CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Dr. Steve Ellner Stresses Context in Evaluating Social and Economic Programs in Chavista Venezuela

On October 21st, CIPR welcomed Dr. Steve Ellner, visiting professor and research fellow, to present his talk entitled: “Populism and Pragmatism in Chavista Venezuela: The Pluses and Minuses of Social and Economic Programs.” Dr. Ellner is an esteemed professor of economic history and political science at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela.

Dr. Ellner’s talk shed light on the evolution of Chavismo in Venezuela, with an emphasis on the origins of the economic problems currently facing Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro. As Dr. Ellner argues, Venezuela’s current economic climate is not simply the product of a downturn in global commodity prices, nor is it the result of Chavez’s inherently flawed socialist policies. Rather, it is the result of the complex interplay between the Chavez regime and his political opponents, and the pragmatic and populist policies that were borne out of this interaction.
A notable example of this process was the Chavez regime’s decision to grant preferential treatment to an emerging class of businesspeople who did not participate in the general strike of 2002-2003. Dr. Ellner argues that this decision was successful politically, but not economically, and that it led to widespread corruption, greatly contributing to Venezuela’s current economic problems.

Dr. Ellner’s work makes an important intervention in the study of Venezuela and 21st-century socialism in Latin America. Namely, he points out that social and economic policies must be considered in context, and the role of the opposition, particularly what he considered a disloyal opposition, must be taken into account when evaluating those policies.