Ari Chaplin has written an important book about Venezuela’s transformation that began in 1999 under the leadership of its’ late charismatic president, Hugo Chavez. Chaplin has tried to understand the Chavez regime and place it in a comparative historical perspective. Chaplin, who was born in Rumania, identifies the totalitarian character of the Chavez regime and analyzes it from different perspectives. .

The author repeatedly and rightly claims that the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela follows Gramsci’s methodology to achieve revolutionary socialism not through abrupt imposition but through a gradual anti-liberal, counter-hegemonic educational transformation. This means the takeover of the educational system, itself, as well as the means of communication, restriction of social media and other authoritarian measures. Of course, this makes sense given the fact that Venezuela comes from an imperfect, but still liberal-democratic tradition that has taken time to break.

When analyzing Chavez’ ideological motivation, he rightly attributes Bolivar’s influence on Chavez in so far as he supported a strong government even though Bolivar’s explanation was that he distrusted the peoples’ maturity for self- rule and democracy. Chaplin also tries to understand Chavez’ larger ideology and accurately points out that such ideology, unlike Marxism-Leninism, is not systematic and not coherent in theory and practice. Chaplin rightly reaches the conclusion that the Chavez regime aimed at centralization of power, cult of personality, politization of state institutions and most aspects of life, and subordination of the population to the military and to the political will of the regime. He correctly concludes that the current Venezuelan regime under the presidency of Nicolas Maduro wants to stay in power indefinitely with the help of the military. Analyzing various sources, Chaplin identifies elements of populism, fascism and totalitarianism.

The chapter on the economics of the Venezuelan regime  mentions  the failure of Chavez’ policy of public spending, expropriation of public property and destruction of the private sector. He points out that a productive country needs initiative and innovation that comes from private individuals. He contrasts the Venezuelan regime that increases state-dependency and welfare with successful models such as Chile, Germany and Israel where economic success is based on innovation. He properly stresses the non-professional, political nature of Venezuela’s economic team. Likewise, he highlights the different aspects of the Bolivarian economic policy that mostly runs against Venezuela’s national interest, particularly the overspending and the destruction of creative forces. Drawing from Yugoslavian author Milovan Djilas, Chaplin also argues that Venezuela’s Bolivarian-socialist regime has created a new privileged class of people who benefit from its connection to the regime (Boliburguesia). He assertively concludes that freedom and democracy, which are deficient in Venezuela, are necessary conditions for economic development.

The book also analyzes Venezuela’s foreign policy calling it “unnatural” and contrary to Venezuela’s “real interest”. Nevertheless,  later he describes the intentional nature of this policy as Venezuela’s attempt to expand its influence all over Latin America. The coalition of like-minded regimes called ALBA (The Bolivarian Alliance) is not merely a commercial alliance but a political and ideological one. Chavez sought to replace or render irrelevant organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) with parallel organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in order to remove American influence and to get rid of the OAS human rights component that was and continues to be an annoyance to Venezuela and its allies.

Chaplin claims that the Gramscian method of gradual revolutionary transformation through education and takeover of the media and other resources is being applied in countries he calls “Chavez’ puppets” (Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia).

Then he analyzes the relation between Venezuela and Iran rightly stating that both share  the goal of weakening the United States in an attempt to create a new international order. Likewise, he points out Chavez’ affinity with terrorism as a method. Furthermore, both regimes share their despotic character and both foment hatred. Chaplin also stresses Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, and its connections to the cocaine trade. Drug trafficking is an element Chaplin considers to be part of Chavez’ and Iran’s agenda to cause harm to the United States. Indeed, he quotes Iran’s stated principle that drugs are good because they “ destroy the sons and daughters of the West”.

When it comes to the involvement of Venezuela and its Alba allies in drug trafficking, Chaplin following Moises Naim. indeed describes Venezuela and its allies in the region  as “mafia States”. “Mafia States” are  states where governments use drug trafficking and other types of criminal activity to enrich themselves. However, drug criminality primarily serves, in Chaplin’s view,  primarily as a tool to weaken and harm the United States Likewise, he stresses the important fact that Venezuela has become a main route of drug trafficking in South America.

Chaplin address also the role of the Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and correctly attributes the relation between Chavez and the group as being related to the group’s experience in guerilla warfare and the need for Venezuela to defend itself in case of an American invasion.

The author also points out that Chavezism, like Peronism in Argentina, will remain part of the political culture of Venezuela and is likely to have long term effects.. Here the author rightly implies that Chavez, like Peron, will be remembered by many as a hero and father of the poor and as such will be invoked and even imitated by politicians of the generations to come.

Chaplin’s book provides a wealth of information and a set  of good points.  His writing can often confuse because he changes subjects abruptly and inserts in the texts ideas that would rather be part of footnotes. He provides good points but occasionally he fails to developing them further. The books presents well documented facts,  quotes a vast and important literature. and a variety of views.  No less important, the author does not fall into an economic or social reductionism of the Chavez phenomenon but tries to bring the ideological, social, political and international dimensions  of the regime and the Bolivarian revolution in general.

Overall, “Chavez Legacy” is a very important book since it educates the public about the multiple aspects of the Venezuelan regime and its accomplices. The book is useful to those who want to learn about a region that is so strategically important to the United States.


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