Interest groups in Venezuela: lessons from the failure of a ‘Model Democracy’ and the rise of a Bolivarian democracy

Leslie Gates, Binghamton University--SUNY


This article uses the Venezuelan case to shed light on the potential role of interest‐group systems in discrediting liberal democracies and to identify challenges that the region's democracies are likely to confront in constructing effective and fair interest‐group systems. It first analyzes the role Venezuela's interest groups played in discrediting its 40‐year two‐party democracy. It argues that the discrediting of a system heralded by many as the region's ‘model democracy’ cannot be understood by merely assessing how the structure of the group system excluded certain groups. The study shows that the inclusion of certain business interests in visible positions of power also helped discredit the two‐party democracy. The article then compares the above system with the new group system which has emerged since 1998 as part of a new democratic system inspired by Latin America's 19th century Liberator, Simón Bolívar. This comparison reveals that the current system inverts the former system of inclusion and exclusion, even as it has retained a number of the old system's less virtuous features. The implications of the Venezuelan case for the region's democracies are elaborated in the conclusion.