Forgotten World (127): Venezuela

Venezuela is a South American country of 28 million that is very much a nation of contrasts and controversy. It has some of the world’s largest proven oil deposits as well as huge quantities of coal, iron ore, bauxite and gold. Yet most Venezuelans live in poverty, many of them in shanty towns, some of which sprawl over the hillsides around the capital, Caracas. Unemployment is high and, according to official figures, around 60% of households are poor.
In 1998 Venezuelans broke the stranglehold of the discredited party system to elect the populist left-winger Hugo Chavez, a former army officer who has proclaimed a “Bolivarian revolution”, named after South America’s independence hero. Radical reform, political unrest and deep divisions have characterised the president’s term in office. His supporters – known as “chavistas” – and his detractors have staged street protests.
Now in in his third term of office and ruling by decree, Chavez suffered his first electoral defeat in December 2007 when voters in a referendum narrowly rejected proposals to extend his powers and accelerate his socialist revolution.


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