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Venezuela Modern History

Militants mainly ruled Venezuela until 1957, when a settlement of power sharing was reached to create stability and democracy. Oil revenues made the country quite prosperous. Falling oil prices eventually contributed to social unrest and in 1992 two coup attempts were carried out. The unrest continued until former coup leader Hugo Chávez took office as president in 1999. He initiated the "Bolivarian Revolution", a partially homesick socialist social experiment that had devastating consequences.

Venezuela was ruled by militants largely uninterrupted from independence from 1830 to 1945 when a coup was carried out by Rómulo Betancourt, founder of the Social Democratic Party Democratic Action (AD), and a group of changing militants. In power came a military-civil alliance that talked about human rights, introduced social legislation and allowed free elections. The coalition had been in power for three years before another period of military dictatorship began under Colonel Marcos Pérez Jiménez. During his time, the economy flourished thanks to rising oil revenues.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Venezuela. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The country's two major political parties, AD and Christian Democrat Copei, as well as representatives from the Catholic Church, trade unions and the private sector, agreed in 1957 to work together to create political stability and democracy. The collaboration was called the Punto Fijo Pact, after a city on the coast, and meant, among other things, that AD and Copei would share in politically appointed posts. In 1958, the dictator Jiménez was deposed and thereafter elections were held every five years.

Initially, the Punto Fijo Pact was popular. It provided political stability and, thanks to oil revenues, continued to increase welfare. But the pact also meant that other political forces, such as the Communist Party, were excluded from power.

Contemporary History of VenezuelaIn 1973, Social Democrat Carlos Andrés Pérez, popularly known as CAP, was elected president. In the mid-1970s, oil revenues were large and the oil industry was nationalized. Times were good and the president implemented extensive social programs. The standard of living was the highest on the continent. Moving into the cities increased and a large middle class emerged. But by the end of the CAP presidential term, corruption rumors were buzzing and the Christian Democrats won the 1978 election.

The coup maker Chávez becomes the hero of the people

During the 1980s, oil revenues fell, foreign debt increased and the population grew explosively. The gap between rich and poor increased. In 1988, CAP was re-elected president. He took over a country in economic crisis in February 1989 and contrary to what many had wished he tightened the economy. Just a few weeks after the change of power, the government subsidies on gasoline and public transport were abolished, which triggered extensive riots. Thousands of people took to the streets of Caracas and in just a few hours the capital had turned into a chaos where shops were plundered. Hundreds of people were killed in the riots that came to be called Caracazo (a game of words that means "big bang in Caracas"). CAP's popularity declined and criticism grew against the Punto-Fijo Pact.

In 1990, inflation fell and growth was again among the highest in Latin America, but the standard of living was below the 1970s. People lost faith that the wealth of the rich would spread to other social groups and thus benefit everyone. President CAP was criticized by nationalists for opening up foreign investment in the oil industry.

In February 1992, the president was subjected to a coup attempt, the first in 30 years. About 40 people were killed, but CAP escaped and the coup makers were arrested. However, the coup leader, Lieutenant Commander Hugo Chávez, became popular and during his time in prison he was worshiped as a hero of the people.

Just six months later, a second coup attempt was carried out by a group with loose connections to Chávez. During two days of violence, 230 people died. The coup attempts shocked the outside world, which had seen Venezuela as a peaceful and stable exception in troubled Latin America.

In March 1993, charges were filed against the President for embezzling $ 17 million from the Treasury. CAP was later jailed and sentenced to 28 months in prison for theft of public funds.

The "Bolivarian Revolution" begins

The successor was the independent presidential candidate Rafael Caldera, founder of Copei. It was the first time since 1958 that neither AD nor Copei won the presidential election. In 1994, Caldera was sworn in as president and immediately released Hugo Chávez and his buddies from prison. In the same year, Venezuela suffered a serious banking crisis and the state took over several of the larger banks. Inflation rose to over 70 percent, growth dropped, the value of the currency fell sharply and capital flight accelerated, forcing new, drastic savings programs.

Falling oil prices, rising inflation, depleted national currency reserves, a large foreign debt and demands for pay raises put pressure on the president, who wavered between meeting people's demands for welfare initiatives and the need to tighten the strap. On some occasions, security forces were deployed against protesters. The entire 1990s were characterized by protests against the governments' economic policies. In addition, crime increased, and the gap between rich and poor grew. The country was also hit by several natural disasters. In 1999, heavy rains triggered large landslides, which buried entire communities and killed 30,000 people.

The dissatisfaction with Caldera's rule and widespread poverty contributed to the former coup leader Chávez winning the 1998 presidential election by a large majority. His newly formed Electoral Patriotic Pole (PP) gained a majority in the legislative assembly. Both AD and Copei were lost to a hidden spot in politics and lost most of their voter support.

Chávez took office in 1999 and began what he called the "Bolivarian Revolution", after the hero of freedom Simón Bolívar (see Older history), to radically change the economic and social system of Venezuela. The constitution was rewritten. As early as 2000, a new election was held for the presidential post whose term of office has now been extended, and for the newly established single-chamber parliament (which replaced a former two-chamber parliament). Chávez and his party won big.

However, the contradictions were fierce between the old political establishment and the new president. In these conflicts, Chavez's opponents were supported by the United States. Venezuela became a divided country, with Chávez supporters and opponents. Both camps organized large, loud street demonstrations.

"Misiones" continues to make Chávez popular

In 2002, the president was temporarily deposed in a military coup, but could return after massive demonstrations after just a day.

Shortly thereafter, the opposition organized a general strike that included, among others, the state oil company PDVSA, which Chávez has long accused of links to the business elite and the United States. The strike hit the economy hard. When it ceased, the president took the opportunity and dismissed over 18,000 PDVSA employees, representing 40 percent of the workforce. The oil company lost a large part of its competence at one time. They kicked off being replaced by a full 100,000 of the president's loyal supporters.

After that, Chávez could easily use the oil revenue for a number of social projects, missionaries, focusing on health, education and housing for the poor, among others (see Social conditions). A number of state governments were also implemented (see Economic overview). Chavez had strong support, especially among the poor.

Two years after the coup attempt, the opposition managed to get a referendum on Chávez's presidency, but he won the vote and the opposition split.

The election to the National Assembly in 2005 was boycotted by the opposition because of alleged election fraud. As a result, Cháveztrogna candidates won all the seats in the National Assembly. The turnout was only 25 percent.

The following year, in 2006, Chávez won a superior victory in the presidential election. According to the president, the victory was proof that the people were behind the Bolivarian revolution - or "21st century socialism" which he now called his politics. This included nationalizing the oil industry, the country's most important industry, and the major electricity and telecommunications companies.

A short time after the election, all Chávez-faith groups merged into one party, Venezuela's United Socialist Party (PSUV). Chávez wanted to change the constitution again and allow a president to be elected an unlimited number of times. But a draft constitutional amendment was voted down in a referendum in December 2007, which meant Chávez suffered his first defeat at the ballot box.

Violent protests against Chávez

However, the president continued to run his campaign to change the constitution. In February 2009, he won in a new referendum. This opened the way for Chávez to remain indefinitely. Later in the same year, the National Assembly also adopted a new electoral law, which reduced the number of mandates that are proportionally appointed and considered favoring states where support was strong for Chávez.

His success made him push up the pace of the revolution. The president's influence over the electoral authority, parliament and the judiciary increased. The military and the oil company became increasingly politicized and the polarization between different social groups intensified. Attacks on opposition, independent unions and mass media escalated.

At the same time, the economy deteriorated, with rising inflation and a shortage of basic commodities (see Economic overview). The increasing violence in society was also a concern for common man (see Political system). In early 2010, Venezuela was shaken by violent protests against Chávez. One triggering factor was that the government-critical TV channel RCTV Internacional was closed. Another cause of dissatisfaction was that drought led to a shortage of hydroelectric reserves and electricity rationing. As a result, the government introduced a state of emergency and forced the business sector to cut its electricity consumption, which hampered production.

Prior to the September 2010 National Assembly elections, most of the opposition joined forces in the Democratic Alliance Assembly (MUD) alliance. Unlike 2005, it was decided to try to challenge the government. MUD received slightly more votes overall than PSUV and became the largest in the six districts with the most votes. But the new system's design nevertheless gave the PSUV victory, with 98 seats against 65 seats for MUD. Despite this, the opposition achieved an important goal: the ruling party did not get a two-thirds majority, thus losing the opportunity to write independently about the constitution or appoint judges or representatives in the electoral council (see Political system).

Chávez dies

After a rumor, in the summer of 2011, Chávez was confirmed to have been treated for cancer during a stay in Cuba. He underwent a few rounds of treatment, but then stated that he was healthy and officially became PSUV's candidate in the October 2012 presidential election.

The opposition alliance MUD's candidate was the Governor of the State of Miranda, Henrique Capriles Radonski. As the election approached, over 30 parties had joined MUD. The opposition was now much more united than before, and Chavez had for the first time an opponent who, according to opinion polls, posed a real threat.

Warnings of violence were frequent before the election, mainly from government teams and Chávez supporters who claimed that the opposition would resort to any methods to take power. Chávez himself spoke of the risk of civil war, and high-ranking military representatives said they would not accept an opposition victory.

In the election, Chávez received 55 percent of the vote, against 44 percent for Capriles. It was a clear victory, but support for Chávez had dropped significantly compared to the 2006 election when he was re-elected with 63 percent of the vote.

Two months after the election, Chávez told the nation in a televised speech that he must return to Cuba for further cancer treatment. In early March 2013, Chávez passed away.

Maduro is elected president

Vice President Nicolás Maduro had served as acting head of government during Chávez's absence and formally took over when he died. Maduro also became PSUV's candidate for the new election announced in April. MUD reappointed Capriles as its candidate.

The choice was very smooth. According to the Election Commission, Maduro won by just under 51 percent against 49 percent for Capriles. But the opposition leader claimed that irregularities had occurred and demanded a recast of the votes. In the capital Caracas, riots broke out and nine people were reported to have been killed. The Election Commission decided to check the votes electronically but at the same time said the election result was "irrevocable". Five days after the election, Maduro swore to the presidency.

Some believed that Maduro would take a more moderate stance than bombastic left-wing populist Chávez, blurring the most radical elements of both rhetoric and politics. But the former bus driver, union leader and Foreign Minister Maduro bet on being faithful to chavism and trying to emulate the representative's leadership style.

Drastic methods of economic crisis

The economic situation was steadily deteriorating, with rising inflation, recurrent power cuts and an acute shortage of groceries in the trade. In 2014, the situation became even more bleak as the world market price of oil began to fall sharply. At the end of the year, the central bank was forced to acknowledge that the country was formally in a recession, with negative growth throughout the year. The deep dive continued and the economy is estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to have shrunk by 10 percent in 2015 - the lowest figure in the world. Inflation was up by a three-digit figure and continued to increase.

Maduro tried to curb inflation by forcing stores to keep prices down. Soldiers were ordered to inspect stores and ensure price reductions were implemented. This led to sheer looting in her quarters and some stores were forced to close again. The shortage of food, medicines and other necessities had serious consequences in a short period of time, with hunger and increased mortality in common diseases.

Violent protests

One year after Chávez's death in spring 2014, the country was shaken by a first wave of serious protests against Maduro's regime. It started with several students being arrested in connection with demonstrations in the states of Táchira and Mérida. Protests followed in several directions and were soon held close to daily demonstrations, against commodity shortages, rising prices and galloping crime. Government supporters gathered for counter-demonstrations and deadly violence erupted in many places. The unrest continued throughout the spring, but gradually subsided. A total of more than 40 people were killed, both protesters and security personnel. Many were arrested and some were sentenced to prison terms.

When elections were held for the National Assembly in December 2015, the opposition alliance won the Democratic Alliance Collection (MUD). This could happen despite internal fragmentation and despite several opposition leaders being detained following the unrest the year before. The MUD gained a two-thirds majority and the opposition thus appeared to, among other things, have the opportunity to make changes to the constitution. But before the new National Assembly took office, members of the Supreme Court (HD), who were now completely dominated by government loyal judges, were appointed in almost coup-shaped forms. HD quickly disqualified three newly elected opposition members, which meant that the opposition did not have a two-thirds majority. HD and the National Assembly then continued on collision course. The government also retained control by Maduro ruling with decrees, and thus bypassed the National Assembly.

The opposition then made an attempt to dismiss him with the help of the constitution. But the electoral authority, including the faithful, effectively put an end to the attempt to get a referendum on the president. Opinion polls showed that a majority of Venezuelans wanted Maduro to leave prematurely.

New violent protests

In March 2017, the Supreme Court went one step further in its confrontation with the National Assembly and announced that the Court would completely assume responsibility for the legislative work. It was met by harsh criticism also in the outside world and many claimed that the government in practice carried out a coup. The court reversed the decision after a few days. But the actions of the judges and a decision to suspend opposition leader Henrique Capriles from politics for 15 years contributed to the eruption of a new wave of street protests, with almost daily demonstrations in cities around the country. The military and faithful militia were deployed against protesters and the death toll soon exceeded that during the 2014 riots. Between April and July, about 125 people were killed, over 1,000 injured and many more arrested.

In response to the new wave of protests, Maduro came up with a new outline: he decided to appoint a so-called Constituent Assembly with the task of writing a new constitution. The decision also led to criticism within its own ranks, among other things, the State Prosecutor pointed out that it violated the current constitution. Instead, Maduro decided to announce elections to the Constitutional Assembly. But the unrest continued and the opposition decided to boycott the election. The boycott in combination with how the election was rigged made all members elected on July 30, 2017, to be considered loyalists. The opposition claims that there was serious cheating and criticism against the government grew. Only a few left-wing governments in the region acknowledged the new assembly, while the EU, the US and Canada imposed sanctions on Venezuela.

There were some hopes that talks between the government and the opposition in December 2017 and January 2018 would lead to some kind of compromise. The talks were held in the Dominican Republic during mediation by several Latin American states. But when the government unilaterally decided to announce presidential elections prematurely, the talks collapsed.

In the fall of 2018, the UN Human Rights Council appealed to the government to receive humanitarian aid, due to the severe shortage of food and medicine in the country.

 
 

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