Clem, Ralph S., and Anthony P. Maingot, eds.: Venezuela's Petro-Diplomacy: Hugo Chavez's Foreign Policy.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Michelsen, Niall
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: Venezuela's Petro-Diplomacy: Hugo Chavez's Foreign Policy (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Clem, Ralph S.; Maingot, Anthony P.
Accession Number: 294895889
Full Text: Clem, Ralph S., and Anthony P. Maingot, eds. Venezuela's Petro-Diplomacy: Hugo Chavez's Foreign Policy. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011. x + 160 pages. Cloth, $65.00.

This slender book represents updated material first presented at a conference hosted by Florida International University in 2008. All of the essays cover events beyond the original 2008 conference date. The book title and subtitle clearly convey the major foci of the essays and also some of the tensions within the book itself. While not all of the essays focus on the impact of or utilization of petroleum revenues, those revenues are never far from the discussion. Most of the contributing authors implicitly or explicitly maintain that Venezuela's ambitious foreign policy could only be viable within a context of increasing oil revenues.

More problematic is the juxtaposition of the state and the individual as having foreign policies. This begs the question of whether the man is the state, or whether there is a state with enduring interests. This question is not fully resolved in these essays. Nearly absent from the book is any description of the bureaucracies within the Venezuelan government that formulate and execute diplomatic functions. Nor is there a detailed analysis of President Hugo Chavez's diplomatic evolution.

The book convincingly establishes a compelling reason for studying this topic closely. Venezuela under Chavez has pursued, with varying measures of success, diplomatic initiatives that differ from what Realism would predict. In short, Venezuela punches above its weight diplomatically. It challenges U.S. interests and intervention in the region. It provides foreign aid far in excess of other states with similar economies. Furthermore, it is a major supplier of petroleum to the United States. All of these factors point to an intriguing set of questions, and these essays provide some answers.

As often happens with edited books that emerge from conferences, the original papers were undoubtedly written for experts with extensive backgrounds on the topics and the book is targeted for broader audiences who may lack such backgrounds. To address this problem, the introductory essay might have been structured to provide novices a clearer context within which Venezuela's diplomacy is located. In fact, the concluding brief essay written by former Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jorge G. Castaneda, which places Venezuelan diplomacy in the context of the larger Latin America region and history, is very useful, and might have appeared near the front of the book. Nevertheless, the book is readily accessible to scholars who have limited knowledge of either Latin American history or politics, or of Venezuela itself. Only a few acronyms and specific events or actors are inadequately defined.

Some common elements emerge from these essays. One is that Chavez's Venezuelan foreign policy is Bolivarian in content and intent. This means that, on one hand, it conforms to antecedent designs, and, on the other hand, it is revisionist in intent. Drawing upon the dreams of Simon Bolivar to create a united Latin America, and adding to it a leftist analysis of anti-Americanism, Chavez has turned Venezuelan diplomacy 180 degrees. Previously, Venezuela enjoyed good relations with the United States. At the same time, many of the methods used in pursuit of this foreign policy are familiar, specifically meaning the employment of petroleum revenues for diplomatic purposes.

Most of the essays present qualitative research on a specific aspect of the topic. They generally rely on official governmental reports, standard news outlets, and other secondary sources. One exception to this is the essay on Venezuelan public opinion, which relies on survey data. It is standard for books of this nature to include a public opinion essay, which, in this case, makes a good contribution to the overall text. Otherwise, the essays range from traditional analyses of the logic of Venezuelan diplomacy to some rather visionary and perhaps contentious analyses of the goals of that diplomacy, and then on to some rather esoteric topics (e.g., relations between Venezuela and Belarus). This range of topics guarantees that virtually everyone will learn something from the book and many will find valuable insights. It also guarantees that those seeking a systematic treatment of the topic will not be disappointed. One important missing ingredient, however, is the dynamics of decision-making and the roles and powers associated with different political and bureaucratic actors beyond that of President Chavez.

This book is not heavy on theories of any kind, though a couple of the essays do a good job of placing their particular analyses within some important theoretical debate (say between international relations Realists and Liberals and Constructivists). While the book does not adopt any theoretical position, many of the essays come across more as adversarial rather than social scientific in their design and purpose. In most cases, the anti-Chavez rhetoric is not heavy-handed but they do seem to begin with a negative perspective. Nonetheless, the essays are strong enough and are written by a sufficient number of varied authors that readers will receive differentiated opinions and conclusions. So, what one author may describe as a threatening or destabilizing and unjustified action might be described in a succeeding essay as something well within the normal behavior of Venezuela itself or of any self-described Bolivarian state. This diversity keeps the book fresh and prevents it from falling into a predictable pattern. The relatively short essays (11 in 158 pages) also provide very digestible chunks for readers. The book offers many topics for diverse readers. Latin American specialists will want to add it to their collection as will students of comparative foreign policies. International relations scholars, especially those interested in resource issues, will find useful material and sources here for their own research.

Niall Michelsen, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs

Western Carolina University

Cullowhee, North Carolina
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