CRF Blog

How Venezuela went from a rich democracy to a dictatorship on the brink of collapse

by Bill Hayes

Vox explains How Venezuela went from a rich democracy to a dictatorship on the brink of collapse.

Understanding Maduro requires understanding his predecessor Hugo Chávez, the populist firebrand who served as president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013 and spearheaded the country’s experiment with socialism.

Chávez is a legendary figure in Venezuela who transformed the country’s political and economic landscape by nationalizing indiustries and funneling enormous amounts of government money into social programs. Under his rule, Venezuela’s unemployment rate halved, income per capita more than doubled, the poverty rate fell by more than half, education improved, and infant mortality rates declined.

While he sparked ferocious opposition among the country’s elites and conservatives — who at one point attempted a coup against him — he was loved by the country’s poor and working classes.

He also won plaudits at home for his willingness to stand up to the United States — in 2009, he famously called then-President George W. Bush “the devil” during a speech at the United Nations.

“Yesterday, the devil came here,” he said, a reference to Bush’s speech at the UN the day before. “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.”

Chávez died of cancer at the age of 58, at the very beginning of his third term in office. Maduro, Chávez’s vice president and handpicked successor, temporarily assumed the office of the presidency, and was narrowly elected president in the elections that took place shortly after. He has been in power ever since.

Maduro has tried to replicate his predecessor’s political playbook. But he has largely failed. [more]