The Foreign Policy Rhetoric of Populism: Chávez, Oil, and Anti-imperialism

Iñaki Sagarzazu, Cameron Thies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Populists are often identified based on their behavior, but the discursive element of their identities is also a frequently observed characteristic of this type of leader. We examine the determinants of populist foreign policy rhetoric in the case of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. We argue that a leftist populist leader such as Chávez will focus on anti-imperialist themes, and we consider two mechanisms that may indicate the conditions under which he will use them: diversion, which would typically be expected from a populist, and capacity. We use time-series analysis of rhetorical data scraped from the entire corpus of Aló Presidente—Chávez’s weekly television series—to test our hypotheses. The evidence supports the capacity mechanism, that Chávez is emboldened to use anti-imperialist rhetoric when the price of oil is high. His rhetoric, thus, matches his resources and ability to provide domestic and international goods to support his own identity as a protector and savior of the common people from domestic and global elites engaged in the imperialistic enterprise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-214
Number of pages10
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Chávez
  • anti-imperialism
  • foreign policy
  • oil
  • populism
  • rhetoric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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