First colonized by Spain in 1522, Venezuela was one of the first Spanish-American territories to gain full independence in 1830. Throughout the next 150 years, under military and dictator rule, Venezuela became one of the world’s leading exporter of oil. Since 1958, the country has had a series of democratic governments, but suffered significant political turmoil as a result of corruption and economic shocks caused by its reliance on oil. A collapse in confidence in the traditional political parties led to the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez, a military officer involved in previous coups. President Chávez launched the Bolivarian Revolution – an implementation of socialist programs focusing on literacy, healthcare, and housing.
However, these expansive social programs were funded by oil exports and plagued by corruption. Over time, economic mismanagement grew. Crises such as hyperinflation, shortages of basic goods, as well as drastic unemployment, poverty, disease, and crime have contributed to massive diaspora, with 4 to 6 percent of the Venezuelan population having left the country since the Bolivarian Revolution. When Chávez died in 2013 – after 14 years in power – his hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro, was unable to gain the kind of legitimacy that Chávez commanded. Opposition to the Bolivarian government grew, and the economy worsened.
Protests have plagued the country since 2014, and the Maduro government has been labeled a “dictatorship” by the opposition and a number of foreign observers. The country is now on the brink of chaos: Venezuelans spend all day in line at supermarkets, hospitals don’t have water and less than 2 percent of reported crimes are persecuted. How did Venezuela, once one of the richest South American countries, fall so far and what is next for a country so divided?
Join The City Club of Cleveland, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, Global Cleveland, International Partners in Mission, and the Northeast Ohio Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies (NOCMES) as Carina Van Vliet, former Political Affairs Officer in the Americas Division of he United Nations Department of Political Affairs, talks with Josh Goodman, Andean News Director at The Associated Press.