Venezuela: A Nation Rich In TurmOIL
To fully comprehend the gravity of the nation of Venezuela and its immense fabric of complexity today, one must at once endeavor first to better understand the lasting effects of its Middle Ages monarchal rule under the crowns of both Spain and the Napoleonic Empire of France.
These two European superpowers would eventually sow the bloody landscape and tone for what would ultimately become one of the single-most historic economic booms of the Industrial Revolution the western hemisphere would ever come to know among its sovereign nations.
General Simon Bolivar, born into a Spanish descended family of affluence in Caracas Venezuela in 1783, initially possessed dreams not unlike any other boy of regal pedigree that reflected the day – to travel, maintain family wealth and trust, and find love that would bear him children to carry and continue the name.
With both parents deceased long before his teenage years, Bolivar was left in the care of a disinterested uncle and a series of tutors that would come and go, until one, Simon Rodriguez would begin to instill in Bolivar the seeds of liberal ideals, revolutionary thought, and political philosophy. Philosophies that were quite contrary to the far-reaching established conservative rule extended from the seat of Spain at the time. The impact Rodriguez’s world view would have on Bolivar would in short time lead him to travel across Europe, where he would find love and return to Venezuela, only to witness the suffering death of his new bride not long after their arrival onto his home shores. It was at this point Bolivar made a vow never to remarry, and instead began to fully immerse himself into politics to absorb time away from mental anguish; it was also during this time that he received revelation to unite the whole of South America away from European Rule.
In 1808, Napoleon deposed the king of Spain and installed his brother Joseph on the throne. This sent widespread reverberations throughout South America, which had already been growing in extreme discontent of Spanish kings and was now suddenly under the newly acquired power of the French Imperial Crown. South America ignited in revolt. Two years later in 1810, Venezuela declared its independence, beginning the long bloody road of revolution and counter-revolution that would ultimately lead Bolivar to establish La Gran Colombia – a confederation of states that encompassed much of northern South America and southern Central America from 1819-1830, with Caracas, Venezuela serving as its strategic military command.
La Gran Colombia was initially comprised of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama, with New Grenada, Peru, and Upper Peru to follow suit in the years to follow. Upper Peru, in particular, paid a lasting tribute to General Bolivar by renaming itself Bolivia, after his name.
General Bolivar was for a time, dictator of more than half of South America, yet the fame and glory were short-lived, as he squandered the treasury on military expeditions, ignored structural reform proposals, and dismissed new liberal constitutional ideas leading to much decay between Bolivar and the peoples of La Gran Colombia.
In 1829 Venezuela formally seceded away from Gran Colombia and severed all ties with Bolivar. For nearly the next hundred years, the country would then quietly face the natural ebb and flow of political dynamics similar to those of its surrounding nations, reflecting primary parallel exports of coffee, cocoa, and minerals.
In 1922 that would however all change forever, with the discovery of rich Venezuelan oil reserves; reserves so plentiful the nation would become increasingly dependent on it as the country’s singular resource - a reliance that ultimately came with such magnitude that it severely compromised all other sectors leaving the nation more vulnerable to global energy crises with each passing decade, compromising basic needs like food, water, and medicines.
The 1980s saw a dramatic decline in oil prices per barrel, leading to protests giving rise to Hugo Chavez, a charismatic leader of leftist social reform. Chavez initiated popular social services for the poor by sustaining sizable increases in oil prices per barrel, turning away from U.S interests in favor of agreements with Russia, China, and Cuba of which was in the throes of a U.S sanctioned oil embargo, worsening relations between Venezuela and the United States.
In 2002 Chavez embarked on a wave of nationalizations expropriating banks and land thus gutting the private sector. He further nationalized heavy state assets, electricity, oil, telecommunications, all cement companies, finally, he bought Banco de Venezuela from the Spanish-based bank Santander. Venezuela, in turn, reached the critical point of importing most of its goods, leading to the decay of the country’s production capacity.
Instead of reforming ministries, Chavez created a model of ‘parallel institutions’ and structures – extreme levels of bureaucracy and duplication of responsibility dependent on foreign borrowing against oil reserves futures without thought of establishing a sovereign wealth fund in the event of a downward trajectory, as oil prices are cyclical.
By 2012 oil accounted for 95% of all of Venezuela’s exports – it was a single export country, shouldered only by $100 per barrel rates sustained from 2005, up from $7-$9 per barrel rates at the time Chavez secured office in 1998. As Chavez’s health soon declined, so did that of the nation’s economy. In March of 2013, Chavez succumbed to cancer, leaving Nicolas Maduro to lead the struggling nation out of 150 billion dollars in foreign debt and navigate around U.S sanctions that made it nearly impossible to renegotiate with bondholders to roll over the debt from 2013 to today.
To date, Venezuela has reached 13,000 % inflation making it the largest recession in the western hemisphere - nearly twice as large as the Great Depression, and the resulting impact has been one of widespread state-sponsored violence against protestors – two of whom I will refer to as Alex and Mateo, when interviewed in Colombia they recounted protest stories to me of being shot in the leg, and the other witnessed his best friend being dragged out from hiding under a car and executed in front of him by “Los Colectivos”, armed militias largely comprised of hardened criminals exonerated and released from prison under order of Maduro to exact the will of the police-state onto the people by any means necessary…
Venezuela is a nation that has endured significant challenges and trials at every turn of its infancy and adolescence. Once proudly proclaiming the most pristine beaches, waterfalls, and gemology across the globe, we will come to know the truer beauty that is Venezuela and her people at a time soon again.
The only question that remains, is how you may help her people here, that they may, in turn, help those abroad in their plight.
Freelance travel writer, musician, photographer, philanthropist.