reviewing the various formal
powers afforded the Venezuelan president under the 1961 Constitution. I will first discuss the
legislative powers and then the non-legislative powers. From this I will attempt to draw
conclusions regarding the quantity and quality of the power afforded the president vis-a vis the


Under Venezuela’s 1961 Constitution, the president had “only suspensive veto power
over legislation” (Crisp, 1998, p. 143). What this means is that the president could “introduce
legislation” but he had no “exclusive right to initiation in any particular area” (Crisp, 1997b).
The president was given ten days in which to return a bill to Congress with any suggested
changes. His veto could be overridden by a two-thirds vote, or the bill could be returned to the
president by a simple majority vote. The president then had an additional five days to return it
and at that point, Congress had the prerogative to pass the legislation with a simple majority
(Crisp, 1997a).

The flip side to this weak presidential veto could be found in the fact that, while the
president may not have enjoyed exclusive initiation of legislation under the 1961 Constitution, in
reality a substantial amount of legislation actually was initiated by the executive office. In fact,
even when the president lacked a majority, or even a plurality for that matter, as with Caldera
and Herrera, on average more than 80% of the bills ultimately passed into law were initiated by
the executive (1997b). This essentially speaks to the power of the parties, which ultimately
controlled which legislation got passed. But it also speaks to the weakness of Congress, which
suffered due to a severe lack of professional staff. A study conducted in the mid 1980s revealed
that among more than 1,500 staff employed by Congress, only fifty-two were professionals, and
only thirty of these were consultants (Crisp, 1997b).
This left the individual legislators the lion’s share of the task of verifying the
constitutionality of proposed legislation. This weaknesses was further compounded by the fact
that consultant positions were filled according to party loyalty rather than expertise, thus
leaving the legal consultants often no more knowledgeable than the legislators (who also gained
their seat via party loyalty).

Also, congressional committee memberships were assigned annually
rather than for an entire term, resulting in high turnover, low turnout and virtually no serious
discussion of the relevant issues surrounding a piece of legislation, either between parties or
within the parties themselves. Perhaps the best example of the ineffectiveness of these
committees is the Legislative Commission. [4]
Established in 1984, the Legislative Commission was intended to enable Congress
to clear some of the hurdles it had been stumbling over, such as inefficiency and a lack of
timeliness. Instead, after only one reform to the civil code in 1987, it suffered the fate of the
Venezuelan Congress itself by falling victim to excessive bureaucratization. It proved useful
only one additional time, in 1994, when President Caldera used the Commission to expedite a
series of laws to grant him more authority in times of economic crisis (Crisp, 1997b). Since the
parties had already begun to weaken by 1994, Caldera’s use of the Legislative Commission to
his own ends can not be attributed to the power of the parties. Rather it testifies both to the
relative weakness of the legislature, and the popular pressure on the government in general to
take action to alleviate the dire economic conditions.

Rule Making Authority

Article 190:10 of the 1961 Constitution gave the president the power to issue a decree
regulating the implementation of a law that had been passed by Congress, provided the decree in no way changed the “spirit, purpose or motivation of the legislation” (Crisp, 1998, p.146). Rule
making authority was used very commonly by Venezuelan presidents in a variety of situations.
Often the executive would assemble a presidential advisory commision for advice on the best,
and most politically popular, implementation of a particular law.

Emergency Powers

The 1961 Constitution allowed the president emergency powers in situations of
a state emergency. The criteria for declaring a state of emergency were fairly specific and
required the consensus of all the branches of government. Emergency power has only been used
under the 1961 Constitution once, by Perez. However, Crisp (1998) clarifies that a number of
additional laws greatly enhanced the executive’s emergency powers over that of the legislature.
One was the Organic Law of Security and Defense which was passed in 1976 and set the
president in authority over every security or defense- related concern. As Crisp makes clear,
however, what constituted security and defense was very generically addressed. Another law
was the Exchange Control Law, which granted the president power to establish currency
controls independent of Congress. Yet another law, The Financial Emergency Law, granted the
president the power to freeze bank accounts, seize assets and exercise control over banking.
Crisp further sheds light on the issue by revealing that because the termination of an official
state of emergency required the approval of both the legislature and the executive, emergency
powers under the 1961 Constitution gave the president even more power independent of
Congress, as these powers could not be terminated by Congress alone.

Delegated Decree Authority (DDA)

The 1961 Constitution also offered Congress the prerogative to delegate presidential
decree authority in matters such as “appropriations, revenues, the creation or abolition of public
services, and monetary policy, and to maintain order” (Crisp, 1997a, pp. 459-460). Article
190:8 of the 1961 Constitution allowed for enabling laws, which gave the president authority
over economic matters when it was in the public’s interest. The Law of Urgent Economic
Measures passed June 29, 1961, fell under this category and gave the president considerable
power. Although Betancourt used the law sparingly (issuing only 15 decrees the following year),
Pérez would greatly abuse it (Crisp, 1998).
Delegated decree authority was allowed under the 1961 Constitution in
situations lacking the severity to call a national emergency, but still requiring action on the part
of the executive. Under this provision, the president was empowered to temporarily restrict
(limit) or suspend (do away with) certain constitutional guarantees (the president could not alter the right to life, or abolish the ban on solitary confinement, torture or cruel and unusual
punishment). The decree was treated as law for as long as the situation lasted. The executive
was required to provide each chamber with a copy of the decree within ten days. The president
also possessed the power to issue instructions regarding the application of the suspended rights,
and was required to provide these to Congress as well.[5] Although Congress had no power to
contest the president’s decree, they could determine when the situation calling for the decree
was no longer valid (Crisp, 1998).

Betancourt exercised this power. The 1961 Constitution had not yet been ratified when
Betancourt took office in 1959, so when he suspended rights on November 29, 1960, he did it
under the Constitution of 1953. Once the 1961 Constitution was ratified on January 23, 1961,
Betancourt suspended the same guarantees under the new constitution with Decree No. 455.
These rights included: the protection against arrest without a warrant, the right to legal defense, the protection of the home, the right to private communications, free transit, freedom of
expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to peaceful protest. Betancourt also restricted
the right to strike, and the right to economic liberty (Crisp 1998).
In January 1962, Betancourt re-established some constitutional guarantees through
Decree No. 674. Later in 1962, AD split. The group that split formed the Leftist Revolutionary
Movement (MIR) and took advantage of its congressional majority to re-institute all the rights
still affected by Betancourt’s decree, except Article 96: the right to economic liberty. When a
leftist naval battalion revolted on May 5, 1962 in Carapano, Betancourt suspended some of the
same rights again. His Minister of Interior Relations, Carlos Andres Pérez, was also successful
in requiring that in the future, publishers first obtain permission from the government before
reporting on public disturbances. Betancourt again reinstated the constitutional guarantees in
July of that year, but suspended them yet again on Oct 7, 1962, adding the right to be released
from detention by public order, justifying it with the growing number of leftist attacks. Pérez
then re-enforced his restrictions on the press. Just prior to handing power over to Raul Leoni,
Betancourt reestablished all the constitutional rights he had suspended or restricted, except
Article 96: the right to economic liberty. On March 28, 1968, newly elected President Raul
Leoni used Decree No. 1,084 to suspend constitutional rights in Zulia, after waste management
workers were creating a disturbance in Maracaibo. Leoni suspended the constitutional right of
due process, the sanctity of the home, the right to freedom of expression, the restriction on
imprisonment after the issuance of a court order of release, free transit, freedom of assembly,
and the right to political protest. (Crisp, 1998).

After Leoni, no constitutional guarantees were altered until Pérez’s (1989–93) second
term (Crisp, 1998). AD’s Carlos Andrés Pérez had served through his first term fairly unscathed
(1974-1979), and Venezuelans now looked to him to “be the same old populist he was the first
time around” (Coppedge, 2005, p.311). [6] The voters were expecting Pérez to bring them
through the economic downturn brought about by the drop in oil prices (Valenzuela, 2004).
Pérez’s neoliberal “Great Turnaround” was a very unpopular solution (Weyland, 2002).
Pérez accepted a loan from the IMF, and implemented economic shock policies that ultimately
led to mass protests and violence. He approved an increase in bus fares in February of 1989.
Several independent bus drivers took advantage of the increase and many even doubled their
fares. The public reacted with rioting and looting. One source of the extreme reaction is that the
Pérez administration did not forewarn the public. Most of the people learned of the fare increase
as they were trying to get to work on the morning of Monday February 27, 1989. Crisp
postulates that since this came at the end of the month, most were awaiting their next paycheck. Pérez declared martial law and used the national guard to put down the riots. Estimates range
from 300 to 2,000 deaths resulted from the altercation (Crisp, 1998).

On February 28, 1989, Perez issued Decree No. 49 suspending the sanctity of the home,
the constitutional guarantees of liberty and security, freedom of expression, freedom of
assembly, the right to peaceful protest, and the right to free transit. He reestablished some of
these rights on March 8, 1989 via Decree No. 67 and the rest on March 22, 1989 via Decree No.
98. Pérez issued Decree No. 2,097 after Chavez’s attempted coup on February 4, 1992,
suspending the same rights as before and adding a suspension on the right to strike. Decree
No. 2,097 remained in effect until April 9, 1992.
When rights are restricted, the president is limited to legal precedent. But, if the rights are
totally suspended, then the president is more or less free to either issue pronouncements giving
instructions as to how the rights are to be exercised, or simply establish precedent by acting in
ways that would be illegal under normal circumstances. Crisp reports that throughout the period that Decrees No. 49 and No. 2,097 were in effect, Pérez (who enjoyed a congressional plurality)
never issued a single instruction as to how these rights were to be affected, essentially giving
Pérez free reign to act as he pleased. In the question of executive/legislative relationships and
the balance of power, this alone greatly favored the president. After suspending rights yet
another two times (once in 1992 after the attempted coup on November 17, and again in 1993)
Perez declared the only state of emergency in Venezuela’s history. (Crisp, 1998)
1989 culminated in the “worst economic performance in the postwar period” (Coppedge,
2005, p.313). By 1991, Pérez was already losing the support of his own party; the two coups in
1992 further exacerbated the situation (Valenzuela, 2004). High ranking elites called for his
resignation, but Pérez refused to resign (Coppedge,1994b). Pérez was eventually impeached for
misuse of funds in December 1993 (Valenzuela, 2004).
After Pérez was impeached on corruption charges, his successor, Ramon Jose Velasquez,
used the Law of Urgent Economic Measures to make changes to the penal code. On the one
hand, Crisp articulates that this set the precedent for greater presidential power. However, on
the other hand, Crisp also implies that it was Congress that ultimately held the power when he
claims that “Congress used Velasquez to initiate tough reforms that they did not want to be held
accountable for such as the value-added tax” (Crisp, 1998, 155 ). This again raises the question,
who truly held the power?

Perhaps the actions of President Rafael Caldera more fully demonstrate the power that
decree authority truly offered the Venezuelan presidency. Crisp tells us that Caldera assumed
decree authority due to the “economic-financial emergency ” of the banking crisis (Crisp, 1998,
p. 159). Pérez had deregulated the banking system, and several banks had engaged in risky and
illegal lending activities. The recession that hit in 1993 quickly spiraled out of control. As banks
lost more and more money, investors lost confidence and withdrew capital, which eventually
resulted in the closing of seventeen banking institutions that had been responsible for managing
nearly 70% of the total assets. In response, Caldera implemented a program designed to bail out
the financial institutions calling for aid that totaled more than seven billion dollars (Weyland,

Caldera issued Decree No. 241 as part of a crackdown on corrupt banking officials. The
decree suspended the protection against arrest without a warrant, the sanctity of the home, the
right to property, free transit, and the right to economic liberty (Crisp, 1998). Weyland reminds
us that the right to economic liberty had been in a state of almost constant suspension. The
suspension had been recently removed by Pérez as a feature of his “Great Turnaround”
(Weyland, 2002, p. 215), However, Crisp (1998) highlights the fact that property rights had
never previously been suspended under the 1961 Constitution, and that Caldera set a very
dangerous precedent in seizing the property and selling it to bail out the failing banks.
Congress re-established the rights that Caldera suspended on July 21, 1994 (all but
Article 96) claiming that the “economic-financial emergency” no longer existed. Immediately,
Caldera renewed the suspension and threatened to call a referendum if Congress attempted to
interfere in his right to rule by decree again. Congress did not interfere again, and Caldera did
not officially reinstate the rights until he issued Decree No. 739 on July 7, 1995. Crisp
challenges the constitutionality of Caldera’s suspension of rights in 1994 as it seemed “less
clearly supported by Article 241.” Crisp disputes Caldera’s failure to accept Congress’
reestablishment of guarantees as a violation of the intent of the Constitution and as marking “a
new and dangerous stage in executive-legislative relations” (Crisp, 1998, p. 163).
Unlike Betancourt and Perez, who enjoyed a congressional majority and plurality
respectively, Caldera’s party controlled only a congressional minority. This again begs the
question of the balance of executive/legislative power and more clearly demonstrates the
weakening grip of AD and COPEI on partisan politics in the 1990s . “If Caldera’s precedent of
overriding Congress holds up, there is no check on the president’s ability to suspend the
Constitution and issue related decrees” (Crisp, 1998, p.164). This amazingly accurate prediction
is essentially (if not technically) what Chavez eventually did.
Crisp points out that delegated authority had grown more narrow in scope and shorter in
duration by 1994, suggesting that Congress learned its lesson from Pérez. Since 1958, every
president with a majority in both houses received decree authority from Congress. But even
then, the DDA grew ever more limited. For example, Crisp posits that the decree authority
granted Lusinchi was considerably more limited than that delegated to Betancourt or Pérez.
According to Crisp, majority presidents get liberal decree authority, minority presidents get
“carefully defined decree authority to carry out unpleasant tasks” (Crisp, 1998, p. 154).
Still, Crisp (1998) remarks that delegated decree authority is what leveled the playing
field between Congress and the president. Even though the decree authority is limited to
financial and economic concerns, it is not specifically spelled out what that encompasses.
Though the decree authority had only been granted on five occasions and for limited duration,
the power wielded when it has been granted was at times substantial. While the congressional
instruction accompanying the decree authority has occasionally been specific, it has also been
considerably non-specific. And finally, While legislative oversight is sometimes stringent, it can
also be lax or discounted altogether. Crisp enunciates that abuse of presidential decree authority
can not truly be explained by the 1961 Constitution, the strength of the executive or the
weakness of the legislature, but only by understanding Venezuela’s party system and how
parties control power in the government.

Non-Legislative Decree Powers

“Formal powers of Venezuelan Presidents are quite minimal, yet it is widely perceived
that the president dominates the political arena.” Though Crisp reiterates that formal
presidential powers were few in number under the 1961 Constitution, he also presents certain
factors that served to “magnify their importance”(Crisp, 1998, p. 142).
Of significant importance were the use of non-legislative decree powers, which Venezuelan
presidents have traditionally used much to their advantage. The president could implement his
non-legislative decree authority to form his cabinet, and also to establish presidential advisory
commissions through which public interest groups could join the president in researching social
issues and perhaps even join in the legislative process. Congress was far too caught up in the
party line to be influenced by constituent groups, but the president regularly used these groups
to keep “his finger on the pulse of the population,” and also to influence groups that had not been penetrated by the parties (Crisp, 1997a, p. 175).

Partisan Powers

Partisan powers refer to the degree to which a president’s party controls the legislature,
the degree of party discipline, and the influence a president has over his party. Even presidents
with strong constitutional powers can face tremendous challenges in an opposition congress. So
Venezuelan presidents, with their weak constitutional powers, especially in light of Venezuela’s
strong two-party system under the 1961 Constitution, greatly relied on their partisan powers
(Payne, Zovatto, Florez & Zavala, 2002).
Crisp believes that constitutionally allocated presidential powers were complimented and
greatly enhanced by the president’s partisan powers. This was arguably true. Since the parties
controlled the political process, a president’s party affiliation made all the difference. A majority
president obviously enjoyed the clear advantage of party sponsorship. But, at least in theory, a
minority president could have made this work for himself as well. One way of demonstrating
this is through AD’s penetration of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV). [7] By
gaining control over CTV, AD gained influence in the legislative process, as most legislation in
Venezuela was initiated from the executive branch. Since the executive typically created
presidential advisory commissions through which it invited civil society organizations to make
recommendations on policy and the drafting of legislation, AD was directly represented via CTV
in such commissions. The flip side of this, was that while the parties exerted their influence over
policy and legislation via control of interest groups that participated in the presidential
commissions, the president also got the chance to exert his influence over the public interest
groups from which he hoped to receive backing on legislation that he wanted to introduce. With
some persistence, and a bit of good fortune, this leverage from the public interest groups created enough pressure to get certain pieces of legislation passed (Crisp, 1997a). What did this actually
add up to for a minority president? Perhaps very little when one considers that ultimately any
bill would be approved or denied by the party controlling Congress.
The opportunity for a minority president to generate enough public support for anything, would
most likely have to come from groups that had not yet been penetrated by the parties. But
further investigation reveals that even the commissions themselves were vehicles of
corruption, created and controlled by the parties, through which various forms of patronage
were served. Crisp (1997b) tallies the total number of presidential advisory commissions created between February 1959 and December 1989 at 330. He further points out the uncanny
correlation between the time that each of the two parties controlled the executive office and the
total number of commissions each party created. AD presidents served 68% of the time, and AD
created 224 advisory commissions (68% of the total number created). COPEI was in power 32%
of the time and created 106 commissions (32% of the total). While this could possibly speak to
the influence of a strong president over his party, more likely it speaks, once again, to the
pervasive power of the parties.
In contrast to Brazil, which has a constitution granting strong presidential powers, Crisp
(1997a) proposes that in Venezuela, even minority presidents, though they received less power
under the 1961 Constitution, benefitted from the strong party system, as it actually worked in
their favor by reducing gridlock. According to Crisp, minority presidents were often successful
in forming stable coalitions. And even if they were not successful, Crisp assures us that
stalemate was still unlikely because Venezuelan presidents had such a weak veto, that
realistically there was very little they could do. Ultimately, stalemate was avoided because it was the parties that decided which legislation got passed, not the president or the congress.
Michael Coppedge (1994a) endorses the exact opposite view of Crisp. Coppedge would
have us consider the horrors of executive/legislative gridlock in Venezuela, especially under a
minority president; he uses Betancourt (1959-64) as an example. Romulo Betancourt founded
the AD which enjoyed a majority in both houses in 1959. Additionally, because of a coalition
with COPEI and Union Republicana Democratica (URD), Betancourt enjoyed a near monopoly
of the seats in both houses. By January 1962, URD had left the coalition, and AD had undergone
two splits. Though Betancourt started out with a large majority in both chambers in 1959, by
early 1962, he faced a Chamber of Deputies that his party no longer controlled. Opposition in the Chamber of Deputies created stalemate over the agrarian reform. Coppedge notes that unlike
democracies in other countries, in Venezuela it would have been pointless for a minority
president to attempt to “put together an ad hoc majority one bill at a time by negotiating with
individual legislators” (Coppedge, 1994b, p.157). Coppedge affirms that the party line was far
too rigid and strictly enforced, making gridlock that much more severe, and pushing minority
presidents to adopt extreme decree powers to compensate for their lack of power against an
opposition congress.
Coppedge (1994a) reveals that Raul Leoni (1964-69) faced gridlock as well. Leoni chose
a somewhat different path than Betancourt, opting to form a coalition with URD and the Frente
Nacional Democratico (FND) but not with COPEI. By early 1968, FND and URD had left the
coalition and Leoni’s own party, AD, had split again for the third time. The group that broke
away from AD, now the Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo (MEP), formed the basis of the
opposition in both chambers for the rest of Leoni’s term. Coppedge cites this split as the reason
for a change in oil policy which gave outside oil companies a distinct advantage over the state.
This is very interesting in light of the fact that Franklin Tugwell, in a discussion on tax reform,
advances the claim that in Venezuela “a weak government found it easier to attack the foreign
companies than to face an alliance of opposition parties and economic elites” (Franklin, 1975, p.
166). This only further enlightens us to the far reaching power and influence wielded by the
traditional parties.
Coppedge (1994a) writes that stalemate was also a problem during the first Caldera
administration (1969-74). Caldera was a minority president from the beginning. He received
27.1% of the vote (a plurality against five other candidates) and he did not form a coalition. AD
led the opposition against COPEI in both chambers. Coppedge avers that “Caldera’s congress
was born paralyzed...during the first year of the Caldera government, the stalemate was
intractable” (1994, p. 413). Caldera’s administration faced gridlock over a number of issues, but
the most vexing problem rose over the appointment of judges. Prior to the Caldera
administration, judicial appointments were decided jointly by the executive and a body within
the Supreme Court. In 1969, Congress passed a law essentially allowing up to 2,800 judges to be
appointed by the recently established National Judiciary Council, (whose members were
appointed by Congress). Caldera’s efforts to challenge the law failed. The opposition appeared
to have prevailed until stalemate rose up within the opposition itself over judicial appointments.
Afterward, Caldera and AD formed a loose coalition called the Coincidencia, but it was a
minimal alliance at best... “by no means can it be said that the Coincidencia made it possible for
the Caldera administration to govern or function well” (Coppedge, 1994a, p. 414).
Moreover, Coppedge (1994a) explains that there was a similar standoff during the
Herrera administration (1979-84): AD led the opposition against COPEI, and minority president
Luis Herrera, who also failed to form a coalition. Executive/legislative relations were strained
and gridlock prevailed every step of the way (just two laws were passed in the first ten months).
At one point AD boycotted the congress altogether for a total of three weeks. “AD kept up this
obstructionist line for the remainder of the Herrera government” (Coppedge, 1994a, p. 415).
While Crisp and Coppedge disagree on whether the powerful parties eliminated or
actually caused gridlock, they agree that the bulk of the power was held by the parties
themselves, and not by the president or the legislature. Although as Mike Kornblith and Daniel
Levine (1997, p.38) have verified, party splits and fragmentation were taking their toll: “Since
the early 1980s, the very role of political parties, and more precisely of parties of the kind that
dominate the Venezuelan scene, has come under increasing criticism and direct challenge.”


In this section, the paper perlustrates the Venezuelan party system in an attempt to
ascertain the extent to which it influenced executive/legislative relations by simply trumping
checks and balances. In Venezuela, there is clearly no question that AD and COPEI dominated
political power until the near-collapse of the party system in the 1990s. But to what extent was
Venezuela’s strong party system actually nondemocratic? According to Kornblith and Levine,
political parties are intended to operate in much the very way that AD and COPEI had:

In Levine’s usage, the term party system has at least four dimensions: (1) parties are the basic tools of political mobilization and action; (2) this ensures that mobilized consent and votes- characteristic of modern parties- will become central to legitimate politics; (3) party domination shapes prevailing political methodology around rallies, propaganda, elections and now mass media; and (4) as parties dominate politics, they become the principal agencies for the organization and channeling of political conflicts. Conflicts are expressed primarily through political parties, and thus organizational concentration opens the possibility of agreement between parties on the legitimate bounds of conflicts- that is, a procedural consensus on the means of limiting any given conflict becomes a possibility.” (Kornblith and Levine, 1997, pp. 37-38) [8]

AD emerged in 1941, followed five years later by COPEI, and the two quickly dominated
the political center of Venezuela. The two parties literally held a joint monopoly on partisan
politics for nearly fifty years. Both party formation and the concentration of organized political
action in the party system were possible in Venezuela as there existed a “severe institutional
vacuum” at the time (Baloyra and Martz, 1979, p.152). Eventually, these “monopolists of
political action” (Levine, 1973, p. 8) had either created, or penetrated nearly every civil society
organization in Venezuela (Baloyra and Martz, 1979); and between the two of them, hoarded a
substantial majority of the vote. Established on September 13, 1941, AD was the brainchild of
Romulo Gallegos and a host of others who co-founded it with him. This was a time of profound
change in Venezuela, a time of hope and extreme optimism for the future:

The years following 1935 and the death of Gomez saw the beginning of mass politics. Those in exile returned, forming what are now called popular sectors. AD developed deep roots in
society, attracted members from all walks: teachers, peasants, labor, and professionals. This is typical of Venezuelan parties: socially heterogeneous, combining group representation with
strong centralized leadership. From its formal beginnings in 1941, Accion Democratica, ...has called itself the party of the people, brokering a marriage of needs and interests between small-town middle-class organizers and Venezuela’s masses of dispossessed so powerful that repression could no longer eliminate groups; it just drove them underground. (Kornblith and Levine, 1997, pp. 40-41).

AD sprung up seemingly well-equipped to accommodate the newly-liberated masses.
COPEI was born five years later in 1946, so as to participate in the newly established electoral
process. Begotten of the National Student Union (UNE) which was founded upon conservative,
Catholic social principles such as the subordination of the state to civil society, the alternative
“third way,” [9] the importance of religious education and the sanctity of the family, COPEI
quickly adapted to its more secular model.[10] It was founded and led by Rafael Caldera, who
was also the party’s presidential candidate, and of course, elected president in 1968 and again in
1994. Brian Crisp, Daniel Levine & Jose Molina (2003) congratulate the two-party system on its
distinct democratic achievement: the 1968 election marked the first time in Venezuelan history
that a democratic party in power peacefully handed control over to an opposition party. They
also credit the Caldera administration for making great efforts to integrate the left back into the
political process, even offering amnesty, in a effort to end the guerilla insurrection. (Crisp,
Levine & Molina, 2003).
Yet in addition to the good that AD and COPEI accomplished, the two parties also
excluded the vast majority of Venezuelans. Party elites controlled candidate lists and saw to it
that legislation favored the wealthy, the powerful and the educated. The party system grew so
powerful that Venezuela became commonly known as a Partidocracia. The party system did not
represent the people, it controlled the legislature, and more often than not it made puppets of
presidents. In this respect Venezuela’s party system was very nondemocratic (Diamond, 1998).
Larry Diamond comments that while Venezuela gradually witnessed the democratizing
effects of a growing civil society, its party system was “overinstitutionalized,” preventing any
real contestation from outside of the partidocracia system. Diamond refers to Venezuela’s
partyarchy as “occluded, overinstitutionalized...corrupt, arrogant, and poorly responsive to the
wishes of the voters (Diamond, 1998, pp.16, 96-97, 102). In Coppedge’s words:

Venezuela is probably the most extreme case of a pathological kind of political control that I call partyarchy. If democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people, then
partyarchy is government of the people, by the parties, for the parties (1994b, p.2).

Daniel Levine, on the other hand, recognizes Venezuela as one of the few poorly
developed nations that have been able to “combine widespread popular participation with
political stability-precisely through the mechanism of party organization.” Levine has
hypothesized that the problems associated with Venezuela’s party system are not inherently
due to a flawed system, as much as they are the result of the system’s failure to evolve with
changing “social alignments.” Levine supposes that the party system, which was quite
remarkable for a country like Venezuela in the 1940s, simply could not manage to keep up with
growing urbanization,[11] the “extreme volatility of urban voting” and the steady decline of
politically stable urban areas. This failure to change with the times led to a gradual “weakening
of the party organization” which greatly diminished the “political elite’s ability to represent and
reconcile a broad range of interests” (Levine, 1977, p. 23-5). Not surprising that by 1996 over
25% of Venezuelans were “not at all satisfied...with the way democracy works” (Diamond,
1998, p.182).
Levine provides us with an insightful explanation to the seemingly paradoxical fate of the
“oldest extant democracy in South America.” (Crisp, 1998, p.142). The long Venezuelan
struggle with democracy is far too complex, and the players too determined, to simply accept
that the system failed due to economic crisis and internal corruption. Surely these were
dependent variables; but I would argue along with Levine that the true independent variable, if
one can be isolated, is the inability of the party elite as movers and shakers to adapt and
transform the politically monstrous and bureaucratic party system in a timely and efficient
enough manner, so as to continue to represent the ever-changing demographic and socio-
economic sectors of Venezuelan society. In Coppedge’s (2005, p. 313) words:

In a party that is hierarchical and disciplined, leadership tends to turn over slowly; new leaders must rise slowly through the ranks, ‘paying their dues’ along the way. New ideas and new ways of running the party are discouraged because they imply that those in charge of the party have something to learn. Upstarts are resented.

This resistance to change made the political elite even more ill-prepared for the
challenging economic roller coaster ride brought on by fluctuating oil prices. Robert Bond
purports that the greatest challenge faced by the party elite was in overcoming the ever-
problematic inequity in Venezuela. While this problem preceded the party system, once
Venezuela became a democracy, there was an even higher expectation that the regime would do
something about it...anything. Bond lamented, however, that “balanced economic growth and a
more equitable distribution of the benefits of development...has not been served well by the
development strategy followed by Venezuela’s leaders.” Bond was hopeful that “the quintupling
of oil prices” in the 1970s would offer the party elites yet “another opportunity to realize these
objectives,” and at the time he expressed “guarded optimism” regarding Perez’s five-year plan
(Bond, 1977, pp.238-9).

Unfortunately, history has betrayed Bond’s optimism, and revealed that the
“development strategy followed by Venezuela’s leaders” continued to fall short of rising
expectations and changing needs. Weyland is of the conviction that much of Venezuela’s
political course in the last decade was determined by the economic climate of the early 1990s,
and the “backlash against neoliberalism” that was to follow. After Chavez’s attempted coup on
February 4, 1992, Caldera publicly supported Chavez’s anti-party rhetoric, but not the
attempted coup itself. Caldera, who was long a critic of neoliberalism and specifically of Perez,
broke with COPEI , the party he had founded, and that was now supporting Perez.
In his 1993 presidential campaign, Caldera ran as an independent and “relentlessly attacked the
other members of Venezuela’s political class and the established parties and sharply criticized
the neoliberal program initiated by the Perez administration.”

The scandal over AD president Perez had already tarnished one party, and now Caldera’s break
with COPEI, combined with its support of Perez and its commitment to continued market
reform, greatly weakened the second. Weyland directly attributes the erosion of Venezuela’s
strong party system to these factors (Weyland, 2002, p.212- 13).
Perhaps Caldera was initially attempting to reform the system from the inside out.
Perhaps not. Either way, he clearly eventually realized the need to abandon the party system
altogether in favor of something that would hopefully better serve the problems of economic
growth and poor income distribution. I’m not convinced that at the time Caldera had any clue
what that something would be. In fact, throughout the history of the Venezuelan democratic
experience, there appears to be these occasional moments of desperation, marked by a need to
reform and revamp the system, without any viable ideas as to how to do it. Several times over,
democracy has tottered on the brink, as president after president has suspended constitutional
rights and implemented radical, knee-jerk economic initiatives designed to respond to a crisis.
One would be mistaken to simply write these off as the remedial efforts of half-witted,
corrupt presidents. Certainly not every Venezuelan political leader was corrupt. Certainly not
every president aspired to be an autocrat. Rather, one could speculate that this perpetually
reactive behavior is the legacy of the party system itself. But given the party system’s iron grip
on the electoral process, how could any politician avoid it, much less change it? Like a fish in
water, this was their world. In order to have any voice at all, a politician had to enter through the party system. And not to tow the party line was certain political suicide. This is why the system
prevailed for so long.

Crisp (1997a) focuses on the electoral rules as a key factor in determining the strength of
the two major parties in Venezuela under the 1961 Constitution. Presidents were elected by
plurality with concurrent congressional elections under a closed-list proportional representation
system . Voters made two choices in national elections: one for the president, and one for both
chambers of Congress.[12] First of all, the closed- list system greatly enhanced the larger parties chances of winning as voters tended to vote for the more well-known parties rather than for
specific candidates. Second, the closed-list system combined with concurrent congressional
elections ensured greater probability of a majority government as most people tended to vote
the same party on both ballots. Third, the closed- list system reinforced party discipline as it was the party leadership that decided which candidates made it on the list, and in what order.
Senators were elected by proportional representation, but again, under the 1961
Constitution, the Venezuelan system favored a two-party system. In addition to the closed-list,
simultaneous elections, there were only two seats in each state and federal territory. The party
with the most votes got one seat, and the party with the second most votes got the other seat,
unless the party with the largest share of votes won twice as many votes as the second place
party, in which case it got both seats. This system practically prevented any substantial
fragmentation or dominance by a single party. Using the D’Hondt formula, there was a
provision that allowed for minor parties to win a seat: if a minor party won at least 2.38% of the
total national vote, it received one of the “additional seats” in the Senate. Until 1993, the
Chamber of Deputies was elected in much the same way, with the minimum percentage of total
national votes required for a minority party to receive a seat set at 0.55% (Crisp, 1997a, pp.
168- 169). But, of course, this only minimally increased the “representativeness” (Payne,
Zovatto, Florez & Zavala, 2002, p. 121) of the system.

One factor that perhaps helped to put the nail in the partidocracia’s coffin was the
incorporation of the mixed-member proportional system (MMP) for the election of the Chamber of Deputies in 1993. The MMP was designed to make the electoral process more representative.
Crisp and Rey (2001) contend that public demand for electoral reform was significant as early as 1979 when the municipal elections were held on a separate ballot and date from the other offices. This offered the municipal candidates and voters a distinct advantage for the first time since
1958 when Venezuela’s closed- list, concurrent election system began. The rise in media
coverage created ever more public attention on the presidential race. This, combined with the
parties’ central control over the lists of candidates, led to the election of parties at the sub-
national and local levels, not candidates.
Although the 1979 municipal elections themselves resulted in nothing remarkable (the
results showed strong support for AD and COPEI and continued signs of growing abstentation),
the municipal reform of 1979 led to the approval of the Constitutional Amendment No. 2 in
1983. The amendment allowed for the possibility of a separate electoral system at the state
level. This change, while now constitutional, still had to gain the support of the two large parties.
Support from the traditional parties did not come easily. Yet, perhaps as evidence that true
democracy can work, it was increasing abstentation that convinced the parties to offer their
support of the reform. In 1984 President Lusinchi created the Presidential Commission for the
Reform of the State (COPRE) to devise a plan to combat growing abstentation and stave off
economic disaster. COPRE initially suggested some substantial reforms such as regular elections
for party officials, limiting the number of lifetime appointments to party office, and most
substantial of all, the recommendation for primary elections for all candidates and that the
primaries eventually become open- list. The parties opposed COPRE’s suggestions, however,
and in the end proved to be too strong of an opponent. An electoral law was passed in 1988, but
it was of little significance. With the presidential election that year, electoral reform was a very
hot issue. AD candidate Carlos Perez took advantage of the thirty-year anniversary of the Pact
of Punto Fijo to publicly announce his Pact of State Reform, calling the other candidates to join
him in electoral reform. Seven candidates signed the pact, which called for separate ballots for
the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and nonconcurrent elections, among other things. The
1989 reform of the Electoral Law adopted the MMP system for the Chamber of Deputies at the
national level, and it was first used in 1993. (Crisp & Rey, 2001).
Perez’ platform of electoral reform demonstrates two realities of Venezuelan politics at
that time. The first is that presidential candidates were both listening to and answering to public
opinion. The second is that, in Venezuela’s partidocracia, if anything gave the president, or in
this case the presidential candidate, power to trump the large parties, it was mass support from
the people.

The reforms actually did very little to stem party fragmentation, AD and COPEI
continued to lose vote share at alarming rates. Combined, the two parties dropped from nearly
75% total vote share in the 1988 congressional elections down to 21% in 2000. The pendulum
was now in full swing in the other direction, and large cracks were beginning to show in the
party system’s foundation. This had repercussions beyond the polls. The decline of the
traditional parties not only opened political space for populist leaders and the growing radical
left, it weakened the parties deep-rooted penetration of existing civil society organizations, and
alienated the parties from new groups. Molina (2004) correlates this resentment of the once
strongly institutionalized party system with the rise of Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution.
Coppedge dismissed the party system as doomed to fragmentation from the beginning:
“faction struggles within parties occupy a very prominent place...every time a party governs, it
divides into two antagonistic factions.” Coopedge further surmises that these internal conflicts
“sour voters on the parties” and “tarnish the image of democracy itself.” In spite of this inherent
weakness, Coppedge is confident that “paradoxically, although presidential partyarchy
undermines the quality of a democracy, it also enhances the stability of a democracy, at least in
the short run.” Or as in Venezuela’s case, the long run as well. Coppedge credits this stability to
the parties’ ability to manage potential public outcry by controlling civil society groups,
especially labor unions. But ultimately, Coppedge warns that the combination of presidentialism
and strong, deeply-rooted parties, which he calls “arroz con mango (rice with mango)- a
revolting combination, and a recipe for trouble,” will result in a crisis, such as Venezuela
experienced during the Perez administration. Coppedge points out that a less rigid presidential
term would have made it easier to get Perez out of office sooner (Coppedge, 1994b, p.3). I take
issue with Coppedge’s conclusion that presidentialism was the true obstacle, and not the party
system. Presidents can be impeached, as Perez eventually was. AD, however, was not
particularly pleased to have its reputation tainted by the affair. No doubt, had it not been for
AD’s damage control efforts, Perez very well might have been impeached more than a year

In 1994, Michael Coppedge (1994a) stated an almost prophetic case against Venezuelan
presidentialism. In spite of Venezuela’s then model track record of democratic success (seven
consecutive free and fair elections since 1958, four of which involved the peaceful transfer of
power to the opposition), according to Coppedge, the future did not bode well for Venezuela.
Coppedge credited Venezuela’s democratic success to its wealth-producing oil, its strong party
system and “uncommon leadership,” rather than to its presidential system, which he claims has
“carried Venezuela to the brink more than once.” Furthermore, Coppedge argued that the
presidential system in Venezuela “manifests the same tendencies toward executive-legislative
conflict and circumvention of the congress that have been observed in other Latin American
countries.” Coppedge insisted that oil, to the extent that it staves off scarcity, creates a socio-
economic and political environment that is favorable to democracy, but it is not enough in and of
itself. (Coppedge, 1994a, p. 396-7, 417).

Regardless of the accuracy of Coppedge’s claim that presidentialism was the culprit
behind Venezuela’s problems, his 1994 prediction has more or less come true. Caldera’s
severance of his longtime alliance with COPEI was more than a demonstration of his shrewd
political savvy, it was a sign of the times. Presidentialism, as Venezuela knew it, was changing.
And while Caldera stood for change, Chavez was change incarnate.

Hugo Chavez Frias, one of the original members of the Revolutionary Bolivarian
Movement 200 (MBR-200) founded in 1983, started his career as an officer in the military.
Chavez entered the military academy in 1970 when he was seventeen years old. Chavez claims
to have initially had no political aspirations whatsoever, but that he wanted to be a baseball
player (Chavez & Harnecker, 2005). MBR-200 was formed on the 200th anniversary of the
birth of Simon Bolivar, largely in response to the elite control of the parties and the continued
neglect of the poor. The movement steadily grew through the 1980s, and gained considerable
support after the 1989 riots in reaction to Perez’s neoliberal reform measures. In Chavez’s own
words (Chavez & Harnecker, 2005, p.31-2):

When the people of Caracas came out into the streets en masse on February 27, 1989, to reject he economic package that had been approved by then president Carlos Andres Perez, and we aw the massacres that took place in response, it made a huge impact on my generation... the embers of the MBR 200 realized that we had passed the point of no return and we had to take uparms. We could not continue to defend a murderous regime. The massacres were a catalyst for the MBR 200.

On February 4, 1992, Chavez led a coup d’etat that failed, and resulted in Chavez’s
imprisonment. Two years later, President Rafael Caldera dropped the charges against Chavez
and had him released. By 1996, the economic situation still had not improved in spite of
Caldera’s efforts (Coppedge, 2005). In 1997, Chavez ran for president as the candidate of the
recently established Fifth Republic Movement (MVR). His platform was anti-party, anti-
poverty, anti-neoliberalism and pro-state control of the economy. Chavez won the 1998
presidential election and immediately began to fulfill his campaign promises (Figueroa, 2006).
Weyland (2003, p. 11) suggests that the reason Chavez won so much support against his
opponent, Salas, was because “Salas became the candidate of the privileged and the elite;
therefore, he was easy prey for anti-system candidate Chavez.” The economic situation of the
country left the majority of voters hoping against hope. Chavez represented their hope for a
better future, while Salas represented everything about their past. Only those who had
something to lose voted for Salas. Furthermore, Weyland (1998) argues that it was more than
just concern for themselves that led voters to back Chavez, it was concern for the nation as a
whole. While the rich and educated tended to defend the status quo that got them where they
were, the vast majority not only identified Chavez with prosperity for themselves, but also for
the entire nation. As a result, Chavez enjoyed overwhelming support from the people.
“Hugo Chavez took Venezuelan politics by storm and almost overnight transformed one
of the United States’ most reliable partners into its most adversarial neighbor in South America
(Naim, 2003, p. 96). Support notwithstanding, once in office, Chavez faced a majority
opposition in a very divided legislature, making it virtually impossible to reform the 1961
Constitution. Chavez called for a popular referendum over the issue of electing a National
Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. Although Congress opposed the decree, the
Supreme Court approved it with some changes (Monaldi, Gonzales, Obuchi, & Penfold, 2005).
Ninety-two percent of the electorate voted in favor of convoking the Constituent Assembly in
April, 1999 (Figueroa, 2006). In July, the Assembly was elected via a majority system [13] (the
1961 Constitution required a mixed-member proportional system). The Chavez coalition won
96% of the seats on the Assembly (Monaldi, Gonzales, Obuchi, & Penfold, 2005). In August,
the Constituent Assembly convened and began drawing up the new constitution. By December
15, 1999, the new constitution was in place. Soon thereafter, Congress was dissolved, all
officials chosen under the 1961 Constitution were dismissed and several key appointments were
made.[14] Elections for a unicameral National Assembly were scheduled and the Constituent
Assembly turned its legislative authority over to a 21-member committee before disbanding
(Crisp, 2000).

In July 2000, Chavez was reelected with 59% of the vote (Weyland, 2001), MVR won 93
seats, Mas (allied with Chavez) won 6 seats, AD won 32 seats and COPEI won 5 seats. The
elections were originally scheduled for May 28, but were postponed by the Supreme Court “on
the grounds that technical conditions were not in place to guarantee a fair and transparent
contest” (Asamblea Nacional, 2000). [15] Monaldi, Gonzales, Obuchi, & Penfold (2005, p.11)
argue that Chavez’s rise to power put the final nail in the coffin of the “consensus mechanisms”
that were implemented by Punto Fijo. They claim that while the Congressional Committee that
drafted the 1961 Constitution was intended to “over-represent minority groups,” the
Constituent Assembly in 1999 “over-represented the majority” and effectively denied minority
groups a voice in the drafting of the 1999 Constitution. They insist that this “signaled the
beginning of the complete collapse in cooperation.”

Contrary to this claim, Crisp (1997b, p.2) denigrates the entire Venezuelan system
(timing of elections, use of the PR system in the Chamber of deputies, centralized nomination of
candidates, and the closed block PR voting system itself) as conducive to a legislature that was
“willing to capitulate to executive authority.” Crisp further infers that the electoral system itself
under the 1961 Constitution created “an inactive Congress and a president who is usually mighty beyond his powers.” In addition to the natural pull of the presidential election, Crisp (1997b,
p.12) evinces that “ticket-splitting” also played a part. Venezuelan voters that preferred a
minority candidate, still voted for a majority-party presidential candidate even if they voted for
a minority legislative candidate, as they were unwilling to waste their vote on a candidate they
knew had no chance of winning. Also contrary to Monaldi, Gonzales, Obuchi, & Penfold’s claim
of Chavez’s electoral manipulation, Coppedge’s (2005) research suggests that by 1998, voters in
Venezuela were more educated, more professional, more participatory in civil society and more
independent of political parties than ever before. This could very well account for the results.
While the legitimacy of Venezuelan elections under Chavez is not the focus of this paper,
Chavez’s power to control the electoral system under the 1999 Constitution as compared to the
1961 Constitution is relevant. While individuals such as Mrs. Gustaaf Van Cromphout, a native
of Venezuela, insist that Chavez is a dictator, a fraud, and that many of the people dislike him
(personal communication, April 14, 2007), still Chavez has dominated past elections, and even
in the 2005 elections, MVR won 114 of the 167 seat chamber, with the remaining seats going to
allied parties. In spite of opposition claims that elections were unfair, European observers said
the elections were both free and fair (Rueda, 2005). Mrs. Van Cromphout is convinced that the
European observers were bribed. Perhaps they were. Or, perhaps the elections under Chavez
have been fair after all. Perhaps what we are seeing is more of the same strategic voting that
appears to have been present in Venezuela all along. This too, speaks more to the power of the
party, than it speaks to the power of either the executive or the legislature.

Some of the major changes implemented in the 1999 Constitution regarding presidential
powers were the increase of the presidential term from five years to six, a provision allowing for
immediate reelection (as opposed to the 1961 Constitution’s mandatory 10-year wait), a
provision broadening the delegated decree authority beyond the 1961 limits of financial and
economic matters, the power to declare a state of exception for up to six months, and the power
to dissolve the legislature (Crisp, 2000).

While the relatively weak veto remains substantially unchanged, a related change that is
perhaps obvious, but deserves mention, is the elimination of the Senate. The unicameral
Congress now consists of the National Assembly, which has even less oversight than the
bicameral Congress under the 1961 Constitution. On the one hand, the weak presidential veto is
essentially strengthened by the fact that the president now has one less legislative body to
contend with. On the other hand, one could argue that the veto is significantly weakened as the
required simple majority is even more easily obtained in one house rather than two.

Weyland (2001) points out that Chavez has used the weakened oversight of the National
Assembly to his political advantage, primarily in the area of military promotions. Coppedge
paints a more vivid picture of the hostility Chavez generated in the elite circles of business, CTV
and the military over his abuse of powers “delegated by the National Assembly to decree two
dozen important laws, including a land reform and a law on hydrocarbons, without adequate
consultation.” Chavez also tolerated the existence of FARC [16] inside the borders of Venezuela,
and displayed a decidedly “pro-Cuba tilt,” which made the upper echelon of the military very
uneasy. This unrest led to a coup on April 12, 2002. But Chavez refused to resign, and the coup
mongers were unwilling to violate the constitution. In defense of the democratic system in place
at the time, one does have to acknowledge that the rules of the game were honored. In two days, Chavez was back in office. In December of that same year, a general strike lasting until January
2003, and demanding that Chavez either resign or be forced to resign by popular vote, bid ill
tidings for the now very unpopular “popular sovereign” (Coppedge, 2005, p. 292-3). But Chavez
has proven to be more resilient than some would have thought.

Another important change resulting from the 1999 Constitution is the executive’s the
power to dissolve the legislature, the 1961 Constitution made no such provision. Article 72
allows the president to remove officials both individually and en masse. The prerogative to
dissolve the legislature, however, is only available with some pretty complicated restrictions.
First, the legislature can not be dissolved unless the vice-president has been removed three
times, and even then, never in the last year of the legislature’s term. The president is not
required to stand for re-election after the legislature is dissolved (also a huge advantage in the
executive/legislative relationship). But since it requires a 3/5 majority to remove the vice
president, it is highly unlikely to see that happen three times during any presidential term
(Crisp, 2000). But, the fact that it is possible demonstrates that some checks and balances exist.
According to Crisp (2000), the change with the most far-reaching potential is found in
Article 67 of the 1999 Constitution which calls for the election of party elites. While the wording
does not specify what type of elections these are to be, Crisp suggests that the “language seems
to encourage the use of closed primaries” (Crisp, 2000, p. 233). This, of course, would greatly
alleviate the main problem associated with Venezuela’s former party system: domination by the
elite. As of 2000, however, MVR had already announced that it interprets Article 67 to support
indirect elections of both the party elite and candidates for office. Primaries were not used for
candidates in the 2000 election (Crisp, 2000), nor were they used for candidates in the 2005
elections (party leaders drew up the list of candidates). However, the demand for open primaries was so strong that Chavez agreed to allow the rank and file members of the parties to vote in the primaries in the future. (Munckton, 2005).


Michael Coppedge (2005) argues that Venezuela, under the 1961 Constitution, was
always minimally democratic if at all, depending on the definition used. [17] The traditional
parties in Venezuela concentrated power and authority in an exclusive few, controlled
nominations, both penetrated and politicized the majority of civil society organizations, and held
an iron grip over Congress, which was “frequently marginalized” by the concentration of policy-
making authority in the executive. The people “had to be represented through these parties or
not at all” (Coppedge, 2005, p. 309). Chavez’s great appeal to the people of Venezuela is best
understood in the history of inequality and elitist politics in Venezuela (Shifter, 2006). But the
failure of the MVR to elect party elites and its failure (so far) to use primaries to establish
candidate lists strikes a very strong resemblance to the partyarchy under the 1961 Constitution. Coppedge further argues:

during the first years of Chavez’s presidency... Venezuela was no longer a liberal democracy in very sense. Instead, it became an extreme case of delegative democracy. The president enjoyed idespread popular support for almost everything he and his followers did, and this fact qualified is government as “democratic” in the narrow sense of popular sovereignty. But the systematic elimination of constraints on presidential action after 1998 increased the risk that Venezuela would cease to be a democracy by any definition in the future.

So according to Coppedge, Venezuela has only met the bare minimum requirements to
qualify as a democracy, both before Chavez and after. Whether one uses the term “delegated
democracy,” or “ popular sovereignty,” Venezuela has clearly never qualified as a “liberal

The longer presidential term and the ability to run for immediate re-election tip the
balance of power in favor of the president (legislator’s term are still only five years), as does
expanding the delegated decree authority beyond economic and financial matters. The power to
declare states of exception for up to six months greatly enhances the president’s power as he
alone can declare a state of exception, and the president receives decree authority during such
states of exception. While Article 338 of the 1999 Constitution requires the president to submit
the decree declaring a state of exception to Congress within eight days, it does not specify the
outcome if the president does not submit the decree, if Congress denies the decree, or if
Congress fails to respond to the decree (Crisp, 2000). Thus, in these respects, the 1999
Constitution has added considerable power to the Venezuelan presidency.

However, Crisp (1998) reminds us that while the Venezuelan president never possessed
any binding legislative authority under the 1961 Constitution that was not delegated by
Congress, and while the president’s veto power was particularly weak, the president did enjoy
the support of the electorate and the power to call a referendum in the event of a stalemate
(Caldera, for example). Under the 1999 Constitution, Crisp (2000) suggests that the president’s
powers are still very much determined by his level of popularity with the people and with
Congress. For instance, the president still needs to obtain delegated decree authority from
Congress as well as (technically) its approval to declare a state of exception. And even though
states of exception (and any decrees the president issues in their duration) have a maximum
duration of 6 months, the president can take any decrees issued directly to the people to have
them ratified. The president can also use this power to call a plebiscite to abolish existing laws.
Chavez’s continued ability to name his cabinet and to propose legislation, combined with
his ministers’ right to address Congress and to some extent, participate in the legislative process, can be seen as a continuation of the status quo in the balance of executive/legislative power
(Crisp, 1998). However, Crisp (2000) predicted (thus far erroneously) that the flip side to this
could be found in the fact that the “pull effect of the presidential races will vary” due to the
different term lengths of the president and legislators (six and five years respectively). And even though Article 187:10 of the 1999 Constitution grants Congress the right to censure both the
vice- president and the ministers by a 3/5 vote, it appears no more likely or unlikely that the
National Assembly will successfully attempt to censure either Chavez’s vice-president or one of
his ministers, than it was the bicameral legislature would successfully attempt to censure a vice-
president or minister under the 1961 Constitution. In fact, under the 1961 Constitution, a vote of two-thirds to censure a minister (thus forcing him to resign) [18] occurred only once, on October 19, 1995 when the Chamber of Deputies voted to censure Minister of Health and Social
Assistance, Carlos Walter. Walter served under President Caldera, whose parties controlled only
twenty-four percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Crisp (1997b, p.16) argues that
party support provided strong insulation against censure, as “party discipline influence how
congressional oversight is exercised.”

Another area of power that was clearly dominated by party politics under the 1961
Constitution was that of delegated decree power. Under Article 190:8 the president could
“dictate extraordinary measures in economic and financial matters when the public interest
requires it and he has been authorized to do so by a special law” (Crisp, 1997b, p. 15). I reiterate
that this power had been delegated to five presidents, and according to Crisp, majority
presidents get liberal decree authority, minority presidents get “carefully defined decree
authority to carry out unpleasant tasks” (Crisp, 1998, p.154). Chavez also receives delegated
decree authority from Congress, albeit an expanded version of the former. Still, the very
argument that Chavez’s party dominates the National Assembly and therefore does his bidding,
hearkens back to the era of partidocracia when the strength of the party made all the difference.
This speaks to the enduring power of the party.

A clear correlation between the limits of presidential power under the two constitutions is
the power of the people to protest and demand change. This happened most notably in February of 1989 to the detriment of the Perez administration and remains the greatest threat to Chavez.
As with every leader in Venezuela since oil became the major export, price fluctuations are key.
Contrary to some claims that Venezuela’s oil revenue is the reason for Chavez’s popular support, oil was only $12/barrel in 1998 when he was elected. However, the dramatic increase in the
price of oil has funded much of Chavez’s social spending, allowed him to initiate trade relations
with China and India, provided him the resources to launch Petrocaribe which provides oil to
over a dozen Caribbean nations, afforded him the money to purchase weapons from Russia and
Spain, and granted him the opportunity to back other leftist presidents and presidential
candidates. This pattern of sole dependency on oil is not unique to Chavez, however; it has
carried over from the pre-democratic era. As was evident in the eighties, hard economic times
bring bleak political realities. A substantial fluctuation in oil prices could yet again prove
devastating to the Venezuelan economy and to Chavez’s popularity. The power of any society is
ultimately in the masses (Shifter, 2006). For now, supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution see
Chavez as “an all- out assault on neoliberal doctrine and its authoritarian elements” (Gibbs,
2006, P. 265). Only time will tell what the future holds.

As far as the argument that Venezuela is more or less democratic under Chavez and the
1999 Constitution than it was under the 1961 Constitution, it really depends on one’s point of
view. Gibbs (2006) argues that by far the more authoritarian regime existed under the elite-
controlled 1961 Constitution, particularly during the neoliberal era. Gibb condemns the former
Venezuelan democracy as controlled by technocrats and more concerned with the will of the rich
than the will of the people. He celebrates Chavez as the vessel through which the demands of
the people were realized. Crisp (1997b) agrees that the system of checks and balances under the
1961 Constitution was ineffective, and that it paved the way for rule by the rich and the
promulgation of economic policies that favored the elite. Furthermore, the centralized
nomination of candidates made party elites very powerful, which in turn created an atmosphere
of party discipline rather than accountability to constituents. This directly stunted the
development of Congress as an institution independent from the party system by eliminating
any incentive to serve the interests of civil society groups or geographic districts outside of the
party’s control. Michael Coppedge has placed a somewhat more hedged bet on Venezuela. He
duly notes the existence of the debate, explains that the “first symptoms of the democratic
setback in Venezuela were symptoms of weakened institutionalization, not of less democracy.”
He elaborates on this by holding up the rising electoral abstentation as evidence that the
authorities could no longer enforce the voting mandate, the 1989 riots as proof that they could
no longer “maintain public order,” and the 1992 coup as an explicit warning that the military
could no longer be assumed to be under civilian control. Coppedge then eases his foot down on
the “illiberal” side of the debate by illustrating Chavez “elimination of the checks and balances
required for liberal democracy.” In spite of Chavez’s alleged posturing, Coppedge also writes
that in 2003, Venezuela “still had a democratic constitution, an elected president and national
legislature, a vocal opposition, a lively press, and all the other minimal requirements for
democracy” (Coppedge, 2005, pp. 309).

While the claim that Chavez controls the electoral system may be valid, Crisp (1997b)
expresses the exact same sentiment about the elite-controlled AD and COPEI under the 1961
Constitution. The party elite controlled both which names ultimately made it onto candidate
nomination lists and in what order. One could argue, then, that loyalty to the party elite was
simply replaced by loyalty to Chavez. Neither systems encourage loyalty to the people. Even in
light of the 1993 reform instituting a mixed-member electoral system for the Chamber of
Deputies, Crisp (1997b,) made the claim that very little change could actually be accomplished.
Since the reform affected only one house, the effect was minimal to begin with. Also, given that
the concept of voter registration in specific districts associated with voter residency was never
necessary prior to 1993, Crisp (1997b) expressed doubt that the full advantage of the reform
would be utilized by voters, who continued to be registered in districts in which they did not
reside. This, combined with the fact that the districts themselves were not linked to any
particular geographic identity that would lend itself to a collection of voters calling for mutual
representation, further diluted the value of the reform. And finally, Crisp (1997b) insisted that
the point was irrelevant anyway, because the party elite still controlled the nomination lists, and
ultimately not only who would be elected, but also where their loyalty would lay.

A 2004 report issued by the United Nations Development Programme determined that
more than 70% of all Latin Americans surveyed support a central state role in the economy,
while less than a quarter had any faith in the market. Additionally in 2005, a Latinobarometro
poll revealed that while the vast majority of Latin Americans were very dissatisfied with
democracy, Venezuelans overall are very satisfied with democracy in their country. Contrary to
allegations that Chavez is a dictator, the same Latinobarometro poll found the vast majority of
Venezuelans held that their country was “totally democratic” (Gibbs, 2006, p. 267-8).


The debate over Chavez is both real and challenging. This is primarily because
the debate itself is highly politicized. As one navigates through the troubled waters of this
debate, it can be difficult to maintain a neutral course. While there has been much mudslinging
in this debate, even in academic circles, and there promises to be more in the future, one must
endeavor to start with a clean slate, and proceed according to the evidence presented. Is Chavez
the perfect solution for Venezuela? Probably not. Has he made mistakes? Most certainly. Chavez himself has admitted to this (Chavez and Harnecker, 2005). And while Weyland (2001) is quick
to point out Chavez’s hypocrisy in criticizing the neoliberal economic policies of Caldera,
but in then 1999 re-instituting a very neoliberal value-added tax in response to low oil prices,
one should also remain mindful of the economic realities that the nation continues to face. After
close comparison of the two constitutions, this paper concludes that from a practical
standpoint, very little has changed in Venezuela. While the Constitution has changed, and the
concentration of power is now vested in an autocrat rather than in an elite-driven, central party
system, Venezuela remains democratic in name only; and by virtue of only the most minimal
definition. This conclusion allies itself with Daniel Levine, who postulates that Venezuela’s
party system was at one time very progressive, but that it failed to keep pace with an ever more sophisticated and intricate social model. Thus, while it maintained control of the electoral
process for roughly half of a century, Venezuela’s rigid party system increasingly lacked the
organizational capacity to manage democracy beyond a minimal level. Democracy is not limited
to what we make of it, rather it is defined by what it allows us to make of ourselves. Venezuela’s
two-party system proved to be very limiting in this respect. This paper demonstrates
that while Venezuela’s two-party system was designed as a reaction against the country’s
authoritarian past, it in fact became the awkward stepchild, not really belonging to either the
family of authoritarian rule or democracy. And while the international jury may still be out on
Hugo Chavez and the future of Venezuela, “Gloria al bravo Pueblo” [19] who have endured so
much for so long.


Alexander, R. J. (1982). Romulo Betancourt and the Transformation of Venezuela. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.

AP (2005). “Venezuela Opposition Parties Pull out of Congressional Elections.” Retrieved April 11, 07, from The Jamaica Observer Web site: http://www./

Asamblea Nacional (2000). Retrieved April 11, 2007, from Venezuela Parliamentary Chamber Web site:

Baloyra, E. A., & Martz, J. D. (1979). Political Attitudes in Venezuela: Societal Cleavages and Political Opinion. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Bond, R. D. (1977). “Venezuela’s Role in International Affairs.” In R. D. Bond (Ed.), Contemporary Venezuela and its Role in International Affairs (227-62). New York: New York University Press.

Chavez, H. & Harnecker, M. (2005). Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution: Hugo Chavez Talks to Marta Harnecker. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Coppedge, M. (1994a). “Venezuela: Democratic Despite Presidentialism.” In J.J. Linz & A. Valenzuela (Eds.), The Failure of Presidential Democracy (396-421). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

------ . (1994b). Strong Parties and Lame Ducks: Presidential Partyarchy and Factionalism in Venezuela. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

------ . (2002). “Venezuela: Popular Sovereignty Versus Liberal Democracy.” Working paper No. 294. Retrieved March, 2, 2007, from workingpapers/WPS/294.pdf

------ . (2005). “Explaining Democratic Deterioration in Venezuela Through Nested Inference.” In F. Hagopian & S. P. Mainwaring (Eds.), The Third Wave of Democratization in Latin America (289-316). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Corrales, J. (2006). Hugo boss. Foreign Policy, Jan/Feb (152), 32-40.
Crisp, B. F. (1997a). Presidential behavior in a system with strong parties: Venezuela, 1958- 1995. In S. Mainwaring & M. S. Shugart (Eds.), Presidentialism and democracy in Latin America (pp. 160-198). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crisp, B. F. (1997b). The Venezuelan electoral system and interbranch relations. Prepared for and delivered at the XX International Congress of the Latin America Studies Association, Guadalajara, Mexico, April 17-19.

Crisp, B. F. (1998). Presidential decree authority in Venezuela. In J. M.. Carey & M. S. Shugart (Eds.), Executive decree authority (pp. 142-171). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Crisp, B.F. (2000). Democratic institutional design: The powers and incentives of Venezuelan politicians and interest groups. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Crisp, B. F., Levine, D. H., & Molina, J. E. (2003). The rise and decline of COPEI in Venezuela. In S. Mainwaring & T.R. Scully (Eds.), Christian democracy in Latin America (pp. 275- 300). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Crisp, B. F., & Rey, J. C. (2001). The sources of electoral reform in Venezuela. In M. S. Shugart & M. P. Wattenberg (Eds.), Mixed- member electoral systems: The best of both worlds? (173-93). New York: Oxford University Press.

Diamond, L. (1999). Developing democracy: Toward consolidation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Dydynski, K. (1994). Venezuela: A Lonely Planet travel survival kit. Hawthorn, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications.

Figueroa, V. M. (2006). The Bolivarian Government of Hugo Chavez: Democratic Alternative for Latin America? Critical Sociology 32(1), 187-211.

Gibbs, T. (2006). Business as usual: What the Chavez Era tells us about Democracy under Globalization. Third World Quarterly 27(2), 265-79.

Kornblith, M. & Levine, D. H. (1997). Venezuela: The life and times of the party system. In S. Mainwaring & T. R. Scully (Eds.), Building democratic institutions: Party systems in Latin America (37-71). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Levine, D. H. (1973). Conflict and political change in Venezuela. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Levine, D. H. (1977). Venezuelan politics: Past and future. In R. D. Bond (Ed.), Contemporary Venezuela and its role in international affairs (7-44). New York: New York University Press.

McCoy, J. L. (2004). From representative to participatory democracy? Regime transformation in Venezuela. In J. L. McCoy & D. J. Meyers (Eds.), The unraveling of representative democracy in Venezuela (263-95). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Molina, J. E. (2004). The unraveling of Venezuela’s party system: From party rule to personalistic politics and deinstitutionalization. In J. L. McCoy & D. J. Meyers (Eds.), The unraveling of representative democracy in Venezuela (152-78). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Monaldi, F., Gonzales, R. A., Obuchi, R., & Penfold, M. (2005). Political institutions, policymaking processes, and policy outcomes in Venezuela. Retrieved April 11, 2007, from Latin America Research Web site:
Munckton, S. (2005). Venezuela: Chavez’s party divided over elections. Retrieved April 11, 2007, from Green Left Weekly Web site:

Naim, M. (2003). A Venezuelan paradox: How Latin America’s Sole Remaining Dictator Outsmarted the World’s Sole Remaining Superpower. Foreign Policy, March/April (135), 96-7.

Payne, J. M., Zovatto, D. G., Florez, F. C., & Zavala, A. A. (2002). Democracies in development: Politics in reform in Latin America. New York: Inter-American Development Bank.

Rabe, S. G. (1982). The road to OPEC: United States relations with Venezuela, 1919-1976. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Rueda, J. (2005). Observers say Venezuela vote was fair. Retrieved April 11, 2007, from Venezuelan Information Office Web site: 05ap.html.

Shifter, M. (2006). In Search of Hugo Chavez. Foreign Affairs, 85(3), 45-59.

Tugwell, F. (1975). The politics of oil in Venezuela. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Valenzuela, A. (2004). Latin American Presidencies Interrupted, Journal of Democracy, 15, 5- 19.

Weyland, K. (2001). Will Chavez loses his luster? Retrieved April 11, 2007, from Foreign Affairs Web site: chavez-lose-his-luster.html?

Weyland, K. (2002). The politics of market reform in fragile democracies: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Weyland, K. (2003). Economic voting reconsidered: Crisis and Charisma in the Election of Hugo Chavez. Comparative Political Studies, 36(7), 822-848.

Wikipedia (2007). Venezuela. Retrieved April 16, 2007 from Wikipedia Web site:
[1]CITGO is owned by Venezuelan oil company PDVSA (Corrales, 2006).
[2]By 1914, Venezuela was exporting more coffee than any other nation with the exception of Brazil (Rabe, 1982).
[3]I will discuss MMP in more detail later in the paper under the section on parties.
[4]The Legislative Commission was a special body of staff and legislators assembled to advise the legislature on matters of constitutionality, precedent and other areas of legal research.
[5]Restricted rights are governed by precedent, but how suspended rights are exercised is the prerogative of the president (Crisp, 1998).
[6] Crisp argues that due to the continued and regular suspension of Article 96, it qualifies technically as a hybrid of both constitutional and delegated authority (Crisp, 1998).
[7]CTV is the largest labor union organization in Venezuela.
[8]See also Levine, D. H (1973, pp. 35-36). Conflict and Political Change in Venezuela. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
[9]The “third way” is a political/economic system landing somewhere in the middle between socialism and capitalism.
[10]The Catholic Church lost much of its political influence in 1948 after it openly celebrated the collapse of Venezuela’s first short-lived democracy (Coppedge, 2005).
[11]The urban population in Venezuela rose from under 30% in 1936 to roughly 75% in 1971.
[12]This changed in 1993 when Venezuela adopted the MMP system in which half of the deputies were elected via the closed -list proportional representation method and half (from single-member districts) were elected via a plurality method.
[13]Monaldi, Gonzales, Obuchi, & Penfold argue that it was this use of a majoritarian system that resulted in “a huge over-representation of the Chavismo” (2005, p. 11).
[14]Supreme Tribunal, Comptroller General, Attorney General and Ombudsman.
[15]AD and Project Venezuela both initially withdrew from the election in May 2007, and COPEI threatened to withdraw, if the elections were not postponed (AP, 2005).
[16]Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.
[17]Coppedge states that Venezuela qualified as a democracy under Dahl’s definition of polyarchy, but consistently scored low on the Freedom House scale, and would not have qualified as a democracy at all if the definition required an independent judiciary.
[18]A vote of less than 2/3 requires no penalty (Crisp, 1997b).
[19] “Glory to the brave people” is Venezuela’s national anthem (Wikipedia, 2007).