The Revolution in Venezuela: Social and Political Change Under Chávez (2011)

An overview about Venezuela, at the New York Times website, provides a quick survey of recent history in that country:

“Venezuela’s economy is dominated by the oil industry, and it has the largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world. President Hugo Chavez, who was elected in 1998 on a populist platform, consolidated state control over the economy and nationalized its telephone and electricity companies. Chavez was succeeded upon his death by his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, who was elected president in 2013.

“President Maduro’s government has faced ongoing protests and civil unrest since the beginning of 2014. There are growing signs that Maduro’s support in the region is dwindling, as neighboring countries have expressed concern about his government’s response to the crisis, including the aggressive treatment of protesters.”

[End of excerpt]

I became interested in reading about Venezuela after I read a Feb. 9, 2016 New York Times article whose content the New York Times website summarizes as follows:

“Reporter’s Notebook; Venezuela continues to move deeper into economic disarray as price of oil, country’s lifeline, collapses to lows not seen in more than ten years and inflation spirals out of control; water, when it can be found, is nearly unaffordable, agricultural fields are rotting, factories have been left idle, and prognosis is only for country’s situation to worsen.”

[End of excerpt]

The article is entitled: “Traveling Through Venezuela, a Country Teetering on the Brink: Our reporter explores the country and its people in his first 30 days in the region on assignment for The Times.”

Toronto Public Library books about Venezuela

A great thing about the Toronto Public Library (TPL) is that you can have a look at many books about a given topic – such as about Pop Art, by way of example, or about the recent history of Venezuela.

The books from the Toronto Public Library that I’ve read about Pop Art have been really helpful in enabling me to understand how the art world works, when viewed from a symbolic interactionist perspective, which is a frame of reference that I find useful in making sense of such topics.

I have recently looked at several TPL books about Venezuela. The one that I’ve chosen to read in some depth, because its approach to the topic at hand strikes me as strongly evidence-based and balanced (features in any text that appeal to me, given my interest in stories and frames), is The Revolution in Venezuela: Social and Political Change Under Chávez (2011).

The book begins with a good discussion of definitions and discourses related to the study of revolutions. What stands out in my reading, from the time that I launched my website some years ago, is the variety of sources available for the study of such a wide range of topics.

A blurb at the TPL website for the above-noted book reads:

“Is Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution under Hugo Chávez truly revolutionary? Most books and articles tend to view the Chávez government in an either-or fashion. Some see the president as the shining knight of twenty-first-century socialism, while others see him as an avenging Stalinist strongman. Despite passion on both sides, the Chávez government does not fall easily into a seamless fable of emancipatory or authoritarian history, as these essays make clear.

“A range of distinguished authors consider the nature of social change in contemporary Venezuela and explore a number of themes that help elucidate the sources of the nation’s political polarization. The chapters range from Fernando Coronil’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution,’ which examines the relationship between the state’s social body (its population) and its natural body (its oil reserves), to an insightful look at women’s rights by Cathy A. Rakowski and Gioconda Espina. This volume shows that, while the future of the national process is unclear, the principles elaborated by the Chávez government are helping articulate a new Latin American left.”

Frame analysis

Much has occurred in Venezuela since the book was published. Nonetheless, the 2011 study serves as a great starting point for understanding the ongoing story as it unfolds.

A good overview of frames as they apply to social movements is mentioned in the above-noted book. The overview, available online to members of the Toronto Public Library, is “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment,” by Robert D. Benford and David A. Snow in the Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 26 (2000), pp. 611-639.

Other sources mentioned in the book include Frame Analysis by Erving Goffman (New York: Harper, 1974) and Talking Politics by William Gamson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).


A March 4, 2016 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Brazil’s breakdown: ‘A political and ethical crisis without precedent’.”

A March 5, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Canada’s Food Guide should seek inspiration from Brazil: researcher: New Senate obesity report suggests introducing a sugar tax in Canada.”

A March 18, 2016 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Two South American leaders in a race to the bottom.”

A March 25, 2016 article is entitled: “Overthrowing Dilma Rousseff: The judicial coup against President Dilma Rousseff is the culmination of the deepest political crisis in Brazil for 50 years.”

An April 18, 2016 Reuters article is entitled: “In crushing defeat, Brazil’s Rousseff moves close to impeachment.”

An April 30, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Venezuela at risk of unravelling as economic, energy turmoil deepens: Violent protests follow decision to ration energy, cut work week for public employees.”

The opening paragraphs read:

A devastating drought has brought Venezuela, already facing economic and energy crises amid simmering political unrest, to the brink and threatens the future of the oil-rich nation.

“Simply put, a natural disaster is making a man-made disaster much worse,” said Donald Kingsbury, a professor of political science and Latin American studies at the University of Toronto.

The “man-made disaster,” in this case, is a heavily petroleum-dependent, state-run economy gutted by the precipitous drop in crude oil prices.

[End of excerpt]

An April 29, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Documentary exposes human cost of cleaning up Brazil’s favelas before Olympics.”

A June 2, 2016 Brookings Institution article is entitled: “Should Venezuela seek international assistance? Ways out of the economic and humanitarian crisis.”

A June 14, 2016 Americas Quarterly article is entitled: “Venezuela: Is This the Final Straw?”

A June 19, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Venezuelans Ransack Stores as Hunger Grips the Nation.”

A June 28, 2016 Washington Post article is entitled: “Venezuelans are storming supermarkets and attacking trucks as food supplies dwindle.”

A July 20, 2016 Brookings Institution article is entitled: “Venezuela in Crisis.”

Hannah Dreier ‏@hannahdreier has posted a Tweet:

What’s it like to live in crisis-hit Venezuela? We made this interactive to give a sense of how it feels day-to-day:

Venezuela Undone: A Year of Chaos in Tweets

A Feb. 17, 2017 Columbia Journalism Review article is entitled: “What does Trump have in common with Hugo Chavez? A media strategy.”

An April 21, 2017 Associated Press article is entitled: “Venezuela officials say at least 12 people killed overnight.”

A May 6, 2017 New York Times article is entitled: “In Venezuela’s Chaos, Elites Play a High-Stakes Game for Survival.”

An excerpt reads:

“Pressed to explain Mr. Maduro’s resilience, Mr. Levitsky cited one of the only forces more powerful than economic self-interest: ideological polarization.”

A May 22, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “The struggle to put Venezuela back on the path to economic health: Don Pittis: Food riots, looting threaten what should be one of the world’s richest countries.”

An Aug. 2, 2017 AP News article is entitled: “Departing AP reporter looks back at Venezuela’s slide.”

2 replies
  1. graeme decarie
    graeme decarie says:

    I would be wary of anything in The New York Times (or any other newspaper in North America.) In this case, the thing to be wary of is its failure to explore the U.S. role in all this. For over a hundred years, the U.S. has brutally exploited South America, has invaded most of its countries at least once, has sponsored rebellions against their governments, has overthrown governments, has not long ago murdered 200,000 to 300,000 in Guatemala, has sponsored dictators, has assassinated political leaders…. The aim has always been to provide US billionaires with cheap labour, uncontrolled use of land – and other goodies.
    It’s virtually impossible to understand the history of any country in that region without knowing the U.S. role in it.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Good points, Graeme. When I read the New York Times account, I thought, “I’d like to read more, so that I have a sense of what’s actually going on inVenezuela.”

    The book that I’ve mentioned offers a good overview of things, including the role of the United States in Venezuela over the years. Pretty well every conceivable point of view is covered in the book, with the reader left to decide. It’s a really interesting read. The newspaper article had the outcome of getting me interested in getting a more complete picture than any newspaper article, given its short length, is able to provide.


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