Joseph Sammut

Thesis title:

Inevitable outcome of the Populist Left or Economic War: Causes and Character of the Venezuelan Crisis from 2012


Possibly the most enigmatic recent political transformation, Venezuela is a reference point in debates on populism and the viability of left wing political programmes far beyond its shores. Located by scholars as a leading part of the ‘Pink Tide’, the wave of leftist governments challenging the Washington Consensus in the region (see Grugel and Rigirozzi, 2009; Panizza, 2009), the “Bolivarian Revolution” was lauded by sympathisers for its success in improving a number of social indicators, including poverty, literacy and access to healthcare. Now, however, Venezuela is more often mentioned by pundits to denigrate by association, and this is because it is currently in a deep crisis.The central research question for this project will be “What are the determinants of the Venezuelan crisis?” This crucial question has been insufficiently tackled in the literature. There is little of scholarly quality written, but two main schools of thought exist, which correspond closely to the opposition/government axis. The first draws from the theory of macroeconomic populism (Dornbusch and Edwards, 1989) and claims the crisis is the ineluctable result of the populist nature of Chavismo (e.g. Edwards, 2010; Hausman and Rodríguez, 2014; Nagel, 2014; López Maya, 2014). A key limitation of this literature is that it disregards the context in which Chavismo emerged (see Buxton, 2014), identified determinants are not always adequately proven to be causes rather than effects, and it does not explain the mechanisms through which the “populist features” determine the set of policies. The main rival school draws from dependency theory and argues that the crisis is the result of an “economic war” by domestic elites working in tandem with the US (e.g. Curcio, 2015, 2017; Serrano, 2016). As for the populist school, these writers often make claims inadequately proven by the presented evidence. Answering this is fundamental in lifting debates not just on Venezuela, but also in wider debates on the viability of left-wing economic policies. By comprehensively identifying and discussing the causes and character of the crisis, Joseph’s resulting thesis aims to be a significant addition to the literature on Venezuela and the nature of the “Bolivarian Revolution”. In addition, it aims to raise questions that can be posed to, or provide potential hypotheses to be tested in, similar cases.

First supervisor:

James Dunkerley


13 – Politics, Public Policy & Governance