Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to the U.S.

By Nikolas Kozloff

Palgrave Macmillan, 2006

Hardcover, 262 pp., $27.95

By Tony Pecinovsky

There are many books on the increasingly complex relationship between Venezuela and the United States. Some are very good, insightful, and provide political context to help outsiders understand the changes within Venezuela and its relationship to the U.S. Other books, though, are less inspiring and don’t add to the discussion surrounding President Hugo Chávez, or Venezuela-U.S. relations.

Nikolas Kozloff’s “Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to the U.S.” falls into this latter category.

I heard about Kozloff’s book from a friend who gave it good reviews. As someone who has traveled to Venezuela, I was eager to read the book. However, other than a hefty $27.95 and a glossy cover, it offered little, especially in analysis and insight.

First, Kozloff did little original research. His sources were mostly web site addresses of publications read by the left. This might work for some people, but I felt I had already read this before, in Counterpunch,, The Progressive, the People’s Weekly World, Z Magazine or other publications.

Second, Kozloff wastes time on miniature biographies. While we should expect some biographical information on Chávez and other Venezuelan leaders — if it adds to the analysis — Kozloff’s biographies don’t help. Instead, in typical College Lit. 101 fashion, Kozloff seems to be working toward a word count, just filling space.

Kozloff lays his biography out for the world too. He writes, “In 1998, I was in South Florida, studying Latin America in the history department at the University of Miami. I had already decided to concentrate on Venezuela, and was busy researching the role of the Creole Petroleum Corporation.” Then he writes about his journey to England where he “continued his studies” and spent “days visiting the library and reading about the oil industry in Venezuela.”

He takes us down memory lane to the WTO protests in Seattle and how he found information he needed on the web site. “After reading the reports on indymedia, I began to get involved in organizing future protests,” he continues. “One of my principle contacts was a London anarchist who went by the e-mail pen name ‘distopia.’ I went to London to meet him.” On and on and on. Then Kozloff takes us to Germany, then Prague, where “protesters were to rendezvous at an organic farm” and apparently start the Revolution.

At times it was like reading “The Life and Times of Nikolas Kozloff.” I don’t mean to belittle Kozloff’s experiences. For him they were memorable experiences, but people don’t buy your book to learn about you. Kozloff promised an analysis of Venezuelan/U.S. relations. Something else was delivered.

I thought the end of the book (yes, I read the entire thing) might get better. Maybe the last chapter, “The Chávez-Morales Axis,” might redeem Kozloff, I thought. I was wrong.

You would think that the title would indicate what the chapter entails. Well, Kozloff doesn’t mention the Chávez/Morales relationship until 10 pages into the chapter. In fact, over half the chapter features Colombia and Ecuador.

The deceptive title of that chapter is indicative of the deceptive character of the book. It just doesn’t deliver the goods. When we finally get to the Chávez-Morales dynamic, Kozloff writes, “Although the political outlook in Colombia and Ecuador may be murky, Chávez can count on a key ally in Bolivia, Evo Morales.” Wow! That’s insightful.

It’s hard to write a review of a book that offers little original analysis. It’s harder to say good things about a bad book. The truth is that I didn’t learn anything from this book. Maybe I’m exceptional, but I don’t think so.

I don’t mind paying for a good book, for a book that says something I don’t already know. Charging $27.95 for re-hashed, web-based research is deceptive. As a person on a budget, I feel cheated and betrayed. I want my money back.