Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez was the first anti-neoliberal presidential candidate to win in the region. Electing Chávez examines the circumstances that facilitated this pivotal election. By 1998, Venezuela had been rocked by two major scandals—the exchange rate incidents of the 1980s and the banking crisis of 1994—and had suffered rising social inequality. These events created a deep-seated distrust of establishment politicians. Chávez’s 1998 victory, however, was far from inevitable. Other presidential candidates also stood against corruption and promised a clean break from politics as usual. Moreover, business opposition to Chávez’s anti-neoliberal candidacy should have convinced voters that his victory would provoke a downward economic spiral.
In Electing Chávez, Leslie C. Gates examines how Chávez won over voters and even obtained the secret allegiance of a group of business “elite outliers,” with a reinterpretation of the relationship between business and the state during Venezuela’s era of two-party dominance (1959-1998). Through extensive research on corruption and the backgrounds of political leaders.
Gates tracks the rise of business-related corruption scandals and documents how business became identified with Venezuela’s political establishment. These trends undermined the public’s trust in business and converted business opposition into an asset for Chávez. This long history of business-tied politicians and the scandals they often provoked also framed the decisions of elite outliers. As Gates reveals, elite outliers supported Chávez despite his anti-neoliberal stance because they feared that the success of Chávez’s main rival would deny them access to Venezuela’s powerful oil state.