Overview: Bolivarian Dreams

What is Bolivarianism? This is a question that many analysts and investors are asking. Some people believe that it is a Marxist movement that seeks to change the economic landscape of Latin America. Some people believe that it is a movement to unify the region under a common command. Others believe that it is a class revolt to rectify the racial and social inequities perpetrated by 500 years of colonial and oligarchical rule. Bolivarian rhetoric is full of such concepts. However, it is none of the above. Bolivarianism is nothing more than a well coordinated movement that seeks to centralize all national power within the domain of a single individual through the use of populism.

There are several common characteristics of Bolivarianism. The first is the destruction of all independent political and economic institutions. The IMF, the World Bank and IADB spent billions of dollars during the 1990s to construct independent institutions across much of the developing world. The decentralization of power was meant to enhance the stability of developing nations. However, it also sapped the executive capabilities of national leaders, making them highly vulnerable during the crises that plagued the developing world at the turn of the century. Argentina was the most extreme example of a country in turmoil. It had five presidents during a period of two weeks. Ecuador was also wracked by political instability, and a strike PDVSA brought Venezuela to its knees. Electorates rejected the instability wrought by weak governments, and they clamored for powerful leaders. Therefore, it is not too surprising that the first thing that the Bolivarian leaders did was to lay siege to all independent institutions. They hijacked the legislatures, judiciaries and central banks. Powerful companies were nationalized, and major economic groups, such as soybean farmers and oil workers, were confronted.

The second common aspect is the heavy use of populism. Bolivarians are big on redistributive policies, providing direct handouts to the poor. However, they do not go far beyond that. There may be some showcase appropriations and nationalizations, but most acquisitions are well compensated. Moreover, there is no move to collectivism, as we saw in Chile during the early 1970s. Private enterprise continues to be the mainstay of the Bolivarian economies, with the leadership often having lucrative operations under their domain. The third important characteristic is the heavy use of the ballot box. Bolivarians are always in campaign mode, either through referendum, local elections or presidential contests. Bolivarian leaders always need the affirmation of the masses. They take their authority and legitimacy from the population. Despite some of the bent in the Western media, there is very little repression in Bolivarian societies. The press is often free to criticize, and most of the countries have active opposition groups. This is not meant to be a magnanimous gesture by the leadership. Bolivarians need a visible enemy to fight. In the case of Ecuador, there was no organized political opposition. Therefore, President Correa had to concoct a set of public enemies in the form of the prior officials who authorized the accumulation of Ecuador’s foreign debt. Bolivarians are like military generals on campaign. They are only useful, as long as they have an enemy to engage.

The last common trait is the need to remain in office forever. Bolivarian are here to stay, and they will introduce whatever constitutional reform needed for them to remain in office. Therefore, Marxism, regionalism and class warfare are nowhere on the Bolivarian agenda. They are some of the slogans that make up the rhetorical backdrop. While it is evident that leaders, such as Chavez, Humala, Correa and Morales are clearly identified as card carrying members of the Bolivarian movement, a close look at the common characteristics will show that Alvaro Uribe is a member in disguise. Unfortunately, Bolivarianism is centralizing so much power in the hands of a few individuals that eventual regime change will plunge the countries into a period of deep social instability.

12 Responses to "Overview: Bolivarian Dreams"

  1. Bruno Baroni   December 8, 2008 at 11:55 am

    So far I have always regarded RGE monitor as a serious forum.Indeed, I think its success is due to such quality. Therefore I do not understand why this article was published.I am not criticizing the point of view (which I do not share, and therefore, in principle, I would consider even more interesting and fun to read) but rather the way the author makes his points: making confusions between causes and effects, putting in the same basket very different things, and (mis)using the vaguest categories like “independent institutions” as a way to get an ideological endorsement. In brief, using the very author’s perspective, his way of arguing is just that of “one of those Latin-American populists” and not that of an expert who writes in a renowned forum….In one thing the author is different from his idea of a populist: he has not still understood that in order to get away with improvised arguments it is necessary to communicate throw a one-way mean of communication and not internet.Bruno Baroni

  2. LibertyBoyNYC   December 8, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Mr. Molano, I enjoyed this concise and clear overview of Bolivarianism. It should be stated that the United States has been Correa’s #1 pariah in his demagoguery. Strangely enough, cash remissions from immigrants in the USA and high oil prices underwrote Correa’s political rise and the Ecuadorian economy as a whole these last 10-15 years. A fun exercise is in guessing who, in light of the new Recession, the Ecuadorian constituency will blame, now, for their insistence on choosing greedy powerlords to guide them, their grift-based economy, and their general backwardness.Bruno, pull your head out of your keister [this is a high-school-level insult, in case you need to sort things clearly for yourself]. No one can doubt Ecuador as the original tinpot Banana Republic. As Cuba rolls slowly down the road to representative and non-centralized government, Ecuador slowy pushes their banana cart in the opposite direction. Good luck with the Iranians; If you think that the Columbians will put up with the same kind of threats that Iran pushes on Israel, you are sadly mistaken. As a recall you have ceded vast eastern tracts to Peru in the recent past.

  3. Sage   December 8, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    libertyboy is obviously a rabid zionist w/ his own puny head up his keister!

  4. Rodrigo   December 9, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    libertyboy: a comment worthy of someone who would call Ecuador ‘the original tinpot Banana Republic’ and especially worthy of someone who would choose libertyboy as their screen-name. high-school-level is, in fact, quite accurate.

  5. Guest   December 10, 2008 at 3:09 am

    for some of the best (accurate) reporting I have gotten regarding Bolivia with links to Latin news reports in both Spanish and Englishhttp://boliviarising.blogspot.comCan’t guarantee you will like what you read but you will find a perspective that you wont get anywhere else.

  6. Anonymous   December 10, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    WalterWhat’s the difference then between Boliviarian and old fashion populist caudillos for which our history have had many exampes?

  7. Guest   December 10, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    No different than what the Bush (s) or the Clinton Administrations did. Centralization is fine for the US but it is not fine for other countries? At least the Bolivarian revolution has less corruption than any US Administration after Eisenhower. So what are you talking about?Do you want more corrupt than the military privatization in the US. Look at the scandals pages of Propublica or Mother Jones.

  8. Guest   December 10, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    There are trade-offs in all economic systems and policies. The U.S. has flaws and so do more centralized, closed systems seen with 21st century socialism. There are many benefits to 21st century socialism. However, I think the costs outweigh the benefits and that there are better paths to choose – of course, this is something that countries on their own should chose and for others to respect (unless mass killing is involved, which then other countries should intervene). What productive economic sectors will there be in these countries when oil prices (and other commodities) drastically decline? What about the hollowing out of their political institutions? Why can’t these countries pursue a path similar to that seen present day Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, or even the social-democratic countries of Europe – more moderate, and open to individual freedoms and the free market?

  9. oscar v.   December 10, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    actually, i think walter is not only pretty accurate as well as providing an insighful analyis, but dispelling some of the uninformed and ideological arguments/evidence used by those on the right who blindly bash the present day Bolivarians in Latin America. I don’t see anything overtly ideological and false with the discussion. Bolivarian countries have still largely embraced the free market and individual political freedoms, yet have leaders that will viciously harass their opponents, use extreme/widespread forms of clientalism, are constantly in campaign mode, want to rule for long periods of time, and gut many important political and economic institutions which will hurt long term economic and political development (which ironically will make them dependent on other countries/institutions).

  10. Anonymous   December 11, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Anonymous asked: What’s the difference then between Boliviarian and old fashion populist caudillos for which our history have had many exampes? None; just the name.

  11. Guest   December 12, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Anonymous asked: What’s the difference then between Boliviarian and old fashion populist caudillos for which our history have had many exampes?Bolivarians are dumber.

  12. Anonymous   December 12, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    I am an expat living in one of these countries. The Bolivarian revolution has at its core an idea initially introduced by Alvin Toffler (for those that are interested, it is very insightful to understand Toffler´s connections and his paymasters) in the 1920´s known as the ¨Third Way.¨ The Third Way is a merging of communimism and capitalism. The Third Way has been mentioned publically by the leaders of these ¨Bolivarian¨countries.It is also interesting to note that Newt Gingrich tried to peddle this in the U.S. House of Representatives (he actually handed out copies); and Tony Blair was a big proponet of the Third Way. All of this is a matter of public record in the U.S. and U.K. Furthermore, Hugo Chavez began talking more publically about the merging of these systems after spending some time in England. This is also a mater of public record on Venezuelan T.V.I would put forth the idea that this picture is much grander in scope. You will also see a merging of Comunismism and Capitalism in China. It will intersting to see the actions of the next U.S. President in regard to his economic policies and if a further merging of this sort occursI am of the opinion that it is not the invisible hand of Adam Smith that is moving things economically, rather it is a larger, well thought out plan of economic integration; Communism and Capitalism, which will eventually lead to political integration; Socialism and Democracy, that is and has been planned by the power brokers behind many of these leaders.As a starting point you may begin at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I in the mid 1500´s and look at the policies and musings of John Dee who openly spoke of concepts such as Free Trade and ¨Most Favored Nation Status back in the mid 1500´s.AnonymousP.S. Books still exists in various libraries of Europe that go back 400 and 500 years and beyond. They make for good reading.