Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Reader 1

Hilary Appel

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© 2016 Ricardo Pena


Venezuela experienced one of the most dramatic political transformations of the twentieth century. After initially developing a system of representative democracy hailed among the most resilient in the Western Hemisphere in the 1950s, the country endured wave after wave of economic turmoil until, in 1998, Hugo Chávez was elected to the office of the Venezuelan presidency, fundamentally altering the governmental structure of the country and contributing to the desperate economic conditions Venezuela finds itself in today. This thesis attempts to explain the societal factors that led to Chávez’s election through an examination of Venezuelan economic policy in the final decades of the twentieth century. By charting the attempts made by specific Venezuelan political actors to address the unique conditions and dilemmas generated by the country’s largely oil-based economy during this period, it is argued that the economic policies enacted by Venezuela’s representative democracy systematically failed to address the needs and concerns of the country’s poor and working classes. As a result, political disillusionment among these social groups became increasingly more pervasive, finally reaching its full expression in the election of Chávez as an outsider candidate pledging to overhaul the Venezuelan political system in favor of poor and working class social sectors. Moreover, this text attempts to situate Chávez’s election as the result of a broader trend of inadequate economic policy beyond the commonly examined neoliberal reforms of the 1990s and ultimately serves to caution against an economic worldview that overlooks potential repercussions for society’s most vulnerable sectors.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.