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...