For much of the twentieth century, Venezuela was regarded as one of the developing nations destined to take its place among the affluent societies of the world. The spectacular infrastructure projects sponsored by the Venezuelan government and funded with revenue from the petroleum industry were taken as evidence of progress and the impending arrival of modernity. Showcasing the technical prowess of the Venezuelan state, these projects captured the national imagination and won consent for elites by calling forth aspirations for total societal transformation. In this article, I explore the re-construction of hegemonic consent as part of one such project—a hydroelectric dam in the state of Barinas—and the survival of a vision of progress through the built environment, even after the social-economic crisis of the late twentieth century. Drawing on fieldwork in areas near the formerly incomplete project site, I account for what, at first glance, seem to be drastic shifts in local political allegiances and incongruous support for the military dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1948-1958) and the Bolivarian Government of Hugo Chávez. Suggesting that a high modernist vision of development is a pivot for hegemonic consent, I argue that the completion of this dam after a long hiatus has won the support of a caste of state workers and that the backing of these workers is crucial to the preservation of organized political power.
- twenty-first century socialism
- popular sovereignty