The Legacy of Hugo Chávez
Daniel Hellinger and Anthony Petros Spanakos
In 1992, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez failed to replace the beleaguered government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez but succeeded in capturing the hearts and imaginations of a broad swath of the Venezuelan population frustrated by a decade of economic crisis, shifts in the social contract, weakened institutionalized modes of representation, and the consequences of a neoliberal structural adjustment program. El pueblo (the people) found hope in the temerity of the coup attempt and Chávez’s famous “por ahora” (for now).
Six years later, as a candidate for the presidency, Chávez won his first of four presidential elections. Upon coming to power, he called for the drafting of a new constitution as part of a process of radical political, economic, and social change in Venezuela. Rather than establish a new consensus, the postconstitutional period introduced half a decade of polarized politics consisting of a coup attempt, an extended oil-company lockout, and a recall referendum. Confrontations with opposition groups, particularly the failed coup and the government’s successful performance in the recall referendum, allowed Chávez to consolidate leadership within the new structures of political power. After his landslide reelection in 2006, he tried to give greater shape both at home and abroad to the transformations he was heralding under the name of “twenty-first-century socialism.”
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