History of Venezuela (1999–present)

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Venezuelan soldiers carrying red flags with Chavéz's eyes imprinted as the text reads Chavez vive. La lucha sigue ("Chavéz lives. The struggle continues")

Since 2 February 1999, Venezuela saw sweeping and radical shifts in social policy, moving away from the last governments officially embracing a free-market economy and liberalization reform principles and towards income redistribution and social welfare programs.

Then-President Hugo Chávez dramatically shifted Venezuela's traditional foreign policy alignment. Instead of continuing Venezuela's past alignment with the United States and European strategic interests, Chávez promoted alternative development and integration policies targeted to the Global South.

Chávez died in office on 5 March 2013 and was succeeded by his Vice President Nicolás Maduro, who gained a slim majority in the 14 April 2013 special election and has ruled by decree for the majority of the period between 19 November 2013 through 2018.

Background: 1970–1992[edit]

Hugo Chávez's political activity began in the 1980s and 1990s, a period of economic downturn and social upheaval in Venezuela.[1] Venezuela's economic well-being fluctuated with the unstable demand for its primary export commodity, oil. Oil accounts for three-quarters of Venezuela's exports, half of its government's fiscal income, and a quarter of the nation's GDP.[2]

The 1970s were boom years for oil, during which the material standard of living for all classes in Venezuela improved. This was partly due to the ruling AD and COPEI parties' investing in social welfare projects which, because of the government's oil income, they could do without heavily taxing private wealth.[3] "Venezuelan workers enjoyed the highest wages in Latin America and subsidies in food, health, education and transport."[4] However, "toward the end of the 1970s, these tendencies began to reverse themselves."[5] Per capita oil income and per capita income both declined, leading to a foreign debt crisis and forced devaluation of the bolivar in 1983.[5] The negative trend continued through the 1990s. "Per capita income in 1997 was 8 percent less than in 1970; workers' income during this period was reduced by approximately half."[5] "Between 1984 and 1995 the percentage of people living below the poverty line jumped from 36 percent to 66 percent, while the number of people suffering from extreme poverty tripled, from 11 percent to 36 percent."[6]

Along with these economic changes came various changes in Venezuelan society. Class division intensified, as summarised by Edgardo Lander:[7]

A sensation of insecurity became generalized throughout the population, constituting "an emerging culture of violence. . . very distinct from the culture of tolerance and peace that dominated Venezuelan society in the past." (Briceño León et al., 1997: 213). Along with unemployment, personal safety topped the problems perceived as most serious by the population. Between 1986 and 1996 the number of homicides per 10,000 inhabitants jumped from 13.4 to 56, an increase of 418 percent, with most of the victims being young males (San Juan, 1997: 232–233). Countless streets in the middle- and upper-class neighborhoods were closed and privatized; increasingly, bars and electric fences surrounded houses and buildings in these areas. The threat represented by the "dangerous class" came to occupy a central place in the media – along with demands that drastic measures be taken, including the death penalty or direct execution by the police.

During this period, the prospect of a reasonably comfortable life for most Venezuelans, which had appeared attainable in the 1970s, became increasingly remote; poverty and exclusion appeared inescapable for many. According to Lander:[8]

These crises-like conditions increasingly became permanent features of society. We are dealing here not with the exclusion of a minority categorized as "marginal" in relation to society as a whole but with the living conditions and cultural reproduction of the great majority of the population. The result was the development of what Ivez Pedrazzini and Magalay Sánchez (1992) have called the "culture of urgency." They describe a practical culture of action in which the informal economy, illegality, illegitimacy, violence and mistrust of official society are common. Alejandro Moreno (1995) characterizes this other cultural universe as the popular-life world that is other, different from Western modernity – organized in terms of a matriarchal family structure, with different conceptions of time, work, and community, and a relational (community-oriented) rationality distinct from the abstract rationality of the dominant society. This cultural context is scarcely compatible with the model of citizenship associated with liberal democracies of the West.

On the political front, the AD's Carlos Andrés Pérez became president in 1989 on a platform of anti-neoliberalism, describing International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment recipes as "la-bomba-sólo-mata-gente" – the bomb that only kills people.[9] However, shortly after attaining office, Pérez, "faced with a severe crisis of international reserves, fiscal as well as trade and balance-of-payment deficits, and an external debt ($34 billion[10]) that under these conditions could not be paid," signed a letter of intent with the International Monetary Fund stipulating that he carry out a liberalization adjustment program that entailed privatisation, deregulation, and the dismantling of social welfare programs and subsidies.[11] The agreement was not submitted to parliamentary consultation and was made public only after having been signed.[12] On 25 February 1989, the government announced an increase in gasoline prices, and two days later a public transit price rise precipitated the Caracazo, a series of mass demonstrations and riots in Caracas and Venezuela's other principal cities.[13] Pérez suspended civil rights and imposed martial law. The military's suppression of the rebellion resulted in, by the government's own admission, 300 deaths; and others estimate the toll at more than 1000.[14]

1992 and beyond[edit]

Chávez, who had been involved since the early 1980s in a leftist group in the military called the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200 (MBR 200), first came to national prominence as the leader of a coup attempt on Pérez in February 1992. Although the attempt failed, before being imprisoned Chávez was granted one minute on national television, during which he apologised for the loss of lives and called on his forces to cease fighting, but also defended his goals of reform and stated famously that he was putting down his weapons "por ahora" – for now – implying that he might one day return. That brief television appearance gave Chávez national recognition and caused him to become for many a heroic symbol of resistance to the disliked regime.[15]

Pérez survived another coup attempt in November 1992, but was impeached by Congress in 1993 for illegally using $17 million to finance the campaign of Violetta Chamorro in Nicaragua and his own inauguration party.[16] Rafael Caldera, campaigning on an anti-neoliberal platform, succeeded him by winning elections in December 1993 with 30% of the vote to his nearest rival's 23%.[17] As per one of his election promises, he released Chávez and other army dissidents in March 1994. Like Pérez, however, he reversed himself on economic policy, adopting IMF programs in 1996 and 1997 that stipulated liberalization adjustment and opened the state oil industry to private investment.[18] In November 1996, about 1.3 million workers walked off the job in a general public sector strike; and in late August 1998, Caldera obtained legislation from Congress enabling him to rule by decree.[19]

During this period, the late 1990s, the principal leftist parties were La Causa Radical (LCR), which won 48 congressional seats in 1993, and the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS).[18] Hugo Chávez and the MBR 200 also remained active. At the MBR 200 national assembly in December 1996, its members voted to participate in the upcoming 1998 presidential and 1998 parliamentary elections, and created a new organisation, the Fifth Republic Movement (Movimiento Quinta República, MVR) intended to unite groups opposed to the mainstream parties.[20] Chávez's bid for the presidency was supported by a coalition called the Polo Patriótico (Patriotic Pole, PP) which, besides Chávez's MVR, included the PPT, and significant portions of the MAS, LCR, Movimiento Primero de Mayo, and Bandera Roja.[21]

The major planks in the election platform enunciated by Chávez during his 1998 campaign included the following:

  • Reorientation of the oil industry:
    • Cease privatisation of the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela.
    • Review concessions that the state had granted to foreign oil companies[22]
    • Redistribute income from the oil industry to more benefit the lower economic classes[23]
  • Pursue an economic course independent of global capitalist, especially United States, dictates; he characterised this as a "third way", an alternative to "neo-liberalismo salvage", "savage neo-liberalism"[24]
  • Rewrite the 1961 constitution. He proposed to hold a referendum seeking approval to dissolve Congress and convene an elected "constitutional assembly" whose task would be to write a new constitution[25]
  • Attack corruption, which he said eats up 15% of public revenues[26]
  • Crack down on the epidemic of tax evasion by major contributors[27]
  • Raise the minimum wage, provide a 30,000 Bolivar ($53) stipend to the unemployed, improve job security and retirement guarantees, increase spending on job creation and education.[28]

1999: Economic crisis and new constitution[edit]

With many Venezuelans tired of politics in the country, the 1998 elections had the lowest voter turnout in Venezuelan history, with Chávez winning the presidency on 6 December 1998 with 56.4% of the popular vote. His nearest opponent was Henrique Salas Römer with about 40%.[29][30] He took the presidential oath of office on 2 February 1999, the principal points of his mandate were to reform the constitution, break up what his supporters perceived as an entrenched oligarchy, reverse Venezuela's economic decline, strengthen the role of the state in the economy, and redistribute wealth to the poor. Chávez's first few months in office were dedicated primarily to constitutional reform, while his secondary focus was on immediately allocating more government funds to new social programs.[citation needed]

However, as a recession triggered by historically low oil prices and soaring international interest rates rocked Venezuela, the shrunken federal treasury provided very little of the resources Chávez required for his promised massive populist programs.[31] The economy, which was still staggering, shrunk by 10% and the unemployment rate increased to 20%, the highest level since the 1980s.[29] Chávez sharply diverged from previous administrations' economic policies, terminating their practice of extensively privatizing Venezuela's state-owned holdings, such as the national social security system, holdings in the aluminum industry, and the oil sector.[32] Chávez worked to reduce Venezuelan oil extraction in the hopes of garnering elevated oil prices and, at least theoretically, elevated total oil revenues, thereby boosting Venezuela's severely deflated foreign exchange reserves. He extensively lobbied other OPEC countries to cut their production rates as well. As a result of these actions, Chávez became known as a "price hawk" in his dealings with the oil industry and OPEC. Chávez also attempted a comprehensive renegotiation of 60-year-old royalty payment agreements with oil giants Philips Petroleum and ExxonMobil.[33] These agreements had allowed the corporations to pay in taxes as little as 1% of the tens of billions of dollars in revenues they were earning from their extraction of Venezuelan oil. Afterwards, Chávez stated his intention to complete the nationalization of Venezuela's oil resources.[citation needed] Although unsuccessful in his attempts to renegotiate with the oil corporations, Chávez focused on his stated goal of improving both the fairness and efficiency of Venezuela's formerly lax tax collection and auditing system, especially for major corporations and landholders.[citation needed] Chávez wished to promote the redistribution of wealth, increased regulation, and social spending, he did not wish to discourage foreign direct investment (FDI).[citation needed] In keeping with his predecessors, Chávez attempted to shore up FDI influxes to prevent an economic crisis of chronic capital flight and inflation.[citation needed] Despite such actions and a tripling in oil prices, capital flight more than doubled from $4 billion in 1999 to $9 billion in 2002 due to the uncertainties of Chávez's controversial actions.[29]

In April 1999, Chávez ordered all branches of the military to devise programs to combat poverty and to further civic and social development in Venezuela's vast slum and rural areas. This civilian-military program was launched as "Plan Bolivar 2000", and was heavily patterned after a similar program enacted by Cuban President Fidel Castro during the early 1990s, while the Cuban people were still suffering through the "Special Period". Projects within Plan Bolivar 2000s scope included road building, housing construction, and mass vaccination. Though the plan initially had $20.8 million set aside for costs, some state that the program cost Venezuela approximately $113 million, nearly five times as more than planned.[34][35][36] The plan faltered at the end of 2001 with accusations and revelations of corruption by military officers, including both military officers who later rebelled against the president in April 2002 and officers linked to the president.[37]

New constitution[edit]

In April 1999, a national referendum was held, the question being whether to create an elected assembly to draw up a new Constitution of Venezuela. The result of the referendum was 71.8% in favour.[38] Consequently, in July 1999, elections were held to choose delegates to the assembly. In these elections, Chávez's slate of candidates received 52% of the vote but won 95% of the seats, 125 of the 131 seats, due to the voting procedures decided by the government beforehand. Fifty-four per cent of the eligible electorate did not vote.[39]

The job of the assembly, which was called the Assemblea Nacional Constituyente (ANC), was to come up with a new constitution in six months or less. The draft would then be submitted to the Venezuelan people for acceptance or rejection via a referendum. The Assembly set up 21 commissions to work on specific topics, including citizen power, indigenous rights, sovereignty, economic issues, defence, education, health, the environment, human rights, women, sport, culture and justice.[40]

Conflict soon arose between the Constitutional Assembly and the older institutions it was supposed to reform or replace. During his 1998 presidential campaign, and in advance of the 25 July elections to the Assembly, Chávez had maintained that the new body would immediately have precedence over the existing National Assembly and the courts, including the power to dissolve them if it so chose.[41] Against this, some of his opponents, including notably the chief justice of the supreme court, Cecilia Sosa Gomez, argued that the Constitutional Assembly must remain subordinate to the existing institutions until the constitution it produced had been ratified.[42]

In mid August 1999, the Constitutional Assembly moved to restructure the nations judiciary, giving itself the power to fire judges, seeking to expedite the investigations of corruption outstanding against what the New York Times estimated were nearly half of the nation's 4700 judges, clerks, and bailiffs.[43] On 23 August, the supreme court voted 8-6 that the Assembly was not acting unconstitutionally in assuming those powers; however, the next day Cecilia Sosa Gomez resigned in protest. Over 190 judges were eventually suspended on charges of corruption. Eventually the Supreme Court was also dissolved and new judges were appointed that were supporters of Chávez.[29]

On 25 August, the Constitutional Assembly declared a "legislative emergency," voting to limit the National Assembly's work to matters such as supervising the budget and communications. In response, the National Assembly, which in July had decided to go into recess until October to avoid conflict with the Constitutional Assembly, declared its recess over, effective 27 August. At one point the Constitutional Assembly prohibited the National Assembly from holding meetings of any sort. However, on 10 September, the two bodies reached an agreement allowing for their "coexistence" until the new constitution took effect.[44]

On 20 November 1999 the Constitutional Assembly presented the proposed constitution that was to be accepted or rejected by the nation's voters. With 350 articles, it was one of the world's lengthiest. A general tendency of this Constitution is that it attempts to establish a participatory as well as a representative democracy. On specific points, it changes the country's official name from "Republic of Venezuela" to "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela". It also increased the presidential term of office from five to six years, allowed for two consecutive presidential terms rather than one, and introduced provisions for national presidential recall referendums—that is, Venezuelan voters gained the right to remove the president from office before the expiration of his presidential term. Such referendums are activated by a petition to do so with the required number of signatures. The presidency was given more power, including the power to dissolve the National Assembly. The new constitution converted the formerly bicameral National Assembly into a unicameral legislature, and stripped it of many of its former powers. Provisions were made for a new position, the Public Defender, an office with the authority to check the activities of the presidency, the National Assembly, and the constitution. Chávez characterized the Public Defender as the guardian of the "moral branch" of the new Venezuelan government, tasked with defending public and moral interests. The constitution is unusual in that it incorporates as rights not only those, such as freedom of expression and assembly, found in most liberal constitutions, but also "social human rights:" to employment, housing, and health care.[45]

On 15 December 1999, after weeks of heavy rain, statewide mudslides claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 people. Critics claim Chávez was distracted by the referendum and that the government ignored a civil defense report, calling for emergency measures, issued the day the floods struck. However, Chávez's government rejected these claims.[46] Chávez then personally led the relief effort afterwards.[47] Subsequent mudslides in 2000 left 3 dead.[48]

2000–2001: Re-election, rule by decree, land reform[edit]

Elections for the new unicameral National Assembly were held on 30 July 2000. During this same election, Chávez himself stood for reelection. Going into the elections, Chávez had control of all three branches of government.[29] Chávez's coalition also garnered a commanding two-thirds majority of seats in the National Assembly while Chávez was reelected with 60% of the votes. The Carter Center monitored the 2000 presidential election; their report on that election stated that, due to lack of transparency, CNE partiality, and political pressure from the Chávez government that resulted in early elections, it was unable to validate the official CNE results.[49] However, they concluded that the presidential election legitimately expressed the will of the people.[50]

Later, on 3 December 2000, local elections and a referendum were held. The referendum, backed by Chávez, also proposed a law that would force Venezuela's labor unions to hold state-monitored elections. The referendum was widely condemned by international labor organisations—including the International Labour Organization—as undue government interference in internal union matters; these organisations threatened to apply sanctions on Venezuela.[51]

Enabling act and rule by decree[edit]

After the May and July 2000 elections, Chávez backed the passage of a Ley Habilitante (enabling act) by the National Assembly. This act allowed Chávez to rule by decree for one year. In November 2001, shortly before the Enabling Act was set to expire, Chávez used it to put into place a set of 49 laws central to the implementation of his programs. These included a Hydrocarbons Law and a Land Law. The Land Law, or Ley de Tierras, proposed giving some of the many Venezuelans who have constructed makeshift homes in the barrios that surround the country's major cities legal title to the land they occupy. It also contained provisions for rural land reform, including: incentives for people to return to the countryside and farm; tax penalties against leaving cultivable land idle (intended to encourage large land owners to sell plots to people who want to farm); grants of federal land to qualified farmers; and limited, compensated, expropriation of idle portions of privately owned latifunda land for distribution to poor agriculturalists.[52]

With large oil incomes in Chávez's first years of presidency,[31] he had successfully initiated a land transfer program and had introduced several reforms aimed at improving the social welfare of the population. These reforms entailed the lowering of infant mortality rates; the implementation of a free, government-funded healthcare system; and free education up to the university level. By December 2001, inflation fell to 12.3% the lowest since 1986,[53] while economic growth was steady at four percent.[54][better source needed] Chávez's administration also reported an increase in primary school enrollment by one million students.[54][better source needed]

The 49 laws, representing as they did the first major concrete step toward economic redistribution, were strenuously resisted by business and the former political establishment. McCaughan (2004: 65, 68) describes them as the "plus ultra non," the "point of no return for Chávez's troubled relations with business, church and media leaders." Chávez's clashes with multiple social groups he supposedly alienated and his close ties with controversial presidents Mohammad Khatami, Sadaam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi also hurt his approval rating.[29] Nelson then says what hurt Chávez's popularity the most was his relationship with Fidel Castro and Cuba, with Chávez attempting to make Venezuela in Cuba's image.[29] Venezuela became Cuba's largest trade partner while Chávez, following Castro's example, consolidated the country's bicameral legislature into a single National Assembly and created community groups of loyal supporters allegedly trained as paramilitaries.[29] Such actions created great fear among Venezuelans who felt like they were tricked and that Chávez had dictatorial goals.[29]

2001 strikes and growing opposition to Chávez[edit]

Chávez's opposition originated from the response to the "cubanization" of Venezuela when mothers realized that the new textbooks in Venezuela were really Cuban books filled with revolutionary propaganda and with different covers causing them to protest.[29] By the summer months of 2001, the opposition groups grew quickly from concerned mothers to labor unions, business interests, church groups, and right and leftwing political parties.[29]

The Venezuelan Federation of Chambers (cámaras) of Commerce, – Fedecámaras – and the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) – a labour union federation with strong links to the AD party[55] – then called for a general business strike (paro cívico) for 10 December 2001[56] to protest the 49 laws.[57] According to López Maya, at this time the president of the Fedecamaras, Pedro Carmona Estanga, emerged as the leader of the opposition movement.[58] The paro "attracted thousands of people, many of them drawn by the employers' federation promise of a day's salary if they took to the streets."[59]

With the strike, the positions of both government and opposition became more intractable. The opposition warned that if the 49 laws were not amended, they would take to the streets again to attempt to force the issue,[60] and later demanded the outright revocation of the laws.[61] The government, for its part, refused to consider amending the laws.[62][63]

2002: Coup and strike/lockout[edit]

The atmosphere of heightened confrontation initiated by the December 2001 paro cívico continued into the year 2002. The opposition formed a "Coordinating group for Democracy and Freedom," later known as the Democratic Coordinator (Coordinadora Democrática, CD) to organise joint action against the government. On 23 January, the opposition staged a massive march, which was met by a counter march by government sympathisers. On 4 February, a pro-government march was countered by opposition marches in several cities.[64]

According to economist Francisco Rodríguez, "real GDP contracted by 4.4 percent and the currency had lost more than 40 percent of its value in the first quarter of 2002 ... As early as January of that year, the Central Bank had already lost more than $7 billion in a futile attempt to defend the currency ... [an] economic crisis had started well before the political crisis—a fact that would be forgotten in the aftermath of the political tumult that followed."[65] A few months after the coup, in December 2002, the Chávez presidency faced a two-month strike organized by management at the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) when he took steps to dismiss 17,000 workers; the strike deepened the economic crisis and cut the government off from all-important oil revenue.[65] The CTV, supported by Fedecámaras and other opposition groups, called for a one-day strike for 9 April 2002; later it extended the strike for 24 hours, and then announced that it would be indefinite, and called for a march to the PDVSA headquarters in Caracas on 11 April in protest.[66] On late morning of the 11th, by which time hundreds of thousands of people were standing outside the PDVSA offices, CTV leader Carlos Ortega suddenly called for a continuation of the march to the presidential palace at Milaflores, saying "With a great sense of responsibility I address our nation to request in the name of democratic Venezuela. I do not rule out the possibility that the crowd, this human river marches united to Milaflores to expel a traitor to the Venezuelan people." and explicitly stated an objective to "remove Chávez."[67] At this time, however, Milaflores was already surrounded by Chávez supporters who had been conducting a vigil there since 9 April to protect the president; and, when news of the opposition's movements spread, thousands more rushed there to augment the pro-Chávez side. By early afternoon the two sides were about 200 metres apart.[68] Around 2:30, shooting began with gunfire killing both Chávez supporters and opposition while causing great confusion of who committed the violent actions.

After the shooting had begun, a group of dissident military officers, headed by Vice Admiral Ramirez Pérez, appeared on television and stated that "The President of the Republic has betrayed the trust of the people, he is massacring innocent people with snipers. Just now six people were killed and dozens wounded in Caracas." and that because of this they no longer recognised Chávez as president of Venezuela.[69] The message had been pre-recorded in the morning.[70][unreliable source?]. Chávez took over the Venezuelan airwaves several times in the early afternoon in what is termed a cadena, or a commandeering of the media airwaves to broadcast public announcements, asking protesters to return to their homes, playing lengthy pre-recorded discourses, and attempting to block coverage of the ensuing violence.

Then, unexpectedly, Lucas Rincón Romero, Commander-in-Chief of the National Armed Forces of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, announced in a nationwide broadcast that Chávez had tendered his resignation from the presidency. While Chávez was held in a military base, military leaders appointed the President of the Fedecámaras, Pedro Carmona, as Venezuela's interim president. Immediately Carmona issued a decree nullifying the constitution, dissolving parliament and the supreme court, abolishing the ombudsman, and firing governors and mayors.[71] He also reverted the country's name to República de Venezuela and reversed Chávez's main social and economic policies, loosening credit controls and ending oil price quotas by raising production back to pre-Chávez levels. The US government quickly gave diplomatic recognition to the coup plotters.

Carmona's decrees were followed by pro-Chávez uprisings and looting across Caracas. Responding to these disturbances, Venezuelan soldiers loyal to Chávez called for massive popular support for a counter-coup. These soldiers later stormed and retook the presidential palace, and retrieved Chávez from captivity. The shortest-lived government in Venezuelan history was thus toppled, and Chávez resumed his presidency on the night of Saturday, 13 April 2002. Following this episode, Rincón was reappointed by Chávez as Commander of the Army, and later as Interior Minister in 2003.[72]

Controversy about the coup[edit]

Chávez waves to supporters after disembarking at Salgado Filho Airport on 26 January 2003 while en route to the World Social Forum convened in Porto Alegre, Brazil (Agência Brasil).

After Chávez resumed his presidency in April 2002, he ordered several investigations to be carried out, and their official results supported Chávez's assertions that the 2002 coup was sponsored by the United States.[73] On 16 April 2002, Chávez claimed that a plane with U.S. registration numbers had visited and been berthed at Venezuela's Orchila Island airbase, where Chávez had been held captive. On 14 May 2002, Chávez alleged that he had definitive proof of U.S. military involvement in April's coup. He claimed that during the coup Venezuelan radar images had indicated the presence of U.S. military naval vessels and aircraft in Venezuelan waters and airspace. The Guardian published a claim by Wayne Madsen – a writer (at the time) for left-wing publications, conspiracy theorist and a former Navy analyst and critic of the George W. Bush administration – alleging U.S. Navy involvement.[74] U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, D-CT, requested an investigation of concerns that Washington appeared to condone the removal of Mr Chavez,[75][76] which subsequently found that "U.S. officials acted appropriately and did nothing to encourage an April coup against Venezuela's president", nor did they provide any naval logistical support.[77][78] According to Democracy Now!, CIA documents indicate that the Bush administration knew about a plot weeks before the April 2002 military coup. They cite a document dated 6 April 2002, which says: "dissident military factions... are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month." According to William Brownfield, ambassador to Venezuela, the US embassy in Venezuela warned Chávez about a coup plot in April 2002.[79] The United States Department of State and the investigation by the Office of the Inspector General found no evidence that "US assistance programs in Venezuela, including those funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), were inconsistent with US law or policy" or "... directly contributed, or was intended to contribute, to [the coup d'état]."[77][80] Payments by the NED had been stepped up in the weeks preceding the coup. According to The Observer, the coup was approved by the government of the United States, acting through senior officials, including Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams, who had long histories in the US-backed "dirty wars" in Central America in the 1980s, and top coup plotters, including Pedro Carmona himself, began visits to the White House months before the coup and with the man President George Bush tasked to be his key policy-maker for Latin America, Otto Reich.[81] Carmona also met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Bogota, Colombia, on the second day of the 2002–2003 oil strike, and frequently met with the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Ann Paterson.[82]

Chávez also claimed, during the coup's immediate aftermath, that the U.S. was still seeking his overthrow. On 6 October 2002, he stated that he had foiled a new coup plot, and on 20 October 2002, he stated that he had barely escaped an assassination attempt while returning from a trip to Europe.[33] During that period, the US Ambassador to Venezuela warned the Chávez administration of two potential assassination plots.[79]

After the coup[edit]

Following his return to office, Chávez quickly took steps to secure support for his government. First, Chávez replaced key generals and held at least five top military leaders including the head of the army.[83] Chávez attempted conciliation by replacing some of his cabinet ministers with people more acceptable to the opposition, reinstating the PDVSA managers whom he had fired in February and removing their replacements, and inviting various international figures and organisations to the country to help mediate between the government and opposition.[84] Chávez also took another measure to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of the coup attempt: he sought to strengthen support among rank and file soldiers by boosting support programs, employment, and benefits for veterans. He also promulgated new civilian-military development initiatives.

Despite these measures, conflict simmered throughout the rest of 2002. On 22 October 14 military officers who had been suspended for participating in the coup, led by General Enrique Medina Gómez, occupied the Francia de Altamira Plaza in a wealthy Eastern Caracas neighbourhood and declared it a "liberated territory".[85] In early November, there was a major clash of government and opposition demonstrators in downtown Caracas; and, in the middle of the month, a shootout which resulted in three deaths occurred in Caracas' Bolivar Plaza between the Metropolitan Police and the National Guard.[86]

General strike[edit]

Fedecámaras and the CTV called for a fourth paro cívico to begin on 2 December 2002. This strike, known as the Venezuelan general strike of 2002–2003, turned out to be the most significant of the four strikes. On 4 December, the opposition called for a day of signature gathering for a recall referendum.[87] The key element of the paro was the stoppage of production at Petróleos de Venezuela, which was effected by management's locking workers out of facilities. According to some sources, it also included changing computer passwords so as to disable equipment,[88] and performing other acts of sabotage.[89] Petroleum production soon fell to one-third normal. Venezuela had to begin importing oil to meet its foreign obligations; domestically, gasoline for cars became virtually unobtainable, with many filling stations closed and long queues at others.[90] Many privately-owned businesses closed or went on short time, some out of sympathy for the strike, others because of the fuel shortage and economic paralysis.

The private media backed the strike: Venezuelan-American lawyer Eva Golinger writes that, "In support of the opposition's objectives, the private media symbolically joined the strike by suspending all regular programming and commercials and donating one hundred percent of air space to the opposition."[91] Large pro- and anti-Chávez marches were held in the first weeks of the strike, which on 9 December the opposition had declared to be of indefinite duration. Before the strike began to dissolve in February 2003, it produced severe economic dislocation. Reportedly, millions of citizens, even in the middle of Caracas, reverted to using wood fires to cook their food.[92] The country's GDP fell 25% during the first trimester of 2003; open unemployment, which was running about 15% before and after the shutdown, reached 20.3% in March 2003; the volume of crude oil produced was 5% less in 2003 than the previous year; and the volume of refined oil products was 17% less.[93]

The strike began to dissolve in February 2003, when "small- and medium-sized businesses reopened their doors, admitting that the strike now threatened to turn into a 'suicide watch' that could well bankrupt their businesses for good."[94] The government gradually reestablished control over PDVSA; oil production reached pre-strike levels by April 2003.[95] In the aftermath of the strike, the government fired 18,000 PDVSA employees, 40% of the company's workforce, for "dereliction of duty" during the strike.[96]

2003–2004: Recall vote[edit]

A rally in Caracas

In 2003 and 2004 Chávez launched a number of social and economic campaigns which had become possible as for the first time he had a good economy and the oil industry, which produces 80% of Venezuela's exports by value, 25% of its GDP, and 50% of the government's income, was for the first time not under hostile management. In July 2003 he launched "Mission Robinson", billed as a campaign aimed at providing free reading, writing and arithmetic lessons to the more than 1.5 million Venezuelan adults who were illiterate prior to his 1999 election. On 12 October 2003, Chávez initiated "Mission Guaicaipuro", a program billed as protecting the livelihood, religion, land, culture, and rights of Venezuela's indigenous peoples. In late 2003, the Venezuelan president launched "Mission Sucre" (named after independence-war hero General Antonio Jose de Sucre), which is primarily a scholarship program for higher education. As of about 2005, it was giving out about 100,000 need-based grants each year to bright students who would have been financially barred from university education in the past.[97] In November 2003, Chávez announced "Mission Ribas", with the promise of providing remedial education and diplomas for Venezuela's five million high school dropouts. On the first anniversary of Mission Robinson's establishment, Chávez stated in Caracas's Teresa Carreño theater to an audience of 50,000 formerly illiterate Venezuelans, "in a year, we have graduated 1,250,000 Venezuelans." Nevertheless, there were also significant setbacks. Notably, the inflation rate rocketed to 31% in 2002 and remained at the high level of 27% in 2003, causing a great deal of hardship for the poor.

On 9 May 2004, a group of 126 Colombians were captured during a raid of a farm near Caracas. Chávez soon accused them of being a foreign-funded paramilitary force who intended to violently overthrow his rule.[98] These events merely served to further the extreme and violent polarization of Venezuelan society between pro- and anti-Chávez camps. Chávez's allegations of a putative 2004 coup attempt continue to stir controversy and doubts to this day.[98] In October 2005, 27 of the accused Colombians were found guilty, while the rest were released and deported.[99]

In early and mid-2003, Súmate, a grassroots volunteer civilian voter rights organization, began the process of collecting the millions of signatures needed to activate the presidential recall provision provided for in Chávez's 1999 Constitution. In August 2003, around 3.2 million signatures were presented, but these were rejected by the pro-Chávez majority in the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE; "National Electoral Council") on the grounds that many had been collected before the midpoint of Chávez's presidential term.[100] Reports then began to emerge among opposition and international news outlets that Chávez had begun to act punitively against those who had signed the petition, while pro-Chávez individuals stated that they had been coerced by employers into offering their signatures at their workplaces. In November 2003, the opposition collected an entirely new set of signatures, with 3.6 million names produced over a span of four days. Riots erupted nationwide as allegations of fraud were made by Chávez against the signature collectors.

The provision in the Constitution allowing for a presidential recall requires the signatures of 20% of the electorate in order to effect a recall. Further, the cedulas (national identity card numbers) and identities of petition signers are not secret, and in fact were made public by Luis Tascón, a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly representing Chávez' party (Fifth Republic Movement - MVR) and the Communist Party of Venezuela of Táchira state. The government was accused of increasing the voter rolls by giving citizenship to illegal immigrants and refugees; and the opposition claimed that it was a citizenship for votes program. Voter registration increased by about 2 million people ahead of the referendum, which in effect raised the threshold of the 20% of the electorate needed to effect a recall.[101]

Reports again emerged that Chávez and his allies were penalizing signers of the publicly posted petition. Charges were made of summary dismissals from government ministries, PDVSA, the state-owned oil corporation, the Caracas Metro, and public hospitals controlled by Chávez's political allies. Finally, after opposition leaders submitted to the CNE a valid petition with 2,436,830 signatures that requested a presidential recall referendum, a recall referendum was announced on 8 June 2004 by the CNE. Chávez and his political allies responded to this by mobilizing supporters to encourage rejection of the recall with a "no" vote.

The recall vote itself was held on 15 August 2004. A record number of voters turned out to defeat the recall attempt with a 59% "no" vote.[102][103] The election was overseen by the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, and was certified by them as fair and open.[104] European Union observers did not attend, saying the government had placed too many restrictions on their participation.[105] Critics called the results fraudulent, citing documents which indicated that the true results were the complete opposite of the reported ones, and raising questions about the government ownership of voting machines. "Massive fraud" was alleged and Carter's conclusions were questioned,[106] although five other opposition polls showed a Chávez victory.[107]

While the OAS observers and a reluctant Bush administration, endorsed the results, a few critics, including economists Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard and Roberto Rigobon of MIT, alleged that certain procedures in the election may have allowed the government to cheat.[108] The Carter Center admitted Taylor had "found a mistake in one of the models of his analysis which lowered the predicted number of tied machines, but which still found the actual result to lie within statistical possibility."[109]

A jubilant Chávez pledged to redouble his efforts against both poverty and "imperialism," while promising to foster dialogue with his opponents. Chávez's government subsequently charged the founders of Súmate with treason and conspiracy for receiving foreign funds, earmarked for voter education, from the United States Department of State through the National Endowment for Democracy, triggering commentary from human rights organizations and the U.S. government.[110][111][112] The trial has been postponed several times. A program called "Mission Identity", to fast track voter registration of immigrants to Venezuela—including Chávez supporters benefiting from his subsidies—has been put in place prior to the upcoming 2006 presidential elections.[101]

2004–2005: Focus on foreign relations[edit]

In the aftermath of his referendum victory, Chávez's primary objectives of fundamental social and economic transformation and redistribution accelerated dramatically. Chávez himself placed the development and implementation of the "Bolivarian Missions" once again at the forefront of his political agenda. Sharp increases in global oil prices gave Chávez access to billions of dollars in extra foreign exchange reserves. Economic growth picked up markedly, reaching double-digit growth in 2004 and a 9.3% growth rate for 2005.[citation needed]

Many new policy initiatives were advanced by Chávez after 2004. In late March 2005, the Chávez government passed a series of media regulations that criminalised broadcast libel and slander directed against public officials; prison sentences of up to 40 months for serious instances of character defamation launched against Chávez and other officials were enacted. When asked if he would ever actually move to use the 40-month sentence if a media figure insulted him, Chávez remarked that "I don't care if they [the private media] call me names.... As Don Quixote said, 'If the dogs are barking, it is because we are working.'"[113] Chávez also worked to expand his land redistribution and social welfare programs by authorizing and funding a multitude of new "Bolivarian Missions," including "Mission Vuelta al Campo"; the second and third phases of "Mission Barrio Adentro", both first initiated in June 2005 with the stated aim of constructing, funding, and refurbishing secondary (integrated diagnostic center) and tertiary (hospital) public health care facilities nationwide; and "Mission Miranda, which established a national citizen's militia. Meanwhile, Venezuela's doctors went on strike, protesting the siphoning of public funds from their existing institutions to these new Bolivarian ones, run by Cuban doctors.[citation needed]

Chávez focused considerably on Venezuela's foreign relations in 2004 and 2005 via new bilateral and multilateral agreements, including humanitarian aid and construction projects. Chávez has engaged, with varying degrees of success, numerous other foreign leaders, including Argentina's Néstor Kirchner, China's Hu Jintao, Cuba's Fidel Castro, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Russia's Vladimir Putin. On 4 March 2005, Chávez publicly declared that the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was "dead".[citation needed] Chávez stated that the neoliberal model of development had utterly failed in improving the lives of Latin Americans, and that an alternative, anti-capitalist model would be conceived in order to increase trade and relations between Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. Chávez also stated his desire that a leftist, Latin American analogue of NATO be established.[citation needed]

Chávez embraces Argentinian President Néstor Kirchner during the closing of a July 2004 joint press conference held in Venezuela (Office of the Argentine Presidency).

Over the course of 2004 and 2005, the Venezuelan military under Chávez also began in earnest to reduce weaponry sourcing and military ties with the United States. Chávez's Venezuela is thus increasingly purchasing arms from alternative sources, such as Brazil, Russia, China and Spain. Friction over these sales escalated, and in response Chávez ended cooperation between the militaries of the two countries. He also asked all active-duty U.S. soldiers to leave Venezuela. Additionally, in 2005 Chávez announced the creation of a large "military reserve"—the Mission Miranda program, which encompasses a militia of 1.5 million citizens—as a defensive measure against foreign intervention or outright invasion.[114] Additionally, in October 2005, Chávez banished the Christian missionary organization "New Tribes Mission" from the country, accusing it of "imperialist infiltration" and harboring connections with the CIA.[115] At the same time, he granted inalienable titles to over 6,800 square kilometres of land traditionally inhabited by Amazonian indigenous peoples to their respective resident natives, though this land could not be bought or sold as Western-style title deeds can. Chávez cited these changes as evidence that his revolution was also a revolution for the defense of indigenous rights, such as those promoted by Chávez's Mission Guaicaipuro.

During this period, Chávez placed much greater emphasis on alternative economic development and international trade models, much of it in the form of extremely ambitious hemisphere-wide international aid agreements. For example, on 20 August 2005, during the first graduation of international scholarship students from Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine, Chávez announced that he would jointly establish with Cuba a second such medical school that would provide tuition-free medical training—an ex gratia project valued at between $20 and 30 billion—to more than 100,000 physicians who would pledge to work in the poorest communities of the Global South. He announced that the project would run for the next decade, and that the new school would include at least 30,000 new places for poor students from both Latin America and the Caribbean.[116]

Chávez has also taken ample opportunity on the international stage to juxtapose such projects with the manifest results and workings of neoliberal globalization. Most notably, during his speech at the 2005 UN World Summit, he denounced development models that are organised around neoliberal guidelines such as liberalisation of capital flows, removal of trade barriers, and privatisation as the reason for the developing world's impoverishment. Chávez also went on to warn of an imminent global energy famine brought about by hydrocarbon depletion (based on Hubbert peak theory), stating that "we are facing an unprecedented energy crisis.... Oil is starting to become exhausted."[117] Additionally, on 7 November 2005, Chávez referenced the stalling of the FTAA, stating at the Fourth Summit of the Americas, held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, that "the great loser today was George W. Bush. The man went away wounded. You could see defeat on his face." Chávez took the same opportunity to state that "the taste of victory" was apparent with regards to the promotion of his own trade alternative, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA—Alternativa Bolivariana para América), which Venezuela and Cuba inaugurated on 14 December 2004.[118]

In 2005, Chávez demanded the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, accused of conspiring to bomb Cubana Flight 455. A Texas judge blocked the extradition on the grounds that he could be tortured in Venezuela; the Venezuelan embassy blamed the Department of Homeland Security for refusing to contest such accusations during the trial.[119] Chávez also requested the extradition of former Venezuelan officers and members of Militares democraticos, Lt. German Rodolfo Varela and Lt. Jose Antonio Colina, who are wanted for bombing the Spanish and Colombian embassies after Chávez made a speech criticizing both governments.[120][121]


In December 2005, the BBC said that Chavez "has made no secret of the fact that he is in favour of amending the constitution so that he can run again for president in 2012."[122] He has stated that he intends to retire from the Venezuelan presidency in 2021.[123] The following year Chavez sought re-election and his approval ratings in August stood at 55%.[124]

In 2006 Chávez announced Venezuela's bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council; Washington officials encouraged Latin American and Caribbean nations to vote instead for Guatemala.[125] Analysts quoted by Forbes magazine said that Chávez would offer to supply 20% of China's crude oil needs if Beijing backed Venezuela's bid to join the UN Security Council.[126] In Chile, the press was concerned that Venezuelan grants for flood aid might affect the government's decision about which country to support for admission to the UN Security Council.[127] However, Venezuela was never able to obtain more votes than Guatemala in the forty-one separate UN votes in October 2006.[128] Because of this deadlock in voting, Panama was selected as a consensus candidate and subsequently won the election for Latin America's seat on the Security Council.

In accordance with his foreign policy trends, Chávez has visited several countries in Latin America, as well as Portugal, Belarus, Russia, Qatar, Syria, Iran, Vietnam, Mali and Benin. At the request of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Chávez also attended the 2006 summit of the African Union in Banjul. He also visited the People's Republic of China and Malaysia.

In 2006 Chavez accused the United States government of attempting to turn Colombia into Venezuela's adversary over the recent arms dispute. "The U.S. empire doesn't lose a chance to attack us and try to create discord between us. That's one of the empire's strategies: Try to keep us divided." Chavez said in response to the United States government.[129]

Chávez again won the OAS and Carter Center certification of the national election on 3 December 2006 with 63% of the vote,[130] beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales who conceded his loss on 4 December 2006.[131] After his victory, Chávez promised a more radical turn towards socialism.[132]

According to Datos Information Resources, family income among the poorest stratum grew more than 150% between 2003 and 2006.[133]

The President of Argentina Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, with Hugo Chávez 5 March 2008.

On 8 January 2007 President Chávez installed a new cabinet, replacing most of the ministers. Jorge Rodríguez was designated the new vice president, replacing José Vicente Rangel. Chávez announced that he will send to the National Assembly a new enabling act, asking for the authority to re-nationalize the biggest phone company of the country (Cantv), and other companies from the electrical sector, all previously public companies which were privatized by past administrations. He also asked to eliminate the autonomy of the Central Bank.[134]

On 31 January 2007 the Venezuelan National Assembly approved an enabling act granting Chávez the power to rule by decree in certain areas for 18 months. He plans to continue his Bolivarian Revolution, enacting economic and social changes. He has said he wants to nationalize key sectors of the economy.[135][136] Chávez, who is beginning a fresh six-year term, says the legislation will be the start of a new era of "maximum revolution" during which he will consolidate Venezuela's transformation into a socialist society. A few critics, however, are calling it a step towards greater authority by a leader with unchecked power.[137][138]

On 8 February 2007 the Venezuelan government signed an agreement to buy an 82.14% stake in Electricidad de Caracas from AES Corporation. Paul Hanrahan, president and CEO of AES said the deal has been a fair process that respected the rights of investors.[139] In February 2007, the Venezuelan government bought a 28.5% stake of the shares of CANTV from Verizon Communications.[140]

On 30 April 2007 Chávez announced that Venezuela would be formally pulling out of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, having paid off its debts five years ahead of schedule and so saving US$8 million.[141] The debt was US$3 billion in 1999.[142] Chávez then announced the creation of a regional bank, the Bank of the South, and said that the IMF and the World Bank were in crisis.[143]

The next day he announced intentions to re-take control of oil projects in the Orinoco Belt, which he said are "the world's largest crude reserve."[144] These reserves, which can be exploited with modern technologies, may place Venezuela ahead of Saudi Arabia in terms of oil reserves.[145]

In May 2007, the Chavez government refused to renew the license of the nation's most popular television station, Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), alleging the company participated in the 2002 coup d'état. This led to many, prolonged protests in Caracas. Also, tens of thousands have marched through Caracas to support President Chávez's decision.[146]

Speech to the United Nations[edit]

On 20 September 2006, Chávez delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly damning U.S. President George Bush.[147] In the speech Chavez referred to Bush as "the devil," adding that Bush, who had given a speech to the assembly a day earlier, had come to the General Assembly to "share his nostrums to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world."[148][149] Although it was widely condemned by U.S. politicians and the American media,[150][151][152] the speech received "wild applause" in the Assembly, and the speech came at a time President George W. Bush's approval rating was at a low point among Americans.[153][154]

Subsidising heating fuel for the poor in the U.S.[edit]

In 2005, President Chávez initiated a program to provide cheaper heating fuel for poor people in several areas of the United States (New York Daily News, 21 September 2006). The program was expanded in September 2006 to include four of New York City's five boroughs, earmarking 25 million gallons of fuel for low-income New York residents this year at 40% off the wholesale market price. That quantity provides sufficient fuel to heat 70,000 apartments, covering 200,000 New Yorkers, for the entire winter (New York Daily News, 21 September 2006). It has also been reported that Chavez is sending heating oil to poor, remote villages in Alaska. Some have questioned the motives of this generosity. Legislative leaders in Maine have asked that state's governor to refuse the subsidised oil,[155] and New York Daily News criticized his offer by calling him an "oil pimp".[156]

Latin American Summit incident[edit]

In November 2007 at the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago de Chile, Chávez and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero were engaged in a heated exchange. Chávez, irritated by Zapatero's suggestion that Latin America needed to attract more foreign capital, referred to former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar as a fascist.[157] Zapatero asked Chávez to use proper decorum. Although his microphone had by that point been turned off as his time was up, Zapatero was within earshot and engaged with Chávez who continued to interrupt the prime minister, attempting to make a point. King Juan Carlos I of Spain then pointed his finger at Chávez, telling him, "¿Por qué no te callas?" (Why don't you shut up?).[158] Chávez later said he did not hear Juan Carlos.[159] President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, next to speak, ceded a minute of his time to Chávez to allow him to finish his point. Ortega then proceeded to add emphasis to Chávez's points by suggesting that Spain had used intervention in his country's elections. Ortega also referred to the monopoly of the Spanish energy company Union Fenosa on the impoverished counties' privatized power utility.[160] The king, followed by an aide, stood up and walked out of the event[161]—an unprecedented diplomatic incident, especially because the king had never before shown any sign of irritability.

Constitutional referendum[edit]

On 15 August 2007, Chavez called for an end to presidential term limits. He also proposed limiting central bank autonomy, strengthening state expropriation powers and providing for public control over international reserves as part of an overhaul of Venezuela's constitution. In accordance with the 1999 constitution, Chavez proposed the changes to the constitution, which were then approved by the National Assembly. The final test was a 2 December 2007 referendum.[162]

On 1 November 2007, a massive protest was staged in Caracas, led by many Venezuelan students, calling on the National Electoral Council in Caracas to postpone the referendum on the proposed constitutional reforms.[163] Chavistas holding a demonstration in support of the reforms clashed with the protesters and the scene turned violent, prompting police action.[164] Since then, the global community has criticized Chavez for excessive police action.[165] The President denounced the opposition protest as resorting to "fascist violence" on 9 November 2007.[166]

On 26 November 2007 the Venezuelan government broadcast and circulated an alleged confidential memo from the US embassy to the CIA. The memo allegedly contains an update on US clandestine operations against the Chavez government. Although Independent analysts find it to be "quite suspect".[167] Two days before the constitutional referendum, Chávez threatened to cut off oil shipments to the US if it criticized the voting results.[168]

The referendum was defeated on 2 December 2007, with 51% of the voters rejecting the amendments proposed by Chávez.[169] Chávez stated that he would step down at the end of his second term in 2013.[170] In November 2008, he proposed another constitutional amendment removing term limits, so that he could remain in office until as late as 2021.[171] This time, the resolution passed with 54% voting in favor after 94% of the votes have been counted.[172]

From 2009: Term limits eliminated and human rights abuses[edit]

On 15 February 2009, Chávez won a referendum to eliminate term limits,[173] allowing him to run for re-election indefinitely.[174] Subsequently, polls showed most Venezuelans did not want him to continue indefinitely, and expressed increasing concern over crime, the economy, and infrastructure;[175] and increasing consolidation of power.[175][176] A staunch former ally who was instrumental in returning Chávez to power in 2002, Raúl Baduel, broke with Chávez after being charged with corruption and accused him of being a tyrant.[177]

In March 2009 the Venezuelan government banned trawl fishing, largely employed by shrimp boats for shrimp exports, in a measure aimed at supporting coastal biodiversity and supporting the livelihoods of small fishermen. Small-scale fishermen, who account for 70% of Venezuela's fish production, have petitioned for the measure for decades.[178]

A 2010 OAS report[179] indicated "achievements with regard to the eradication of illiteracy, the set up of a primary health network, land distribution and the reduction of poverty",[180] and "improvements in the areas of economic, social, and cultural rights".[181] The report also found "blistering" concerns with freedom of expression, human rights abuses, authoritarianism,[182] and "the existence of a pattern of impunity in cases of violence",[183] as well as erosion of separation of powers and "severe economic, infrastructure, and social headaches".[184]

Chávez rejected the 2010 OAS report, calling it "pure garbage", and said Venezuela should boycott the OAS; a spokesperson said, "We don't recognize the commission as an impartial institution". He disclaims any power to influence the judiciary.[185] A Venezuelan official said the report distorts and takes statistics out of context, saying that "human rights violations in Venezuela have decreased".[186]

According to the National Public Radio, the report discusses decreasing rights of opposition to the government and "goes into heavy detail" about control of the judiciary. It says elections are free, but the state has increasing control over media and state resources used during election campaigns, and opposition elected officials have "been prevented from actually carrying out their duties afterward".[187]

American economist Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said that the government controls 5–6% of all media outlets in the country;[188] Le Monde diplomatique say 70% of the country's radio and TV stations are privately owned.[189] Weisbrot, writing for The Guardian, observed that "a journalist can say almost anything about Chávez or his government and it is unlikely to be challenged, so long as it is negative", saying Venezuela is the most lied-about country in the world.[190]

CNN says the "lack of independence by Venezuela's judiciary and legislature in their dealings with Chavez often leads to the abuses",[183] and the Wall Street Journal blames the government of Chavez.[184]

On 7 October 2012, Chávez won his country's presidential election for a third time, defeating Henrique Capriles for another six-year term.[191] The American press has often demonized the political process in the country, calling the government a "dictatorship".[192][193] However, former US President Jimmy Carter, through his not-for-profit organization Carter Center, remarked, "As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world."[190] His victory was short-lived, however, as Chavez died five months later, on 5 March 2013.

Crime statistics[edit]

The Chávez government has often been criticized for letting crime worsen. The murder rate in Venezuela was about 19 murders per 100,000 in 1999. It had risen to 75 murders per 100,000 for 2011 according to non-governmental sources and to 48 murders per 100,000 upon admission by the Minister of Justice. The national government stopped publishing regular data on the murder rate in 2004.[194][195] However, in 2009, then Minister of Interior Affairs and Justice Tareck el-Aissami started massive[clarification needed] reforms in police and security services and started to replace "old" police with new "bolivarian" police. According to new statistics, in area where "old" police was replaced by "bolivarian" police, criminality including murders dropped by 30–50%. Despite the efforts, the murder rate reached new record highs in 2011 and again in 2012.[196]

Arms importation[edit]

Venezuela became the eighth-most-important weapons importing country in 2011 according to the Russian Centre for the Analysis of the Arms Trade, surpassing Turkey and Pakistan.[197] As of 2012, Venezuela had about US$7.2 billion in debt for the purchase of weapons from Russia.[198]

Nicolás Maduro[edit]

President Maduro was formally inaugurated as President of Venezuela on 19 April 2013, after the election commission had promised a full audit of the election results.[199][200]

In October 2013, Maduro requested an enabling law to rule by decree in order to fight corruption[201][202] and to also fight what he called an 'economic war'.[203] On 24 October, he also announced the creation of a new agency, the Vice Ministry for the Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People,[204] to coordinate all social programmes.[205] In November 2013, weeks before the local elections, President Maduro used his special decree powers and ordered the military to take over appliance stores. Analysts said that the move amounted to a "cannibalizing" of the economy and that it might lead to even more shortages in the future.[206][207] An article by The Guardian noted that a "significant proportion" of the subsidized basic goods in short supply were being smuggled into Colombia and sold for far higher prices.[208] In February 2014, the government said it had confiscated more than 3,500 tons of contraband on the border with Colombia—food and fuel which, it said, was intended for "smuggling" or "speculation." The president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, said that the confiscated food should be given to the Venezuelan people, and should not be "in the hands of these gangsters."[209]

On 28 March 2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court removed the immunity for parliamentary assembly members, the majority of whom were anti-Maduro.[210] On 30 March 2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court took over law making powers from the National Assembly,[211] but this decision was reversed on 1 April 2017.[212]

The process and results of the May 2018 Venezuelan presidential election were widely disputed.[213][214] The opposition-majority National Assembly declared Maduro's presidency illegitimate on the day of his second inauguration, citing the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela enacted under Hugo Chávez, Maduro's predecessor. The body declared that his reelection was invalid, and declared its president, Juan Guaidó, to be acting president of the country.[215] The pro-Maduro Supreme Tribunal of Justice said the National Assembly's declaration was unconstitutional.[214] Since January there has been a presidential crisis in Venezuela.


  1. ^ On the economic and social situation: Lander, pp 21–25; McCaughan, pp 31–34; The Militant, 21 December 1998.
  2. ^ Venezuela Information Office, "A More Just Foreign Policy?" (see Sources section) p 67.
  3. ^ "The upper and middle classes did not see their ever-increasing levels of consumption and cosmopolitan cultural orientation as threatened by popular demands, since state income continued to rise. Expanded education, health, and public works expenditure did not depend on taxing private wealth." – Lander, p 21.
  4. ^ McCaughan, p 31.
  5. ^ a b c Lander, p 22.
  6. ^ McCaughan, p 32.
  7. ^ Lander, p 22
  8. ^ Lander, p 23
  9. ^ McCaughan, p 32
  10. ^ The Militant, 21 December 1998.
  11. ^ The quote is from Lander, p 25. On the IMF program, McCaughan p 32.
  12. ^ Lander, p 25
  13. ^ Lander, p 25, says "the principal cities of the country."
  14. ^ Mc Caughan, p 34; Lander, p 25; The Militant, 21 December 1998.
  15. ^ McCaughan, p 35. Also, The Militant, 21 December 1998: "Both Democratic action and COPEI were completely discredited after those events, while Chávez was elevated to hero status. For weeks after the coup, slum residents rallied in support of the arrested officers."
  16. ^ McCaughan, p 36. New York Times, 21 May 1993, said that Pérez was accused by the prosecutor of making about $10 million by changing a discretionary fund into dollars at a preferential rate, then, after an 88% devaluation of the Bolivar, reconverting it to Bolivares.
  17. ^ McCaughan, p 43; New York Times, 5 December 1993
  18. ^ a b McCaughan, p 44.
  19. ^ On the strike: Workers World 9 December 1996. On the legislation to govern by decree: BBC World Service, 28 August 1998.
  20. ^ McCaughan, p 47.
  21. ^ McCaughan, p 48.
  22. ^ (New York Times, 2 September 1998, section A, page 11).
  23. ^ (BBC World Service, 9 November 1998).
  24. ^ (La Jornada, Mexico, 3 December 1998; also The Militant, 21 December 1998).
  25. ^ (New York Times, 8 December 1998, section A, page 26; The Militant, 21 December 1998).
  26. ^ (New York Times, 2 September 1998, A 11; El Nuevo Diario, Managua, 8 October 1998; La Jornada, Mexico, 3 December 1998; New York Times, 8 December 1998, A 26).
  27. ^ (El Nuevo Diario, Managua, 8 October 1998; La Jornada, Mexico, 3 December 1998; New York Times, 8 December 1998, A 26).
  28. ^ (The Militant, 21 December 1998; U.S. News & World Report, 13 December 1998).
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Nelson, Brian A. (2009). The silence and the scorpion: the coup against Chávez and the making of modern Venezuela ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). New York: Nation Books. pp. 1–8. ISBN 978-1568584188.
  30. ^ López Maya, p 12.
  31. ^ a b Heritage, Andrew (December 2002). Financial Times World Desk Reference. Dorling Kindersley. pp. 618–621. ISBN 9780789488053.
  32. ^ Ellner, Steve. (North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), 17 October 2005). "Venezuela's "Demonstration Effect": Defying Globalization's Logic". Venezuelanalysis.com. Retrieved 9 November 2005.
  33. ^ a b Center for Cooperative Research. Profile: Hugo Chávez Frias Archived 12 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 8 November 2005.
  34. ^ Gott 2005. pp. 178–179.
  35. ^ Kozloff 2006. pp. 83–84.
  36. ^ Marcano and Tyszka 2007. p. 138.
  37. ^ Text of report by Patrick J. O'Donoghue: "President Hugo Chávez, Copyright 2004 British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC Monitoring Latin America - Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 19 January 2004.
  38. ^ Venezuela Information Center, "The truth about Venezuela's presidential election." (see sources section.)
  39. ^ Election results are from McCaughan, p. 52.
  40. ^ McCaughan, p 56.
  41. ^ Russell Pelle, "Venezuela enters 2000 with progressive new constitution," People's Weekly World.
  42. ^ Larry Rohter, "Voters Push Power Toward Venezuela Leader," New York Times, 26 July 1999.
  43. ^ Larry Rohter, New York Times, 27 August 2009.
  44. ^ El Pais (Spanish), 11 September 1999
  45. ^ Gregory Wilpert, "Venezuela's New Constitution", Venezuelanalysis.com, 27 August 2003. Retrieved 2009.
  46. ^ BBC News. (BBC, 29 December 1999). "Venezuela disaster 'worst this century'". Retrieved 10 June 2006.
  47. ^ BBC News. (BBC, 21 December 1999). "Analysis: Floods a test for Chavez". Retrieved 10 June 2006.
  48. ^ Kriner, Stephanie. (Red Cross, 2000). "Flooding Returns to Venezuela" Archived 16 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 10 June 2006.
  49. ^ Neumann, Laura; Jennifer McCoy (February 2001). "Observing Political Change in Venezuela: The Bolivarian Constitution and 2000 Elections. Final Report" (PDF). Carter Center. pp. pp. 71–72. Retrieved 30 December 2006.
  50. ^ Neumann(2001), p. 10.
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