Over the past generation the Venezuelan political system has been a rarity amongst the Latin American nations for there one finds democracy, representative parties, and free elections. Political scientists have analyzed various aspects of this system, among them Frank Bonilla (political change), John Martz (Acción Democrática-AD), Robert Alexander (Communist party), John Powell (peasant mobilization), Taiton Ray (barrio politics), Leo Lott (modernizing politics), and David Myers (democratic campaigning).

There now appears this fine book by political scientist Donald Herman. His work on the Christian Democratic party (COPEI) fills a major gap, for the now-governing COPEI has alternated in power with AD at five-year intervals since 1964. Herman’s objective is to analyze the history, structure, ideology, program, and performance of COPEI since its 1936 inception. In this task he succeeds admirably.

Rafael Caldera was the party’s founder and is still the dominant figure. A member of the student generation of 1936, he rode to political prominence on the twin issues of anticommunism and religious education. In the years 1937-45, his ideological mentor, Padre Manuel Aguirre, S.J., persuaded him to add democracy and social justice to the party’s principles.

The October 1945 revolution, which brought Rómulo Betancourt’s AD to power, placed Caldera’s party in a rigid oppositionist stance over alleged socialism, atheism, and exclusivism, and contributed to the November 1948 military coup. During the dictatorial decade that followed, both COPEI and AD came to realize that compromise and cooperation were the only hope for democracy and social reform.

The system has worked. COPEI formed a coalition with Betancourt (1959-64) and constituted the loyal opposition to AD’s President Raúl Leoni (1964-69). AD returned the favor under Caldera’s presidency (1969-74), COPEI cooperated with AD’s President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974-79), and AD today cooperates with President Luis Herrera Campins (1979-84). Venezuela’s lesser political parties rightfully complain that this apparent modus vivendi smacks of an alternación pact.

Herman’s Chapter 4 (“Organization and Function”) is a model for indepth party analysis. Internal power relationships and ideological questions receive detailed examination. Here one finds thorough treatment of the party’s agrarian programs, its labor policies, its peasant constituency, its youth movement, and its generation conflict.

The core of the book, however, is the three chapters on the Caldera presidency. One learns of his cooperation with AD (the so-called coincidencia), his ties with Catholic pressure groups (particularly Opus Dei), and his gingerly treatment of the army and the oligarchy. Caldera was the leader in nationalist banking legislation; he was the reluctant follower in ultranationalistic petroleum policies advanced by the AD-controlled Congress.

In his 1968 campaign Caldera promised great changes (el cambio). In foreign policy, el cambio took place. Caldera’s ideological pluralism led to closer ties with Brazil, Pinochet’s Chile, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. Thus was AD’s doctrine of ostracizing dictatorships rejected. Furthermore, his regional imperialism led him into conflict with Brazil, Colombia, and the United States. In domestic policy, however, these changes were more style than substance. Caldera persuaded whereas AD imposed, but his moderate agricultural, housing, education, and labor reforms differed little in content or emphasis from those of his AD predecessors. He “failed to realize far-reaching structural changes in Venezuelan society” (p. 208).

The incumbent Herrera administration is like the four previous moderate, evolutionary, middle-of-the-road administrations that have ruled since 1959. In reply to pessimists who question the long-run viability of this type of political system in the face of growing pressures for revolutionary change, Herman concludes that “twenty-two years of effective cooperation between the leaders of AD and COPEI have provided a sufficient basis for stable democracy in Venezuela” (p. 233).