- Pre-Hispanic Period
- The European Arrival and the Native Resistance
- Moving Towards Independence
- Independence and The Liberator Simon Bolivar
- The Republican Era
- The Andeans
- The Democratic Triennial
- The Dictatorship
- The Punto Fijo Democracy
- The Bolivarian Revolution
Various authors have affirmed that the populating of the Americas began approximately in 1,500 B.C., and spanned across the Paleo-Indian (15000 B.C.- 5000 B.C.), Meso-Indian (5000 B.C.- 1000 B.C.), Neo-Indian (1000 B.C. – 1500 A.D.) and Indo-Hispanic (1500 A.D. to the present time) periods. Among the theories that try to explain the populating of the Americas—and the present geographic area we now refer to as Venezuela—are the Autochthonous theory of Florentine Ameghino, the Asiatic Monogenist theory of Alex Hrdlicka, the Oceanic theory of Paul Rivet and the “H” theory of C. Osgood. This last theory states that the populating of Venezuela occurred through two western and eastern migratory channels, which brought the cultural influences of the original Arawaken and Caribbean peoples of the Antilles, Amazon Basin and Mesoamerica, to the region.
The sociopolitical organization and economic activities of the different native groups became more complex as they began to settle into the territories, each showing various ways of relating to nature. The social relations of production, which was predominant in the majority of native groups, were essentially communal, egalitarian and ecological. In other words, the communities lived in harmony with nature. Organizing and decision-making were governed by collectives forms and only the needed resources for subsistence were used. One of the characteristics that defined the pre-Hispanic era of Venezuela was heterogeneity, as there existed a cultural diversity among the different native groups in the area, from the group of hunters-gatherers-fishers to the farmers, which represented nomadic and settler communities.
During the 15th century, Europe began to show first signs of the accumulation of capital; the European monarchies saw the need to seek new seaways and sources of wealth that would allow them to obtain precious metals and commodities to satisfy their merchant economies. Among the most interested in obtaining other routes of navigation were the Catholic Kings of Castilla and Leon who, accepting the proposal of Christopher Columbus, financed his expedition in search of a new route to Asia.
On October 12, 1492 Columbus landed on the coast of the Guanahani Island (baptized as San Salvador, currently Watling Island, in the archipelago of the Bahamas); it would become the portal to an immense source of wealth and power. But, for the native inhabitants of this side of the world, it was the beginning of their resistance to genocide, extermination of their cultures and ways of life, domination, slavery and looting of natural resources at the hands of Europeans.
During his third voyage, in August 1498, Columbus arrived at the coast of the Gulf of Paria, setting his anchor in “Macuro” (currently Sucre state). This was the initial contact that Europeans had with continental land and the beginning of exploration and conquest of the territories that eventually would make up Venezuela.
Christopher Columbus’ initial exploration to the east and the subsequent expeditions of Alonso de Ojeda (1499), Pedro Alonso Niño and Cristóbal Guerra (1499-1500) paved the way for the start of the conquest of these new territories.
The first European settlement registered was Nueva Cadiz (1513) on the oriental island of Cubagua. The forming of this town was related to the exploitation of banks of pearls, which were abundant on the island. This clearly showed the intentions of the Spanish kingdom, since their methods of pearl-bearing exploitation were realized by enslaving the natives for manual labor up to the brink of their extermination. Following this, several attempts were made to establish towns and cities in the continental territory, as was the case with Cumaná in 1521 and Santa Ana de Coro by Juan de Ampies in 1527. Shortly thereafter, a progressive expansion toward the interior began.
This period of conquest in Venezuela unleashed terrible acts of violence against the native populations. The aboriginal communities were decimated not only by the illnesses brought by Europeans or the occupation and transformation of their habitats, but by the impact that forced labor, slavery and cultural and physical extermination had on them. On the survivors, Spain also imposed their economic, social, and political systems of organization.
The native resistance manifested itself through clashes over the preservation of their territories and forms of life; but against the military superiority of the Spaniards the native nations were either subdued or exterminated.
The Spaniards consolidated their control not only through physical violence, but also through the Catholic religion. The “Repartimiento” and “Encomienda” systems were tools used by them to assume the complete colonization of the natives. The system of “Repartimiento” consisted of granting lands to the conquerors, which led to the start of private property of the lands of the Americas. The “encomienda” system refers to the assignment of natives to the Spaniards for teaching them the ways and customs of the Europeans, relate to their work and religion. The “Native Encomiendas” were used in almost all cases of the enslavement of the colonized native.
The political-administrative system of the colonies was organized in vice-royalties, provinces, governments and general headquarters regulated through institutions an instruments such as the Laws of Indies (“Leyes de Indias” in Spanish), the Royal Treasury (“Real Hacienda”), the Royal Council (“Real Consulado”) and the Royal Court of Justice (“Real Audiencia”). Venezuela was dependent on the Royal Court of Santo Domingo until 1776, when one of these courts was established in Caracas.
The colonial economy in Venezuela was founded on the basis of the production and extraction of commodities for the Spaniard metropolis. The agriculture and mining industries were literally developed on the backs of the natives and enslaved Africans. Commerce was the pillar of the accumulation of wealth for the inhabitants of colonial Venezuela. This was realized through legal channels that established the Spanish state as well as through illegal means, such as the contraband with the English and Dutch merchants, installed in the Minor Antilles and the current territories of Guyana and Suriname.
Shortly after the arrival of Europeans to the American continent, the native population began a resistance movement, reduced to its minimal expression during the 16th and 17th centuries. Nevertheless, the inconvenience of regulations imposed by the Spanish empire on important social groups, as well as the brutal exploitation of the natives and enslaved, was the fuel that fed riots, uprisings, rebellions and insurrections during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and the beginning of the 19th century.
These movements arose due to social, political, and economic factors, like the charging of high taxes, the limiting of access to high-ranking posts in the colonial administration, dramatic social inequality and the concentration of land, among others. Some resistance movements that occurred during this era were: the Negro Miguel Rebellion in the San Felipe de Buría Mines (1553), the Negro Andresote Rebellion (1733), the San Felipe “The Strong One” Rebellion (1741), the Tocuyo Rebellion (1744), the Juan Francisco de León Insurrection (1749), the Andes Commoners’ Revolt (1781), the José Leonardo Chirinos and José Caridad González Rebellion, the Gual, Spain and Picornell Conspiracy (1797), the Maracaibo Uprising (1799) and the invasion of Francisco Miranda (1806).
The struggle for Venezuelan independence can be divided into four periods: the First Republic (1810-1812), the Second Republic (1813-1814), the Third Republic (1817-1819) and the Gran Colombia (1819-1830).
The events that led to the independence of Venezuela from Spain are connected to the political changes that occurred in Spain with the invasion of Napoleon in 1808. These events caused a great commotion in Caracas, where city officials declared their loyalty to Ferdinand VII. The revolutionaries saw this as an opportunity to place the government of the Captaincy General in the hands of Venezuelans.
Thus April 19, 1810 marked the start of the revolution for Venezuelan independence, with the forced dismissal of General Captain Vicente Emparan and the establishment of the Supreme Governing Meeting, or “Junta,” of Caracas, which governed until 1811. On April 19 of that year Venezuelan independence was proclaimed.
On July 5, 1811 the Declaration of Independence was signed and a Constituent Congress assembled with the purpose of writing a Constitution for the new Republic. On July 5 Independence Day is commemorated in Venezuela.
Simón Bolívar was one of the most distinguished heroes of the emancipation process in South America. After the creation of the Supreme Junta, Bolívar traveled to England with Andrés Bello and Luis López Méndez on a diplomatic mission. There, with support of Francisco de Miranda, they found some British support for the Venezuelan emancipation cause. Subsequently, Bolívar went back to Venezuela and carried out actions to return Miranda back to the country. Thus Miranda was appointed Lieutenant General and, in August 1811, forces under his command achieved a victory in the city of Valencia. Historians say that it was the battle where Bolívar showed his strength and had his first distinguished military action.
Nevertheless, there were many subsequent battles and multiple setbacks for independence of Venezuela.
On 1812 the First Republic of Venezuela was lost. Bolívar rejoined the struggle right afterwards from Cartagena de Indias, in Nueva Granada (now Colombia). There he wrote the famous Cartagena Manifesto, in which he developed a military political analysis on the causes of the lost of the Venezuelan First Republic, urged Nueva Granada not to repeat its errors and started to promote unity among the peoples of South America to achieve independence.
Simón Bolívar took control of some parts of Venezuela, after the Admirals Campaign, which had a triumphal arrival in Caracas – from Nueva Granada – on August 6, 1813. But this victory was short, because royalist forces headed by Commander Boves retook control of the province and forced Bolívar and other leaders to take refuge, first in Venezuela’s East and then outside the country. This is how the Second Republic was lost and Bolívar started to travel to some Caribbean islands to regroup forces and resources. On 1815 Bolívar wrote the Letter from Jamaica, in which he presented the project, already developed by Miranda, of creating an American confederation named Colombia.
With support of the President of Haiti – a nation declared independent from France in 1804 – General Alexandre Petion, Bolívar again started military operations in Venezuela on 1816 in Margarita Island. Few years after that, when the South was controlled by patriots and the North and most populated areas by royalists, Bolívar, together with representatives of Nueva Granada called for the Angostura Congress (in the current city of Ciudad Bolívar). The conformation of the union between Venezuela and the Nueva Granada began, which then will be named Colombia (or Gran Colombia to differentiate it from the current Republic of Colombia that took its name in 1863). Military plans were designed to definitively expel Spanish forces in the country. In 1821 the Colombian army, headed by Bolívar and José Antonio Páez, defeated the royalist forces in Venezuela. The Spanish empire sent a last armed expedition in 1824, but it was defeated in the naval Battle of the Maracaibo Lake, headed by Bolívar and General Rafael Urdaneta. It definitively sealed, together with the Boyacá Battle, the independence of the province of Venezuela and Colombia in the Colombian Andes.
Bolívar fixed his eyes to the South and from Bogotá he aimed his forces to the current Ecuador, Perú and some parts of Bolivia, and decisively promoted the liberation processes in those regions. He was acclaimed as The Liberator in Lima, a title still been used today.
At the same time the Republic of the Gran Colombia, that reached the current territories of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, parts of Peruú Bolivia, Guyana, Brazil, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, had started to crack due to factors such as personal interests of some regional political leaders, the vast territorial extension and struggles regarding the main power concentrated in Santafé de Bogotá.
On September 25, 1828, The Liberator suffered a new assassination attempt, called the conspiracy of September. He was saved by his partner and Ecuadorian hero Manuela Sáenz, called The Liberator of The Liberator. The political unrest forced him to leave his post as president of Colombia and he tries to travel to Europe, but due to his deteriorated health he had to prostate in bed. Bolívar died in Santa Marta, Colombia, on December 17, 1830.
His final proclamation was, “Colombians! If my death contributes to the cessation of factions and the consolidation of the Union, I will step peacefully into the grave.”
In 1830, various events marked the end of the independence period: the death of Antonio José de Sucre and Simón Bolívar the Liberator, the separation of Venezuela from the Great Colombia and the establishment of a new constitution.
José Antonio Páez was the first president of Venezuela.
Political and social problems were left unresolved once Venezuela formally achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, elite rulers refused to consider expanding political participation, the misery of recently freed slaves (the government of José Tadeo Monagas abolished slavery in 1854) and the continued existence of large plantations known as “latifundios” were elements that contributed to the Federal Revolution (1859-1863). This “revolution” would unleash a long civil war which became known as the Federal War. The war was led by Ezequiel Zamora as the leader of the federalists (he died in San Carlos in 1859), José Antonio Páez and León Febres Cordero as leaders of the centralists. The Federal War ended with the Coche Treaty of April 23, 1863 in favor of the federalists. However, the ideals of Ezequiel Zamora were betrayed.
The country was still in ruins when Juan Crisóstomo Falcón assumed power in 1863. Under his rule, twenty states were created and the nation came to be known as the United States of Venezuela. In 1864, a new constitution was prepared that consecrated civil rights, property, the sanctity of the home, the liberty of education, the right to vote for all citizens 18 years and older and the abolition of the death penalty.
From 1870 to 1887 General Antonio Guzmán Blanco governed Venezuela. He did so over three periods known as the Septennial (1870-1877), the Quintenial (1879-1884) and the Acclamation (1886-1887). His government is characterized by the openness to foreign capital, the construction of public infrastructure, the reform of public education and anticlerical measures.
The period from 1887 to 1899 was characterized by intense political instability. The Legalistic Revolution (1892) took place under the command of General Joaquín Crespo, while the Restoration Revolution, directed by General Cipriano Castro, culminated with the takeover of Caracas on October 22, 1899.
On May 23, 1899, Cipriano Castro—alongside his comrades-in-arms—crossed the Colombian border to initiate the Restoration Revolution that ended October 22 with their arrival to Caracas to assume control of the country. These events were followed by four governments: Cipriano Castro (1899-1908), Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1935), Eleazar López Contreras (1935-1941) and Medina Isaías Angarita (1941-1945).
Castro’s government was faced with external and internal enemies. In Venezuela, many of its opponents—several large estate owners led by Manuel Antonio Matos and financed by bankers—initiated the Liberation Revolution. In the international setting, in 1902, Castro had to face a naval blockade that was imposed by England and Germany due to the fact that Venezuela refused to pay its debt (because it lacked the necessary resources) and because it had confiscated the English enterprise that supplied electricity to Caracas. Castro spoke out against foreign businesses that were intervening in national problems by supplying money to the enemies of the government.
During the Gómez government, the Venezuelan economy experienced a significant transformation. Venezuela converted from an agricultural to an oil-producing country due to the great quantity of this natural resource the country possessed and the need to satisfy the growing demand for crude oil worldwide—especially during World War I. The income originating from sale of petroleum were far superior in the twentieth century to the proceeds originating from its agriculture.
In spite of this, transnational businesses were the bigger beneficiaries of the oil exploitation in the country. They wrote laws and regulations to their convenience with the complicity of the elites of the times. The immediate consequences of this economic transformation were best appreciated in the migrations of rural populations to the petroleum centers and some cities in search of better living conditions — conditions that they did not obtain for the most part. In addition, a gradual penetration of U.S. habits had an impact on the products, sports, and other activities performed by Venezuelans.
Finally, the governments of López and Medina stood out because they were responsible for initiating the transition from a semi-feudal country to a modern one. Nevertheless, these transformations did not satisfy the aspirations of different social, military, and political groups of the country, ultimately leading to the overthrow of Medina on October 18, 1945.
Once Medina was overthrown, the Revolutionary Junta Government assumed power under the leadership of Rómulo Betancourt and integrated by Gonzalo Barrios, Raúl Leoni, Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa, Mayor Carlos Delgado Chalbaud, Captain Mario Ricardo Vargas and Edmundo Fernández.
During this period, the government sought to expand the political participation of the population, political parties and unions in order to promote needed reforms. An important aspect of these years was the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly on December 17, 1946 which re-wrote and passed a new constitution on July 5, 1947. This Constitution offered the necessary judicial framework for the execution of elections on December 14 of that same year, in which Rómulo Gallegos was declared the winner. He assumed power on February 15, 1948. Gallegos governed until November 24, 1948, when he became victim to a military coup d’état led by Delgado Chalbaud, Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Luis Felipe Llovera Páez.
Once Gallegos was overthrown, the dictatorship of the military junta began, presided over by Delgado Chalbaud, who was murdered on November 13, 1950 and replaced by Suárez Flamerich. He temporarily assumed what began to be called the Governing Junta of the United States of Venezuela. Following, on December 2, 1952, Marcos Pérez Jiménez was named interim president via an institutional act that was ratified by the National Assembly on April 17, 1953.
The government of Marcos Pérez Jiménez was considered an authoritarian and personalized dictatorship that silenced opposition forces, prohibited political parties from the right as well as the left, closed media outlets that criticized him and imposed the censorship of radio and television. During his government, a great number of his critics were persecuted, tortured and murdered, sent into exile or imprisoned without any formal charges.
Besides his deplorable human rights record, the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez is also known for its large public infrastructure works, such as the Caracas- La Guaira Freeway, the Caracas-Valencia Freeway, the Francisco Fajardo Freeway, and several housing developments. Pérez Jiménez also wrote a new constitution that changed the official name of the country from the United States of Venezuela, which it had been since 1864, to the Republic of Venezuela.
In spite of the growing discontentment with his way of governing, in 1958, Pérez Jiménez intended to remain in power through a plebiscite, which produced a wave of popular protests that ended with his overthrow by a military civic movement on January 23, 1958. Pérez Jiménez fled to the Dominican Republic and was protected by Dominican Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Subsequently, he moved to the United States with his family.
With the overthrow of Marcos Pérez Jiménez on January 23, 1958, a new era in the history of Venezuela began that some have labeled “the ‘Punto Fijo’ Democracy.” This term refers to the pact signed between three political parties — Democratic Action (AD in Spanish), the Political Electoral Independent Organization Committee (COPEI) and the Democratic Republican Union (URD) — on October 31, 1958, to guarantee “the stability of democracy,” through the egalitarian participation of these parties in the executive cabinet of the government in power. The Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) was excluded from this pact, along with other leftist groups, despite their arduous fight against the military dictatorship. In practice, this pact set the basis for a bipartisan system that greatly restricted all economic and political power to the elites associated to the AD and COPEI parties.
The presidents of this era were: Wolfgang Larrazábal (1958-1959), Edgar Sanabria (1959), Rómulo Betancourt (1959-1964), Raúl Leoni (1964-1969), Rafael Caldera (1969-1974), Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974-1979), Luis Herrera Campins (1979-1984), Jaime Lusinchi (1984-1989), Carlos Andrés Pérez (1989-1993), Octavio Lepage (1993), Ramón José Velásquez (1993-1994) and Rafael Caldera (1994-1999).
The years of representative democracy in Venezuela were governed by the Constitution of 1961. Nevertheless, it can be said that democracy during those years was only intended for a certain elite sector of the population. Not only were serious human rights violations committed during these governments — such as the selective and systematic disappearance and torture of citizens — but they also guaranteed a policy of managing petroleum income for the benefit of just a few national technocratic sectors and transnational interests. In this fashion, in a country where petroleum income represented most of the national income, the Venezuelan population was left abandoned in basic areas such as health, nutrition and education, leaving a large percentage of them in poverty.
This situation, along with overall corruption and the application of neoliberal policies in the late 80s and early 90s—placing the weight of the macroeconomic recovery measures on the weakest sectors—contributed to creating a state of general discontentment and dissatisfaction within the people. The popular uprisings of February 27-28, 1989 (the “Caracazo”); the military actions of February 4 and November 27, 1992; and the democratic election of citizen Hugo Rafael Chávez on December 6, 1998, were part of a process of upheaval and social change in the waning years of the Punto Fijo democracy.
1999: Year of the Fifth Republic
After President Chavez’s election, a Constituent National Assembly was elected to re-write the constitution and establish a new Republic — the fifth — in Venezuela. The proposed constitution was supported by a majority (55.63%) of the Venezuelan people on December 15, 1999. The constitution outlined a society that was to be democratic, participatory, multi-ethnic and multicultural. It would be framed by a decentralized state and federal justice system that assured the right to life, work, culture, education, social justice and equality without discrimination neither subordination.
This converted President Chávez into the propeller of a new historic cycle for the nation. Old structures collapsed, alternative changing trends were revealed and spread all over the society and the Punto Fijo system of elite-controlled democracy came to an end.
2000: Year of the Legitimization of Power
On July 30, 2000, a new round of elections under the auspices of the 1999 constitution were held, with President Chávez winning with a large majority and taking the helm as Venezuela’s president until 2006. Hugo Chávez won with 3,757,773 votes, equivalent to 59.76 percent.
After the 2000 elections, the Fifth Republic officially took shape, pushing the pacific transformation of the state within a revolutionary and democratic model.
2001: Year of the Enabling Laws
Between 1999 and 2001, Venezuela’s National Assembly granted President Chávez the authority to propose enabling laws. The laws sought to improve tax system, eliminate some minitries, modernize the public sector, and regulate relations between the state and the private sector. A microfinance system was also created in 2001, as well as laws that regulated private productive activities. Furthermore, the Hydrocarbons Law was reformed and the Venezuelan Bank for Economic and Social Development (BANDES) created. The Venezuelan oil industry was oriented again as a state-owned company. Additionally, the Social and Economic Development Plan 2001-2007 was designed, based on the economic, social, political and territorial balance. Thus, Venezuela became the first country in the region to build a strategic socio-economic program outside of those prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB).
2002: The Coup d’Etat
The year 2002 was marked by the coup d’état of April 11. The coup was promoted under the guise of a “labor strike”, spearheaded by the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Manufacturer’s Associations (Fedecámaras, in Spanish), to which the corrupt labor union of the Punto Fijo era, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV, in Spanish), allied itself. This blow against Venezuela’s democracy would lead to the establishment of a dictatorship headed by then-president of Fedecámaras, Pedro Carmona Estanga. Carmona proclaimed himself president, revoked constitutional guarantees and committed serious human rights violations during his 48-hour term. While the majority of the world’s countries expressed their opposition to the coup, the government of George W. Bush did not condemn it.
On April 12, 2002, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer stated that President Hugo Chávez provoked the crisis and “a transitional civilian government has been installed.” The spokesman of the State Department, Philip Reeker, declared that same day that “yesterday’s events in Venezuela resulted in a change in the government and the assumption of a transitional authority until new elections can be held.” A report subsequently published by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State would indicate, “… it is clear that NED (National Endowment for Democracy), Department of Defense (DOD), and other U.S. assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chávez government… ” (However, this office adds, that it did not consider that this support had contributed “with said event”; the term “coup d’état” is not used.)
This coup was considered the first “media coup” of contemporary history. As human rights organizations have noted, all private channels on Venezuela’s public airwaves not only supported the coup, but also participated in a black-out of street protests supporting President Hugo Chavez. While the Venezuelan people took to the street requesting the return of the president they had democratically elected, the private media were broadcasting cartoons, movies and soap operas.
Fortunately, the national anti-democratic forces and their transnational allies failed in their attempt. The majority of the Armed Forces remained loyal to the Constitution and along with the Venezuelan people took to the streets en masse to demand the return of President Hugo Chavez. He returned to the presidency on April 13, 2002.
In a reaction that would constitute a lesson for many, President Hugo Chávez immediately invoked a constructive dialogue for the good of the country. Nevertheless, the political appetites of opposing groups and of the old technocratic elite and politics continued to insist in the violent exit of the democratically chosen president, by promoting the sabotage of the oil industry.
Once again, the country would have to face hard circumstances due to the fact that most of the managers of the national oil company inflicted severe damage on the nation by walking off the job.
2002-2003: The Sabotage of the Oil Industry
Although not always explicit, oil reform—and its implications in terms of the capacity of the State to handle oil income—has occupied a central place in the sharp political confrontation that takes place in Venezuela. The coup d’état of April 2002, with the overthrow of the government for 48 hours, and the oil sabotage on December 2002 and January 2003, showed it with clarity. The de facto government of April 2002 did not name their complete cabinet, but it did appoint a new president of the Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA, General Guaicaipuro Lameda, who had been removed from the same post in February for being in opposition to the recently passed Hydrocarbon Law.
During the few hours that the de facto government lasted, this law was abrogated by decree; likewise, the bilateral agreement of petroleum supply to Cuba was suspended. The Coup d´etat of April 2002 was the culmination of a civic strike in support of the conflict of petroleum management against the government and the oil sabotage carried out in December of 2002 and January of 2003 was the continuation of the foiled blow of April.
On December 2, 2002, opposition forces to the government of Hugo Chávez initiated a political action called “national civic strike.” On December 4, the television and radio channels of the country began to transmit the news of the demobilizing of a tanker, the “Pilín León,” in the navigation channel of Lake Maracaibo. The images showed how the crew of that ship supported and participated in the action. The tanker remained anchored and under the control of the rebel crew for seventeen days and became a clear expression of the commitment of many managers, and mid level employees of the old PDVSA with an action that already had been clearly converted into sabotage. From then on, leaders of the corrupt petroleum workers’ union that participated in the mobilization of the industry, in conjunction with representatives of Fedecámaras and the CTV, appeared as the principal spokesmen and instigators of insurrection.
Just as it had occurred during the coup d’état of April of 2002, this action was marked by the unusual affiliation between the management and a union of workers for committing illegal acts against the constitutional powers in the country. This time they hoped that, after the failure of the political blow, the destabilization of the main source of income of Venezuela—the petroleum industry—would end with the suffocation of the government and would force President Hugo Chávez to resign. Private media outlets supported the action with 64 continuous days of broadcasting propaganda against the established democratic government.
The events of the “Pilín León” quickly showed that the strategy was centered in achieving the halting of the national petroleum sector. Other actions that underlined the existence of the sabotage, besides the “Pilin Leon” events, was the incorporation of certain sectors into it such as refinery managers and operators, part of the employees and workers in the fields, professionals and technicians in the areas of data processing, contractors of internal transportation of fuels and by-products—in sum, personnel from different areas with a real capacity to seriously disturb the operation of the main national industry. The actions of the oil sabotage managed to restrict, among others activities, the production of aeronautic fuels, gasoline and oil, as well as the transportation from the centers of production or refining to the centers of commercial supply.
The damages to the country were enormous. According to studies by the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Venezuela, the total of losses by unrealized sales reached approximately $14.4 billion, which resulted in a decrease of a total close to $10 billion in the contribution capacity of PDVSA and its subsidiaries to the national treasury. This limited the capacity of the National Executive to enact its plans and programs. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the country registered a fall of 15.8% during the fourth quarter of 2002 and of 24.9% during the first trimester of 2003. In the petroleum sector, the fall of the GDP was of 25.9% and 39.3%, respectively. An equal contraction was registered in the totals of the International Currency Reserves and of the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund, which forced the National Executive, along with the Central Bank of Venezuela, to dictate measures to establish a system of controlled exchange to reduce the negative effects on the domestic economy.
This coup-like action was defeated thanks to the efforts of the patriotic workers that remained active, the incorporation of retired personnel, and the mobilization of military forces and popular sectors in defense of a vital business for our futures as an independent nation.
2003: Year of the Recovery of PDVSA
The firmness of President Hugo Chávez Frías, as well as the unity of the people of Venezuela and the military forces, were the determining factors in emerging victorious against the oil sabotage. In spite of this sabotage of never-seen-before proportions, during 2003 PDVSA increased its profits by $1.5 billion, reaching a savings of $3.1 billion.
Because of the coup d’état of April 11, 2002 and the oil sabotage of December of the same year, the government of Hugo Chávez Frías developed an international campaign to inform the world about the actual economic and political situation of Venezuela, seeking to clarify some false and manipulated information that confused many leaders and countries throughout the world. Likewise, Venezuelan foreign policy managed to be extended with the signing of bilateral treaties in energy, agriculture, commerce, and industries.
2004: Year of the Great Revolutionary and Popular Victory
August 15, 2004, can be considered as one of the dates of highest significance in the recent political history of the country. During this time, a popular referendum took place to evaluate the performance of the president, promoted by sectors of the opposition. This referendum led to a resounding victory in favor of the approval of the presidential mandate of Hugo Chávez Frías. The referendum became a worldwide milestone, as well as a part of the continental and national history, by allowing the president to be the first democratically elected head of state in the world to submit to this type of scrutiny.
2005: Year of the Construction of 21st Century Socialism
During this year, President Hugo Chávez Frías sought to expand the country’s social missions. These massive social programs—in areas as varied as health, nutrition, education, training for work and environmental conservation—contributed to the birth of a new institution and a new social vision that supported the process of change in our country.
Likewise, President Hugo Chávez promoted the formation of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (subsequently called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America, ALBA) as an alternative plan of international cooperation founded on solidarity and complementarity. This put some distance between the failed model of “free commerce” embedded in the proposal of the Area of Free Commerce of the Americas.
Another aspect that represented a fundamental advance for our country was the start of the negotiations to enter the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) and the acceleration of measures that permitted the placement of gross domestic Product (GDP) at 9.4% during 2005, which signified that Venezuela achieved nine consecutive quarters of economic growth for the first time in years. At the same time, the production of iron, aluminum and steel increased, reaching historic levels. Additionally, agricultural production increased in different areas, also commerce and international investments, among others. Inflation closed at 14.4% that year.
2006: Year of Popular Participation
2006 brought with it a new opportunity to ratify democratic legitimacy as much as the significance and the continuity of the 2000 Simón Bolívar Project. It was strengthen with the popular victory obtained by President Hugo Chávez in the elections of December 3 of that year, which he won with more than 60% of the vote.
Thus, a new period of the Bolivarian Revolution begun, under the guidance of the Constitution of 1999 and carried out under the values of “liberty, independence, peace, solidarity, the common good, territorial integrity, cohabitation and the authority of the law.”
Venezuela’s 2012 Presidential Elections
On October 7, 2012, presidential elections were held in Venezuela with a historically high rate of voter turnout of over 80 percent, confirming the country’s commitment to peaceful democratic participation and the high level of political maturity of its electorate. According to the National Electoral Council (CNE), the independent branch of government that oversees elections in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez won with slightly more than 55% of popular support.
Venezuela’s 2013 Presidential Election
Due to the death of President Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2012, Venezuela held a presidential election on April 14, 2013, with a voter turnout rate of 79.17%. This vote, the 18th in just over 14 years, was yet another example of the country’s steadfast commitment to democracy.
Nicolas Maduro, who served as acting president since the death of the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution Hugo Chávez, won the election with 50.75% of the vote (7,563,747 votes).