Venezuela. According to Countryaah official site, the major topic of discussion in Venezuela during the year was President Hugo Chávez’s state of health. The speculation was extensive over an 18-day period of very unusual silence on the part of Chávez, until he declared on June 30 that he had been diagnosed with cancer and that a tumor had been removed. During the remainder of the year he made repeated trips to Cuba for treatment. On the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s declaration of independence, he showed up on the balcony of Presidential Palace Miraflores and gave a half-hour speech, but did not participate in the military parade the following day. Speculation about what will happen to the country without Chávez, who has been president since 1999, was also rampant, especially as the government was equally silent in June and no official surrender of power to Vice President Elías Jaua was made. Assessors pointed to the fact that the political power in Venezuela is extremely concentrated on Chávez as a person. Although Chávez, by the end of the year, assured that he was restored, the presidential election came in October 2012, where Chávez now has the right to stand for re-election, definitely on the agenda in the light of no guarantees that he will live until then.
The development of events in Libya during the year put Venezuela in focus for the world’s interest. President Chávez, who called Muammar al-Khadaffi his ‘revolutionary brother’, blamed NATO and the EU for trying to steal Libya’s natural resources, and for a while rumors came to light that Chávez was preparing to offer al-Khadaffi exile in Venezuela. In the same vein, at the end of August, Chávez issued a decree to nationalize the country’s gold mining and revoke all gold reserves abroad, citing that the global capitalist system is heading towards its downfall and that gold is an asset over which the state should have full control.
Relations with neighboring Colombia, which were particularly strained during former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s time (2002–10), improved significantly during the year. In April, a Venezuelan drug offender was arrested in Colombia and deported to his home country, while Venezuela seized and extradited one of the most important members of the Colombian guerrilla FARC, which also operates in Venezuelan territory.
Economic and social crisis
The economic recession that began at the end of Chávez’s presidential period escalated into full crisis during Maduro. The reasons were many and complex, and included low oil prices and weakened production capacity, a failed currency control system, corruption, currency speculation and low creditworthiness. The country has increasingly been raising capital from China to keep the economy afloat.
The currency control system was introduced in 2003 to prevent capital flight following the sabotage of PDVSA. Repeated reform attempts in recent years have failed, while extensive corruption associated with the system has been uncovered. In 2017, Venezuela had the highest inflation rate in the world. Venezuela is highly import dependent, and the economic crisis has led to widespread shortages of food, medicines and other goods. Much of the merchandise trade takes place on the black exchange market, and is subject to systematic speculation and corruption.
The government has initiated measures to protect the poorest part of the population through the distribution of subsidized food, but the system is inadequate and corrupted by corruption. The crisis has brought a wave of migration from the country to the cities, the health care system is in crisis, and key indicators such as malnutrition, infant mortality and maternal mortality have risen sharply. However, the government has not published public poverty statistics since 2013. The crisis has also led to increased crime, and in the Small Arms Survey for 2017, Venezuela featured among the five countries in the world with the highest murder rates.
Riot in 2014 and 2017
In 2014 and 2017, large protests and riots led to a number of deaths, and the Maduro government came under intense pressure both nationally and internationally. The protests were aimed at scarcity, crime and government abuse of power, and the protesters and opposition demanded Maduro’s departure.
At the same time, the protests had a divisive effect on the population because they also regularly escalated to riots that included lynching and violent attacks on innocent passersby, public institutions, hospitals and public transport. Polls showed that the majority of the population opposed violent protests as a political strategy. Opposition students played a key role in the protests. In 2017, a rebel movement emerged called “la Resistencia” (the Resistance) which led to riots and street battles with security forces.
The riots in 2014 lasted from February to around the end of May, causing 43 deaths, while the riots in 2017 lasted from April to July and resulted in over 125 deaths. In both cases, the victims were protesters, government supporters, random passers-by and members of the security forces.