The Promise and Perils of Radical Left Populism: The Case of Venezuela

Gabriel Hetland


Mainstream critics argue that populism inevitably leads to economic disaster and political authoritarianism. Venezuela is often pointed to as proof of this. Yet, while the profound crisis gripping Venezuela is undeniable, comprehensive analysis of Chavismo shows that populism, and specifically the radical left populism found in Venezuela, is more ambiguous. From 2005-2013 radical left populism in Venezuela reduced poverty and inequality, deepened democracy, and built popular support for a “transition to socialism.” These gains were erased in the post-2014 crisis, which revealed two flaws of the Chavista model hidden by its earlier success: its unsustainable material foundation and inability to overcome the statist trap. For radical left populism to achieve its potential, and avoid peril, these two problems must be effectively addressed.




Chavismo,Populism, Left, Venezuela, Latin America

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