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Venezuela under Hugo Chavez could be a model for peaceful revolution - or, as this definitive history shows, it could all be undone by the spectres of the past. Since coming to power in 1998, the Chavez government has inspired both fierce internal debate and horror amongst Western governments accustomed to counting on an obeisant regime in the oil-rich state. Is Venezuela going through a peaceful, democratic Bolivarian revolution, with the country's poor becoming politically engaged and beginning to share its oil wealth? Or is Chavez leading his country towards Latin American caudillismo at best, or Castro-style communism at worst? In this rich and resourceful study, Greg Wilpert exposes the self-serving logic behind much middle-class opposition to Venezuela's elected leader, and explains the real reason for their alarm. He argues that the Chavez government has instituted one of the world's most progressive constitutions, but warns that they have yet to overcome the dangerous spectres of the country's past: its culture of patronage and clientelism, its corruption, and its support for personality cults - all of them fuelled by the attention and interference of a succession of US administrations.
Greg Wilpert is a sociologist, freelance journalist and a former US Fulbright Scholar in Venezuela