What & Why – The ins and outs of the Venezuelan Crisis

*Author’s note: I have gathered, to the best of my ability, all the possible resources (links are underlined) from various sites in an attempt to illustrate the background information that has led to Venezuela’s current condition. There is a lot more to the story, but I tried to narrow down to the most relevant facts. I will continue to update this post as I come across new information. Some of the links include graphic content. Please feel free to comment with corrections and updates. Thank you for reading and sharing. For the Spanish version of this blog, click here.

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Due to my active posting on Facebook and Twitter about Venezuela’s current disturbing situation, a lot of people have asked me questions like “hasn’t this been happening forever?” or “what triggered all of this chaos?”

As a born and raised Venezuelan, I personally lived and know part of the struggle from my time there, plus whatever information I’ve come across after leaving. In order to be able to tell the Venezuela story, I wanted to take the time to educate myself and anyone interested in reading about the sequence of events that led to the uprising of the Venezuelan people since February 12th of this year, in a timeline format.

Through this piece, I aim to find answers to questions like:

“Why was Chavez elected by the people? Did anyone think he would become a dictator? Did he lie when running for office?”

“Has Venezuela always been a democratic country?”

Why are people protesting? Who is killing them?”

“Are there people who still support the government today?”

With this in mind, I have drawn the following facts and events (from various sources), all of which I believe contributed to our arrival at the boiling point where we find ourselves today:

– From 1952 until 1958, Marcos Perez Jimenez assumed the presidential post in what were believed to be fraudulent elections. He was a dictator who “jailed supporters of the main democratic parties along with trades unionists, students and priests. He spent the country’s oil income on grandiose ‘public works.'” (The Telegraph) The people rallied and protested until he fled the country on January 23rd, 1958.  After this time, Venezuela bloomed in what is known as our 40 years of democracy.

– Due to irresponsible management of the country’s reserves during the presidency of Jaime Lusinchi (1984-1989), in 1989 62% of the Venezuelan population was poor. This sector of the population always felt ostracized and neglected by the government. This led to a “social explosion” in February of 1989 known historically as “el Caracazo,” where thousands of people took to the streets for a week to protest economic reforms and increasing prices, through burning tires, cars and buildings, and robbing stores. The situational control exercised by the militia yielded a death toll of roughly 300 and about 2,000 injured. As the country recovered from this terrible socio-economic crisis and people resented the government more than ever, Carlos Andres Perez was given a vote of confidence for a second term as president (his first in 1974) in 1989.

– On February 4th 1992, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias (Lieutenant Colonel in the Venezuelan Army since 1990) staged an unsuccessful coup d’ état (an attempt to overthrow the government) which landed him in jail. This move brought Chavez to the spotlight and earned him popularity with all of the disgruntled citizens who had lost faith in the government for stealing from the country. After a second coup attempt, Perez was impeached and forced to leave the presidency in 1993 under charges of corruption. (NY Times / CNN)

Rafael Caldera took office for a second time in 1993 (after a first presidential term from 1969 to 1974). Running a country where the majority of the population are underserved citizens who look up to anti-government leaders willing to fight for them, Caldera attempted to regain people’s trust by pardoning Chavez in 1994 (The Independent / Hugo Chavez, pg 54)

– Once released from jail, Chavez formed his own political party and became an official candidate (and the front-runner) for the December 1998 elections. Renowned journalist Jorge Ramos interviewed Chavez the day before the elections. In this interview, Chavez stated three things:

  1. He would leave the presidential post after 5 years as stipulated by the constitution
  2. He would not try to nationalize private companies
  3. He would not take over privately owned TV channels

– We learned later on that those “intentions” turned out to be false. Chavez won the presidential elections on December 6th, 1998. (CNN)

– In 1999, Chavez re-wrote the constitution which included, among others, the following major amendments (Venezuela Analysis):

  1. Increasing a presidential term from five to six years and allowing for immediate reelection (previously, a president would have to wait 10 years after his/her term ended before running again)
  2. Changing the name of the country from “Republica de Venezuela” to “Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela”
  3. The creation of 5 powers instead of 3: legislative, executive, judiciary, electoral and citizen/public power

– Under the new constitution, he claims to be re-starting his presidential term in 2000, now for a period of 6 years.

– From 1999 to 2002, the country started to see Chavez’s socialist tendencies and policies, and the economy began to plummet. The GDP went from 50.0 trillion bolivares in 1998 to 42.4 trillion bolivares in 2003 at constant currencies. The inflation rate went from 12.5% in 2001 to 31.1% in 2003 (UN Data). Insecurity also rose year over year, starting with 5,968 recorded homicides in 1999, jumping 34% to 8,022 in 2000 (El Universal). Chavez also began to take actions towards the nationalization of our biggest oil exporting company, PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela). At this point, people started to realize the similarities between the Cuban takeover and Chavez’s game plan, and they took to the streets to protest and prevent things from going any further. At this point, Chavez still had a very strong following.

– On April 11th 2002, pro-government and opposition demonstrations clashed at Puente Llaguno, where fire broke (presumably from some pro-government affiliates) leaving 19 people dead and over 100 wounded. Military tanks were ordered to come out, and the people feared a self-coup would take place. Chavez had called for public control by the military. At this time Efrain Vasquez, a high-ranking General, refused to lead the military to control the protesting citizens calling it an unconstitutional act, and demanded Chavez to resign. Other high-ranking members of the militia “issued their own TV and radio statements condemning Chavez’s directives as illegal.” Later, nine military officials went to the presidential palace and stated that “The Constitution obliges us to avoid more spilling of blood, and that obligation leads to the peaceful departure of the president.” These events lead to the official request for resignation of Chavez by the high ranking military member Lucas Rincon.  (Hugo Chavez, pgs 91-93)

– In the early morning of April 12th, Chavez publicly declared he would be abandoning his duties, and the National Guard arrested and flew him to a prison in La Orchila. Pedro Carmona, an entrepreneur, economist and, until that day, president of Fedecamaras (Venezuela’s chamber of commerce) became president, and issued a decree to dissolve parliament and fire all of the governors and mayors of Venezuela, among other radical moves in an attempt to undo every policy Chavez had put into place. (CNN / Hugo Chavez, pg 93-96 / El Pais)

– On April 13th, Carmona’s failure to replace his military service backfired, his mandates came too fast, and support from the high-ranking members of the military who put him there (including Efrain Vazquez) was withdrawn. The military invaded the presidential palace, and he was ultimately forced to resign. Diosdado Cabello, Chavez’s vice president, took over for one day. (CNN / Hugo Chavez, pg 96)

– On April 14th, Chavez came back to power.

– In December of 2002, the oil industry led other sectors into a nation-wide seven-week strike in hopes of getting Chavez to resign. On December 16th, Chavez stated that he will never resign. At the end of January 2003, the strike ended and failed to achieve its goal. Chavez’s support dropped from 60 to 30% with an approaching referendum. (The Telegraph)

– In October of 2003, Chavez launched a series of national projects such as “Mision Robinson,” a program that “uses the Cuban literacy methodology ‘Yes I Can.’ The program aimed to teach almost 1.5 million Venezuelans basic literacy skills in its first two years, with Venezuela being declared an “Illiteracy Free Territory” by UNESCO in October 2005.” (Venezuela Analysis)

– The opposition requested Chavez’s removal from power with about 3.2 million signatures. The CNE (Consejo Nacional Electoral) stated that there were enough signatures to force a vote. On August 15th 2004, 59% of the voters elected to keep him in office. (CNN)

– Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young lawyer, politician, and mayor of the municipality of Baruta at the time, was charged with trespassing, intimidation, violation of international principles, among other accusations, for his participation in 2002’s “coup.” After appearing in front of dozens of judges and the case being dismissed multiple times, he was imprisoned to prevent him from fleeing the country in May of 2004. He was released under probation 120 days later as he awaited for his trial in December, where charges were acquitted. He became governor of the state of Miranda in 2008. (Washington Post / El Universal)

Nicolas Maduro is an ex-bus driver who got involved with politics in the early 90’s while Chavez and other militia members were planning the 1992 coup. After campaigning for the release of Chavez from jail, he was elected to the National Assembly in 1999, climbing the ranks to become speaker of the Assembly in 2005. In 2006, he was named Foreign Affairs Minister. (Biography) April 30, 2007

– Chavez announced that Venezuela will formally pull out of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.  (CNN)

May 1, 2007: Chavez’s government took control of Venezuela’s last remaining privately run oil fields.  (CNN)

May 28, 2007: Chavez created an international outrage when he refused to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), Venezuela’s oldest television network. His decision to shut it down drew claims of censorship and days of protests in Caracas and other cities. RCTV returned in mid-July through another broadcast.  (CNN)

– In 2008, Chavez changed the Venezuelan currency from the Bolivar (Bs) to the Bolivar Fuerte (BsF), where 1,000 Bs. = 1 BF. This gave the “illusion” that Venezuelan money was worth more.

– February 15, 2009 – A referendum vote allowed Chavez to run for a third six-year term in 2012. (CNN)

December 17, 2010: Venezuela’s National Assembly granted President Hugo Chavez the power to pass laws by decree for the next 18 months. (CNN)

– On June of 2011, Chavez announced to the country that he underwent surgery for a pelvic abcess in Cuba, and that a cancerous tumor was removed during this surgery. (CNN)

– October 7th 2012: Chavez went head to head with opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski (neither candidate had previously lost an election) and won 54% (7,444,082 votes) to 44% (6,151,544 votes). In this win, Chavez assumed power with Maduro as his vice-president. (Policy Mic)

– On December 8th 2012, Chavez asked the people of Venezuela that in the event that he were unable to fulfill his responsibilities as president due to his health and an upcoming surgery, the country should elect Nicolas Maduro as his successor.

– On January 10th 2013, the presidential inauguration for Chavez took place without Chavez, who remained in Cuba after his surgery.

– On March 5th 2013, Nicolas Maduro announced that Chavez passed away. He took over as president. Elections were scheduled for April 14. Capriles Radonski ran against Maduro, and according to the CNE’s official results, the latter won by an incredibly small margin of 7,505,338 votes (50.66%) against the 7,271,403 (49.07%) earned by Capriles. (PolicyMic)

– On April 15th 2013, Globovision, the last standing channel without government affiliation, was sold to Juan Domingo Cordero. The government now has full control over all national TV channels. (El Nacional)

– While Capriles’ popularity decreased in the past few months due to his request for peace in times where Venezuelans want actions, failed attempts to establish dialogue with the government, and ultimately for shaking Maduro’s hand, Leopoldo Lopez grew to become the opposition’s main leader (Latin Times). A politician and economist with degrees from Princeton, Kenyon College and Harvard, Lopez was the mayor of the Chacao municipality from 2000 until 2008. In 2008, while being the front-runner to win the Caracas mayorship, Lopez was banned from holding any political post for 6 years on grounds of corruption (The Telegraph). He has remained in the political spotlight as the face of the “Voluntad Popular” progressive party. On February 2nd of this year, after the San Cristobal authorities failed to punish a gang-related rape and five protesting students were put in jail (Caracas Chronicles), Leopoldo called the student masses and the whole country to rally and protest peacefully on February 12th (Venezuela’s national Youth Day) to request the release of the unfairly jailed students and rebuke the lack of action by the police.

As of February 12th, the Venezuelan population has risen up peacefully against the government (something Maduro deems unconstitutional, contrary to Chavez) by staging daily protests due to unfair imprisonment of innocent people, food and medicine scarcity, insecurity, unpunished crime, inflation, and more. These protests and barricades blocking streets have led the military and their protected collective groups to assault, torture, imprison, and kill citizens every day. NTN 24, an international news channel, and the only one reporting about the protests and violent events to the country, was shut down on February 12th. The following deaths have all come as a result of the protests:

  1. On February 12th 2014, thousands of students took to the streets in a peaceful protest. Bassil Da’Costa, 24, was shot and killed by members of the National Guard and “Colectivos” (collective armed government supporters). (Maduradas / Maduradas)
  2. On the same day, Roberto Redman, 31 (who was photographed earlier as he was among the group that tried to save Bassil), was also shot and killed by armed colectivos in a drive-by shooting. 5 more people were wounded. (Maduradas)
  3. Also on the 12th, Juan Carlos “Juancho” Montoya (government supporter), 40, died after being shot in the face in La Candelaria. (El Universal)
  4. On February 17th, José Ernesto Méndez, 17, was ran over by a government supporter who wanted to drive by the concentration of students.  (Politica)
  5. On February 18th, 22-year-old Miss Turismo Carabobo 2013 Génesis Carmonawas shot in the head by colectivos trying to intimidate protesters and taken to the hospital on a motorcycle. After a complex surgery attempted to save her life, she passed away on the 19th.  (Maduradas)
  6. On February 19th, 23 year-old Geraldine Moreno Orozco was shot in the face with pellets by a National Guard. She passed away on February 22nd. (Venezuela al día)
  7. That same day, Asdrubal Rodriguez, 24, was found dead after being detained by the police for presumably stealing a motorcycle. (Ultimas Noticias)
  8. On the same day, José Alejandro Marquez, 43, was declared dead after being beaten by the National Guard. (CNNEE Conclusiones)
  9. Also on the 19th, this video shows the National Guard persecuting and shooting a protester who has allegedly been identified as Jhonatan Teviño 
  10. Again on the 19th, Julio Eduardo Gonzalez, a public attorney, died after trying to maneuver his car around a barricade (Venezuela Analysis)
  11. On February 20th, Arturo Alexis Martínez, 59, died after being shot in the chest. (El Universal)
  12. Also on the 20th, Delia Elena Lobo, 37, died  after suffering serious wounds from an accident when her motorcycle clashed with sharp wire set up with the barricades (according to Merida’s governor’s claims).
  13. On February 21st, Elvis Rafael Durán De La Rosa, 29, was decapitated by a wire as he was driving his motorcycle trying to avoid a protest. (El Universal)
  14. On February 23rd, Danny Joel Melgarejo Vargas, 20, was stabbed to death in Palo Gordo, Táchira. (Nerd Universitaria)
  15. On February 24th Jimmy Vargas, 34, died after being shot in the face with pellets and falling over a second-story balcony. (El Universal)
  16. On the same day, Wilmer Carballo Amaya, 34, died after being shot by a group of armed motorcyclists for protesting. (Te interesa)
  17. Joan Quintero,  , was also killed on the 24th in El Limon, Aragua.
  18. On February 25th, Eduardo Anzola, 29 passed away after crashing his motorcycle against a barricade. (El Universal)
  19. On February 28th, First Sergeant of the National Guard Giovanni Pantoja, 29  died after being shot in the face during violent events in El Trigal, Valencia. (El Universal)
  20. On March 3rd, Deivis José Durán, 31, died after falling with his motorcycle into an open sewer and fracturing his skull. (El Universal)
  21. Also on the 3rd, Luis Gutierrez Camargo crashed against a barricade and died on impact.
  22. On March 6th, Acner Isaac López Lyon, a National Guard official in Los Ruices. (El Impulso / RunRunes)
  23. Also on the 6th, a moto-taxi driver in Los Ruices as well, presumably Jose Gregorio Amaris Castillo, 25. (RunRunes)
  24. On March 10th, Daniel Tinoco, shot in the chest in San Cristobal. (Telemundo)
  25. Also on the 10th, Angelo Vargas in Guayana. (Telemundo)
  26. On March 12th (a month after first killings and daily protests began) Jesus Enrique Acosta, 23, was shot to the head. (El Universal)
  27. Also on March 12th, National Guard Captain Ramson Ernesto Bracho Bravo, 36, died from a shot to the chest in Carabobo. (El Panorama)
  28. On the same day, Guillermo Sanchez, was persecuted and gunned down by collectives while painting a house in La Isabelica, Valencia. (El Universal)
  29. On March 15th, Arquimedes Gonzalez, 18, shot in the head after attending a protest. (Instagram)

– As a result of the events that began on February 12th, the government stated their intention to imprison Leopoldo Lopez for instigating violence, terrorist acts, and ultimately causing the deaths of Venezuelan citizens. Armed forces forcefully invaded Leopoldo’s home, his parents’ house and the headquarters of his political party, Voluntad Popular. Through a YouTube video, Leopoldo called the country to a peaceful protest on February 18th, where he would turn himself in, in spite of being wrongfully charged, and go to trial for the nine charges pinned against him.

– While imprisoned, Leopoldo continues to inspire the people of Venezuela to peacefully protest and stay in the streets through hand-written letters published by his wife, Lilian Tintori. Lopez’s political partners, Antonio Ledezma and Maria Corina Machado have also continued the rally against the Venezuelan government.

– On February 14th, Twitter Inc. released a statement saying the Venezuelan government blocked users from accessing the site, or seeing their images.

– On February 16th, Maduro ordered 3 U.S. Diplomats be expelled from the country on account of conspiration against the government. (CNN)

– On March 5th, Maduro severed diplomatic relations with Panama, accusing the country of pushing for regional organizations to intervene in Venezuela as part of the U.S.’ conspiracy plot.

– Also on March 5th, the first anniversary of the announcement of Chavez’s death, Raul Castro and other Cuban government officials arrived in Venezuela. The Cuban flag fell during the arrival ceremony.

– Cuba is the parent regimen that the Venezuelan government is trying to emulate. Besides the Castro brothers’ tutelage, Maduro’s government also counts with the support of neighboring countries (namely, their leaders) including Argentina (Cristina Fernández de Kirchner), Bolivia (Evo Morales), Brazil (Dilma Rousseff), Ecuador (Rafael Correa) and Nicaragua (Daniel Ortega). Besides Chile and Panama, why haven’t other non-affiliated Latin American governments raised their voices? (PanAm Post)

– Within the country, the government still has a group of followers. Some are people who firmly believe in socialism and communism. Others, are grateful followers who were given houses, food, jobs, or other perks in exchange for supporting the government. Others are business owners who benefit from government policies. Another group is composed of government workers forced to attend rallies and vote pro-government, threatened if they don’t comply. This entire group is not, however, as large as the opposing population.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Qué y por qué? La historia y detalles de la crisis venezolana | A little bit of everything

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