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THE STUDIES REVIEWED were published in Venezuela between 2002 and 2006, years of political strife that included a short-lived coup, a management-organized work stoppage in the vital oil industry (December 2002–February 2003), and, finally, a hotly contested recall referendum in August 2004. All were failed attempts by the opposition to oust controversial President Hugo Chávez from office.
Most of these studies, then, preceded the subsequent years of renewed economic growth, substantial poverty reduction, and mass mobilizations (misiones) that were all aided by steep oil price rises and consequently a boost in government shares of oil profits. The studies are based on data and experiences gathered during a period when statistics showed the economy and poverty near their nadir. Both the decline and subsequent prosperity had as much to do with political conditions as with any policy successes or failures on the part of the government. The exception may be the fiscal reform of November 2001, which has significantly boosted government revenues. Unfortunately the reform receives little attention in these works.
Several of the edited volumes here emanate from the leading private university and the leading state university. The former, the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, reflecting the Catholic corporatist traditions, published several volumes purporting to seek a common vision, stressing the need for harmony born of a new social pact. The latter, through the Centro de Estudios de Desarrollo (CENDES), offered a less coherent, but in some ways more realistic vision of actual political economic conditions.
Notable in both approaches is a longing for more institutionalized planning. Several volumes here seem relics of a bygone era in a Venezuela when most intellectuals, heavily influenced by positivism, placed their faith in planning. While the Chávez administration was rolling out huge new social programs in health, education, and subsidized markets, young planners seemed more intent on reviewing the lifeless pages of ministry plans long discarded in the pre-Chávez era. The country might very well benefit from a marriage between the kind of professional planning urged in these books and the political will to address poverty shown by the government.
Lacking here is an examination of the economic warfare that broke out during the oil industry shutdown, in particular, the reasons that the government survived the assault on its fiscal base. The CENDES anthology (Venezuela vision plural, item #bi2008003973#) offers the reader interested in the achievements and shortcomings of first five years of the Chávez administration the best overall view of the complex interplay between political conflict and social outcomes.