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In Venezuela Reframed: Bolivarianism, Indigenous Peoples and Socialisms of the 21st Century, Luis Fernando Angosto-Ferrández responds to the rise of ‘socialism of the twenty-first century’ in Latin America by looking at the specific role played by indigenous communities and organisations in the Bolivarian movement. The book is a timely and well-researched volume that will be of use to those interested in Venezuelan politics, indigenous issues and the formation of alternatives to capitalism, writes Francesco Di Bernardo.

Venezuela Reframed: Bolivarianism, Indigenous Peoples and Socialisms of the 21st Century. Luis Fernando Angosto-Ferrández. Zed Books. 2015.  

Venezuela ReframedIn recent years, many observers have drawn attention to the new political experimentations that are being undertaken in Latin America: namely, the rise of what is commonly known as the ‘pink tide’ or, as named by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, socialism of the twenty-first century. Despite growing academic literature on this political phenomenon and on the Venezuelan Bolivarian revolution that has inspired left-wing movements in the whole region, the role of indigenous communities within the Bolivarian movement has been largely overlooked in academic analysis. Luis Fernando Angosto-Ferrández’s new book, Venezuela Reframed: Bolivarianism, Indigenous Peoples and Socialisms of the 21st Century, offers a unique and incisive perspective on the role played by indigenous communities and organisations within the Bolivarian movement. A leading expert on Venezuela, Angosto-Ferrández is a lecturer in the departments of Anthropology and Latin American Studies at the University of Sydney and the author of publications including The Politics of Identity in Latin American Censuses (2015) and Democracy, Revolution and Geopolitics in Latin America: Venezuela and the International Politics of Discontent (2014). Here, he approaches the history of the Bolivarian movement from a previously unexplored angle, offering a well-informed contribution on the historical significance of the participation of indigenous communities in the construction of the Venezuelan socialism of the twenty-first century.

The book is also timely as it contributes to the debates around issues affecting indigenous communities in Latin America. In recent years, they have been at the centre of renewed public attention due to discussions of extractivism and its effects on indigenous communities in various areas of the region. In the final chapter of the book in fact, one of the most topical sections of the volume, the author directly intervenes in the debate over neo-extractivist policies and indigenous movements, offering a comparative analysis of this issue in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela.

Angosto-Ferrández’s book analyses the relationship between indigenous peoples and the Bolivarian state, demonstrating that ‘the current enfranchisement of this population, in political and socioeconomic terms, is unprecedented in Venezuelan history’ (1). In the introduction the author firstly positions the Venezuelan case within the larger indigenous struggle in Latin American (12-17), before addressing the reconfiguration of the state in an ‘explicit anti-neoliberal orientation’ (15) by the Bolivarian government.

Subsequently, in the first chapter of the book, he proposes a well-documented historical overview of the relationship between the Venezuelan state and the indigenous peoples. This focuses on four fundamental arguments: the role of the census; the relationship between state bureaucracies and indigenous communities; land and territory claims; and the birth of indigenous organisations, with particular attention dedicated to the establishment of the CONIVE, the Consejo Nacional Indio de Venezuela (National Council of Venezuelan Indians), in 1989. Angosto-Ferrández concludes this chapter by affirming that from the 1970s to the 1990s, while counting on different allies such as ‘academia, the progressive church, certain sectors of the public administration, and left-wing political activism’, indigenous organisations ‘lacked mobilizing capacity’ (68), and the rise of the Bolivarian movement subsequently ‘channelled and dynamized their forces’ (68).

The second chapter therefore discusses the involvement of indigenous organisations in the Bolivarian movement. Here Angosto-Ferrández affirms that ‘indigeneity became a central source of symbols for the emergence and maintenance of the collective identity that helps to sustain the chavista bloc’ (71).In the second chapter, the author also provides one of the core theoretical concepts of the book: that of Guaicaipurismo. The concept – named after Guaicaipuro, the most celebrated native chief in the struggle against Spanish colonialism – refers to the incorporation of the indigenous element within the chavista movement so that it becomes a ‘prominent discursive current’ (89) and a ‘central element of the chavista collective identity’ (92).

Venezuela ImageImage Credit: Mission Robinson of the Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela promoting the education of the Wayuu (Franklin Reyes)

To corroborate his analysis, in Chapter Four the author offers a set of data that sheds light on the growing participation of indigenous peoples in electoral contests in the years following the first electoral victory of Chávez. This participation, Angosto-Ferrández argues, is the result of a ‘continuing mobilization of support bases’ for the chavista bloc, which conversely, since the beginning of its development, had ‘invested heavily in the maintenance of electoral fronts as both a guarantee of success and a mechanism for activating support’ (161). Angosto-Ferrández importantly argues that the real shift determined by the rise of chavismo is indeed the involvement of indigenous people in the active political sphere for the first time after the 1998 declaration of compromise with indigenous people made by Chávez with the ‘Act of Compromise with History’, signed on 20 March 1998. In fact, quoting Esteban Emilio Mosonyi, the author reports that until that date, the traditional Venezuelan establishment ‘[did] not want to have anything to do with the Indians’ (134).

Chapter Five elucidates, on the other hand, the role of the state in supporting indigenous causes and the creation of state-sponsored organisations. The turning point in the relations between the state and indigenous communities was the creation of a minister specifically dedicated to indigenous peoples: Ministerio del Poder Popular para los Pueblos Indígenas (Minister of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples (MINPI)). The concluding chapter discusses the nature of the link between indigenous people, capitalism and the political economy of the socialisms of the twenty-first century. It provides a comparative approach, including discussion of extractivism in other Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia. One of the most crucial issues discussed in the chapter is the formation of an indigenous capitalism as a result of extractive activity, which complicates the discourse of indigenous struggle and, above all, debunks the idea of indigenous peoples as a monolithic bloc.

Venezuela Reframed is a volume that undermines the teleological conception that indigenous struggle is necessarily antithetical to the state and party politics, and offers a perspective on the role of the Bolivarian government in incorporating and promoting the participation of indigenous peoples in the political and economical spheres of Venezuelan public life. Venezuela Reframed is addressed not only to a specialist audience, but also to a wider readership interested in Venezuelan politics, indigenous issues and, more generally, the formation of alternatives to capitalism.

This review originally appeared at the LSE Review of Books.

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Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of USApp– American Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.

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About the author

Francesco Di Bernardo – University of Sussex
Francesco Di Bernardo holds a PhD in Modern and Contemporary Literature, Culture and Thought from the University of Sussex. He is interested in the relationship between literature and history, economics, sociology and politics, and in critical theory. He is one of the founders of the project Sussex Latin America, and has worked as Associate Tutor at the School of English and as a Research Support Assistant for the School of Media, Film and Music at Sussex. Read more reviews by Francesco Di Bernardo.

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