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The Centralism of ‘Twenty-First-Century Socialism’: Recentralising Politics in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 August 2013


Presidents Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales have all sought to reverse the policies of decentralisation that were adopted in the 1990s in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. This article adapts ideational and institutional hypotheses from the earlier literature on decentralisation to explain this recent movement in the opposite direction. At the ideational level, because of the close association of decentralisation with liberalisation in each country, recentralisation emerged as a way for presidents to reverse the legacies of their neoliberal predecessors. Beyond ideology, recentralisation can be explained by paying attention to the territorial distribution of electoral support; presidents used it to weaken the sub-national governments where the opposition had found political shelter, while simultaneously redirecting recentralised resources toward supporters.

Spanish abstract

Los presidentes Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa y Evo Morales han buscado revertir las políticas de descentralización que fueron adoptadas en los años 90 en Venezuela, Ecuador y Bolivia. Este artículo adapta las hipótesis alrededor de ideas e instituciones a partir de la literatura previa sobre la descentralización para explicar tal movimiento reciente en la dirección opuesta. A nivel de ideas, debido a la cercana asociación de la descentralización con la liberalización económica en cada país, la recentralización surgió para que los presidentes pudieran revertir los legados de sus predecesores neoliberales. Más allá de la ideología, la recentralización puede ser explicada cuando se presta atención a la distribución territorial de la base electoral; los presidentes la han utilizado para debilitar a los gobiernos provinciales donde la oposición ha encontrado cobertura política, mientras que al mismo tiempo redirige recursos hacia sus bases.

Portuguese abstract

Os presidentes Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa e Evo Morales buscaram reverter as políticas de descentralização adotadas nos anos 1990 na Venezuela, Equador e Bolívia. Este artigo faz uma adaptação das hipóteses conceptivas e institucionais da literatura anterior acerca da descentralização para explicar este recente movimento na direção contrária. No nível ideacional, devido à relação estreita entre a descentralização e a liberalização em cada país, a recentralização surgiu como uma maneira dos presidentes reverterem os legados de seus antecessores neoliberais. Além da ideologia, a recentralização pode ser explicada ao analisar-se a distribuição territorial da base de apoio eleitoral; os presidentes utilizaram-na para enfraquecer os governos subnacionais nos quais a oposição havia encontrado abrigo político enquanto, simultaneamente, redirecionaram recursos aos apoiadores.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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76 For a review of this debate, see Weyland, Kurt, ‘The Left: Destroyer or Savior of the Market Model?’, in Levitsky, and Roberts, (eds.), Resurgence, pp. 7192Google Scholar. As Weyland argues, ‘the Latin American Left in the 21st century may save rather than destroy the market system’ (p. 72).

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