Professor Javier Corrales (SFS ’86) led a discussion on the recent crises and the state of democracy in Venezuela entitled, “Is the New Venezuela All That New? Politics in the Age of Barricades” on April 9.

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Mary Murtagh/The Hoya

The event, hosted by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society and the Center for Latin American Studies, and sponsored by the government department and the Masters of Arts in Government and Democracy program, involved Corrales sharing his expertise on the volatile South American nation. Corrales is a professor of political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, and is the co-author of multiple books on Venezuelan-U.S. relations and democracy in Latin America.

The discussion began with a breakdown of the economic conditions that led to the crisis, including the oil boom and the resource curse argument. Corrales laid out the conditions in Venezuela during the Hugo Chavez presidency, especially the improvement in economic conditions for the poor that accompanied his rule, which lasted from 1999 until his death in 2013.

“What is the impact of relying too much on one commodity?” Corrales said. “We used to think it was good, but now it is considered a curse that can ruin the economy, as well as politics for a nation.”

Additionally, Corrales expounded upon the economic situation following the Chavez’s death.

“Most [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] members saved and had very good surpluses, but Venezuela did not,” Corrales said. “There has also been a strange combination of scarcity and inflation.”

Despite these fiscal difficulties, Corrales noted that Chavez was able to control these factors relatively effectively, maintaining his political power with minimal disruption.

“It’s not automatic that a resource boom is negative for a democracy,” Corrales said. Chavez had managed to create a “hybrid regime,” in which he maintained strong political and economic control despite a disregard for checks and balances, and still managed to win elections with a large margin. Spending increased and sectors modernized, and clientelism decreased along with militarism.

The current regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela blames the private business sector for the nation’s economic plight.

“At the end of 2013, the government blamed the business side,” Corrales said. “This narrative worked very well for Maduro, and it helped him electorally. It’s a strong populist narrative, and appeals to a lot of the population.”

A question and answer session followed Corrales’ presentation. Topics discussed included the status of the military, the future of Venezuelan cooperation with Cuba, Venezuelan relations with Brazil, and the future of the ALBA coalition, a socialist intergovernmental organization in Latin America.

“Our interest as a program is training people in terms of democracy and government, as well as human rights issues,” Co-Director of the Georgetown Masters of the Arts Program in Democracy and Governance Eusebio Mujal-León said. “Given the topicality of what is going on in Venezuela, we thought it would be a good time to bring in Javier. He is a Georgetown grad who I knew, and he was more than happy to come and host a talk.”

Attendees found the event to be educational and inspirational.

“I’ve actually been a little confused just about what’s going on, so it’s really great to see just exactly what the situation is,” Michael Scott, librarian for Latin American and Iberian studies at Lauinger Library, said.

“I think Venezuela is one of those forgotten stories in the news,” Kim Cosart, a graduate student at New York University, said. “Everyone associates it with Hugo Chavez, but he’s been dead for a year now and things are definitely changing. U.S. foreign policy needs to focus more on Latin America.”

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