Great Promise, but Poor Performance: Understanding the Collapse of Venezuela’s Causa Radical

Daniel Nogueira-Budny

Abstract


Rising meteorically to national prominence amidst the collapse of Venezuela’s ossified two-party system, the leftist Radical Cause (LCR) seemed poised to ease the country’s crisis of representation and win the presidency in 1993. Instead, it imploded, paving the way for radical populist Hugo Chávez. How can the poor performance of a party with such great promise be explained? This article explains LCR’s initial success and eventual failure through the party’s adoption of internally democratic mechanisms. Its highly participatory approach attracted progressive groups, helping LCR’s early “meteoric” success. But it also sowed the seeds of LCR’s collapse: the absence of formalized decision-making rules and hierarchical leadership hindered the resolution of a political impasse. Internal democracy proved harmful to institutional growth and prevented the party from confronting factional conflict and instituting much-needed reforms in the long run. It is not only a heavy hierarchy and bureaucracy that prevent political change, but also the opposite in a base democracy.

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