Abstract - Antonio Fontana

This article investigates the nature of social, political, economic, and racial inclusivity in Bolivarian Venezuela, understood as a result of the struggle against the principles of neoliberal capitalism on the part of Hugo Chavez’s government. It is argued that, before the advent of the Chavez phenomenon, large sectors of the Venezuelan population, such as the urban poor, indigenous groups, and Afro-Venezuelans, were excluded from the social and political life of the nation. Their exclusion was further enhanced by the onset of neoliberal ideology and practice in Venezuela, as well as in the rest of Latin America, in the early ‘80's. To the extent that the Chavez government, and the social movement that brought it to power, has attempted to create a new form of protagonist and participatory democracy, centered around the concept of economic self-management, these previously excluded sectors of the population have attained levels of inclusion, participation, and collective decision making that had been virtually unknown in the previous history of Venezuela. This process of inclusion will be studied parallel to the application and failure of neoliberal economic policies, and the destruction, in the 1980's and early 1990's, of the Venezuelan welfare state.

The thesis is divided into ten sections. The first four sections of the thesis give a brief, but detailed, history, of the nature of the social structure of Venezuela from the early twentieth century until the early ‘90's. These sections also provide a description of the failure of the application of neoliberal economic policies in Venezuela, the destruction of the Venezuelan welfare state, the rise and nature of the Bolivarian movement, and a discrediting of the “Venezuelan Exceptionalism Thesis,” first formulated by pluralist political scientists. The next six sections focus on the social, economic, and political policies and programs enacted by the Chavez government. Particular attention is paid to the issues of race and class, and the history of racial, economic, and social exclusion in Venezuela. Lastly, the policies enacted by the Chavez government to create a form of collective, economic self-management and protagonist form of democracy are viewed in the context of including these previously ostracized groups in the processes of the body politic.

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