Venezuela continues to move deeper into economic disarray: Feb. 9, 2016 New York Times article

I became interested in reading about Venezuela after I bought a print copy of the New York Times and read a Feb. 9, 2016 article whose content the newspaper’s 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.”

The article prompted me to read books about Venezuela from the Toronto Public Library (TPL).

The Revolution in Venezuela (2011)

I’ve recently borrowed several books about Venezuela of which one has caught my attention – because it is finely balanced, and attends closely to the role of evidence and the lack of it.

A recent post about the book is entitled: The Revolution in Venezuela: Social and Political Change Under Chávez (2011).

The book features a well-written and informative introduction.

Other books with great introductions, that come to mind, include The River Returns: An Environmental History of the Bow (2009) and The Government Next Door (2015).

The content of such studies – whether about events in Venezuela, China, or Canada’s Bow Valley – is not solely what is of interest.

Equally of interest is the structure of the study: How the story is framed, and how much care has been devoted to the introduction.

The Revolution in Venezuela (2011) does not seek to arrive at a definitive conclusion with regard to Venezuela’s postwar history.

Instead, a succession of chapters is presented; in each chapter a particular frame serves to marshall the evidence, in the event there is, indeed, evidence that is capable of being marshalled.

The Revolution in Venezuela (2011) addresses evidence along with the lack of it. The book presents chapters that are backed by evidence, and chapters in which evidence does not appear to be strongly of relevance – and leaves it to the reader to distinguish between the two approaches to stories and frames.

Structure of the 2011 study

A passage, on p. 17 of the introduction to The Revolution in Venezuela (2011), strongly held my attention; I have broken the text into shorter paragraphs for ease of online reading.

The passage reads:

The chapters that follow aim to analyze and evaluate the nature and extent of social change in Venezuela during the period in which Chávez has held power. Given the highly polarized nature of political debates in Venezuela, any effort to bring together scholars to analyze recent developments there has essentially four options [139].

First and second, one could draw together scholars who are either sympathetic to or opposed to Chávez and the government he heads. The problem with these approaches is that any collective work produced by them would be blind to much of what is going on in contemporary Venezuela.

Alternatively, one could aim to put together a list of so-called impartial analysts: yet experience has taught us that with respect to contemporary Venezuela few are so impartial, and that much writing that presents itself as such nevertheless has an angle.

The final strategy – the one we have pursued – is to construct the text so that it embodies the heterogeneity of scholarly views about contemporary Venezuela.

Of course it is impossible to capture all voices, but we have included a wide range of scholarly perspectives from within and outside of Venezuela. At times, this might potentially be confusing: one author may argue that political polarization is a consequence of the strategic choices of the government, another that it is largely the intransigence of the opposition that has caused it.

The chapter authors speak only for themselves; the book is a sort of experiment insofar as it aims to construct a narrative out of contrasting views. We believe that readers will be best served by reading these arguments – and surveying the evidence mustered to support them – for themselves.

This is the state of debate – both popular debate and scholarly debate – about the Chávez government: things may look very different in later decades when passions have cooled, but at present the polarization of debate is inescapable.

The same is true, of course, of the contested data on the basis of which much analysis of contemporary Venezuela is carried out [140].

[End of excerpt]

Inequality in North America

Among other books about Venezuela that are available at the Toronto Public Library is Dragon in the Tropics: The Legacy of Hugo Chávez, Second Edition (2015).

Inequality, is highlighted, in a Canadian context, in a Feb. 24, 2016 CBC article entitled: “Current generation of young Canadians wealthiest ever: federal study: Internal government study finds Canadians 28 to 34 better off than any previous such generation.”

The article quotes a Canadian think-tank economist who notes: “As with other inequality trends, it’s the high end that’s driving up net worth for those in their 20s or 30s. The dramatic increase in net worth across almost all age groups since 1999 has been incredible for the top 10 per cent in those groups but a disaster for wealth inequality compared to say middle-class youth.”

A Feb. 26, 2015 Toronto Star article, entitled “Millennials wealthier than age group has been for 40 years,” addresses the same theme. The subhead reads: “According to a 2015 internal finance department study, the current generation of young Canadians is, on average, wealthier than people their age have been for at least 40 years.”

A Feb. 27, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “A household debt warning to pay attention to: Despite current low interest rates, young homeowners should stress test their finances, says leading economist.”

A Feb. 26, 2015 New York Times article, entitled “Matthew Desmond’s ‘Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,’ ” serves a useful purpose in bringing the topic of inequality to life, in a vivid way that narratives related to academic research in other cases may not be able to achieve. As the article notes, ethnography can serve as a great form of journalism.

A previous post regarding inequality is entitled:

CBC The Current: Income inequality shows the 1% will soon own 50% of all wealth, says Oxfam 

The following post adds background to the discussion:

Voter anger explained – in one chart – March 15, 2016 Brookings Institution article

Inequality in Venezuela

Dragon in the Tropics (2015) addresses (p. 152) the topic of inequality in Venezuela in the context, among other things, of populism:

“If the rise and consolidation of populism depend on sustaining a bipolar coalition, then it makes sense to posit that societies suffering from gross inequality are more susceptible to populist appeals. In terms of income and assets, Latin America is one of the most economically unequal regions in the world [31]. As long as Latin America remains a champion in the area of income inequality, it will continue to be vulnerable to populism. How­ever, we feel strongly that this connection is not automatic and is often overstated [32]. Venezuela and many other Latin American societies have lived with high levels of inequality for decades while experiencing substan­tial regime and policy variations, making it hard to believe that inequal­ity is the most important determinant of regime type [33]. Two of the most unequal countries in the region, Brazil and Chile, have had substantial democratic stability for almost two decades now. Although many scholars stress a strong connection between inequality and rising populism, we feel that this connection exists but it is not as powerful as other causes.”

[End of excerpt]

Dragon in the Tropics (2015) also argues that the three themes of “succession, economic implosion, and declining political competitiveness … have become the central features of politics in Venezuela” (p. xiii).


The study of populism is of relevance to many countries including Canada and the United States. With regard to Canada, a previous post is entitled: A story about a former mayor of Toronto.

With regard to the United States, a Feb. 25, 2016 Washington Post article is entitled: “Trump is the GOP’s Frankenstein monster. Now he’s strong enough to destroy the party.”

A March 1, 2016 Atlantic article is entitled: “Who Are Donald Trump’s Supporters, Really?: Four theories to explain the front-runner’s rise to the top of the polls.”

A previous post, relevant to the topic at hand, is entitled: When immersed in a story we let down our guard.

A June 22, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: Insult, provoke, repeat: how Donald Trump became America’s Hugo Chávez: Despite ideological differences there are eerie similarities between the late socialist strongman and the Manhattan billionaire – and warnings to heed.”

An Aug. 30, 2016 Tyee article is entitled: “Think Trump’s Impossible? I Have Two Words for You: ‘Rob Ford.’”

Oil dependency in Venezuela

The relationship between Venezuela and the United States is the subject of much debate.

Regarding this topic, Dragon in the Tropics (2015) notes (p. 117):

“Oil imposes on Venezuela two types of dependencies: first, dependence on a mono-commodity – oil; and second, dependence on a mono-­market – the United States, which to this day remains the most important buyer of Venezuelan oil by far. This dual dependency makes Venezuela altogether vulnerable: to strangle Venezuela, all the United States needs to do is stop buying its oil.

“In light of this vulnerability, Chávez came to understand that he must lessen this dual dependence. But as discussed in the previous chapter, Chávez essentially chose to increase rather than lessen dependence on oil, leaving him one option alone: trying to relieve dependence on the United States. Yet, this effort failed as well. Market and industry rigidities simply made it hard for Venezuela to find alternative markets. Venezuela’s crude oil cannot be placed easily outside the United States: heavy and impure, with a high sulfur content, it requires expressly built refineries mainly found in the United States. No other country has both the large energy needs and the refining capacity to process heavy crudes to absorb the bulk of Venezuelan oil.”

[End of excerpt]

Abolishing term limits in 2009

Dragon in the Tropics (2015) concludes that the topic of “regime liberalization” in Venezuela can be approached with either pessimism or optimism. The pessimistic view, according to the authors, is that the abolition in 2009 of term limits in Venezuela, for the president and all other elected officials, presents a strong challenge for the future well-being of the country. The optimistic view, the authors note, is that current conditions in the country could conceivably give rise to “a more substantive opening up of the political system” (p. 209).

Late 2015, early 2016 news reports about Venezuela

A Dec. 8, 2015 Brookings Institution article is entitled: “Three things to know about the Venezuelan election results.”

A Jan. 4, 2016 Brookings Institution article is entitled: “The road ahead in Venezuela: Navigating through a rough sea of economic crisis.”

A Jan. 5, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Venezuela’s new legislature opens with rancorous session: 4 legislators not sworn as government-picked Supreme Court considers electoral fraud allegations.”

A Feb. 18, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Venezuela president raises fuel price by 6,000% and devalues bolivar to tackle crisis: Nicolás Maduro uses decree powers to raise fuel prices for first time in 20 years and devalues currency in bid to boost nation’s coffers.”

A Feb. 19, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Price of Gas Skyrockets in Venezuela (to 38 Cents a Gallon).”

A March 2, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “The Push to Oust Maduro.”

Frame Analysis (1974)

Revolution in Venezuela (2011) distinguishes between stories and frames as they relate to Venezuelan history. I’ve devoted a separate page to the distinction and have tracked down the bibliographical sources for frame analysis that are noted in the 2011 study about Venezuela.

Among the sources mentioned in the 2011 study are Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (1974) by Erving Goffman, Talking Politics by William Gamson (1992), and “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. The latter journal article is accessible online to members of the Toronto Public Library.


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.”

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

A May 24, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “‘Things could explode’: Why pressure is mounting as Venezuela’s economy melts down.”

A may 27, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “How Venezuela Fell Into Crisis, and What Could Happen Next.”

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

A June 4, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “OAS chief accuses Macri’s Argentina of obstructing moves to censure Venezuela.”

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

On the topic of populism, a Feb. 3, 2017 article is entitled: “14 Versions Of Trump’s Presidency, From #MAGA To Impeachment.”

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.”

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.”

Richard Rorty

A July 2017 Los Angeles Review of Books article is entitled: “Conversational Philosophy: A Forum on Richard Rorty.”

The introduction reads:

AFTER DONALD J. TRUMP was elected president of the United States, the American philosopher Richard Rorty (1931–2007) returned to the pages of many of the major newspapers of the world as one of the few thinkers who had predicted the election of a “strongman” with Trump’s homophobic and racist features. The relevant passage can be found in the lectures Rorty delivered on the history of leftist thought in 20th-century America at Harvard University in 1997, and published as Achieving Our Country a year later. While reprints of this book were hitting several political philosophy best seller lists, Rorty’s Page-Barbour lectures — titled Philosophy as Poetry — were also released. If in Achieving Our Country, Rorty predicted the election of a right-wing populist, in the latter he stresses how valuable the imagination is for the future of philosophy, which is, in many ways, an imperiled discipline. Although these are not his most important books, they indicate that Rorty was a philosopher ahead of his time, a philosopher for the future.

The goal of this forum is not simply to remember Rorty 10 years after he passed away on the June 8, 2007, but also to continue the conversation which he urged all philosophers to pursue. I have invited Marianne Janack, María Pía Lara, Eduardo Mendieta, and Martin Woessner to cover specific aspects of Rorty’s thought, including feminism, social hope, and post-truth. Their concise contributions underscore the significance of Rorty’s writings for the 21st century. My introduction recalls important moments of the American thinker’s life as well as his outstanding contribution to continental philosophy.

— Santiago Zabala

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

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