The current administration of Venezuelan president Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias is exceedingly difficult to analyze because of a lack of transparency and frequent changes in the policies he is pursuing. A further major obstacle in understanding chavismo is to distinguish between the hyperbole of the government and the socioeconomic reality. Coupled with a dearth of reliable socioeconomic indicators and public accounts of major institutions, this makes it almost impossible to reach some semblance of reality. Ellner’s latest book tries bravely to tackle this fast-moving and at times contradictory social experiment. The result is an unsatisfactory mélange of interesting snippets that are not fully developed.

The first part of the book is a potted history of Venezuela’s political development since independence to the arrival of Chávez in power in 1999. This sets the background for the Chávez administration, which Ellner argues is the result...

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