Venezuela: How To Build A Dictatorship In 5 Easy Steps
It was once a lovely tale, Venezuela, which translates to “Little Venice,” would be the Pan-American version of Venice. Alas, history records a different version.
The point-by-point history of Venezuela reads like a football game riddled with interceptions and the most corrupt referees on the planet. It would be impossible to pin down any single event as the one contributor to the current state of paranoid dictatorship that rules that country.
There were, however, standout events which frame up the tale.
When the topic of violence in the U.S. comes up, we can trace it back to our revolution. We took control from the British through violence. It’s what we know, but of corruption we know little.
George Washington was far from perfect by modern standards. We’re not only talking about the cherry tree incident, the man kept slaves.
What he didn’t do, however, was assassinate his advisories, rig elections, steal from the people and stash money in the walls of the White House.
The story of Venezuela is as violent as the United States’, but it’s also infested with corruption to the core. It all started with Simon Bolivar
In Latin America, especially the further south one travels, Bolívar’s name comes up quite a bit. It’s the name of main streets, parks, and schools.
Bolívar gets credit for telling Spain to sod off, establishing the first independent nation in South America. At the time, Spain was dealing with an invasion from some guy named Napoleon.
Bolívar saw his chance to help Napoleon streamline his newly acquired inventory of land. The first independent nation of South America wasn’t called Venezuela.
The place we know today as Venezuela was inside the borders of that nation: Columbia. We call that first country Gran Columbia because it included modern-day Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, and part of Brazil.
Revolutions are bloody. As one can imagine, Spain didn’t just hand over the land. There were many moving parts, from loyalists living in South America to the Spanish leadership in Europe, and everyone who wanted a chunk of the gold.
Even Bolívar suffered. A man named Francisco Santander, once Bolívar’s right-hand man, had a particular issue with the grumblings for independence from the Venezuelan sector of Gran Columbia.
Santander also disagreed with Bolivar’s plans to implement the Bolivian constitution in Gran Columbia. This piece of history still haunts Venezuela. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
By the 1820s, a guy named José Antonio Paez came into power in the Venezuelan part of Gran Columbia. Backed by the ruling class of people in the area, he initiated independence for Venezuela in 1826.
It would take four years, some arguing, more bloodshed, but by 1831, Venezuela was an independent nation from Columbia.
During that transition, Bolívar ascended to a dictatorship in Gran Columbia. He wasn’t taking any chances. It was his way or the no way.
For the rest of the century, Venezuelan leadership passed from one caudillo to another. The Caudillos were little more than dictators, who exercised authoritarian leadership. Paez was the first, but others followed.
With little exception, that authoritarian leadership would characterize most of Venezuela’s future leaders.
Shortest Democracy Ever
In the beginning of the 20th century, Venezuela discovered they had a ton of oil to sell and plenty of customers. Your grandparents or their parents likely gassed up with Venezuelan petrol.
Until 1935 they remained the largest exporter of oil, but in the background, the same old corruption churned.
After decades of military and civilian dictators, coups, and endless corruption, in 1947 Venezuela experienced its first truly elected president, Rómulo Gallegos. He won with 3/4 of the votes.
Gallegos’ party, the Democratic Action Party took a large majority of the senate and deputy seats. History records it as the first honest election in Venezuela. It may have also been the last.
By 1948, a bloodless coup overthrew that administration. It was at least bloodless, which may be why nobody debated the coup. Either that or the people of Venezuela were so habitual to the coup, they didn’t notice.
Deeper Into The Abyss
For ten years after the coup, Venezuela lived under a military dictatorship, but by 1958 they returned to democratic rule. They even passed the torch from one democratically elected civilian president to another in 1964.
As far as anyone knows, those elections were above board.
The 70s brought back the oil boom, and Venezuela’s currency surged above the U.S. Dollar. For a minute, it seemed they might be on track to join the developed world. Then, the bough broke.
In the ’80s, falling oil prices burst their economic bubble. By 1989, Venezuela hit full depression, with riots and economic strife. The salad days of the mid-20th century were over.
With more bloodshed and more corruption, Venezuela begged for a solution. The answer to their prayers was in the form of, be careful what you wish for…
The Bolivarian Revolution
When, in 1992, Colonel Hugo Chavez attempted to overthrow the government the first time; he failed. He spent two years in jail, during which time Venezuela impeached the sitting president.
By 1998, Chavez took control through diplomatic means. The people actually elected him as the president. He called the new leadership the Bolivarian Revolution, a populist movement with socialist ideals, spouting anti-US rhetoric.
The wheel had finally come full circle, right back to where Simon Bolívar wanted things in the 19th century, except Bolívar was not a communist. Meh, communist, dictator, close enough.
Almost immediately, Chaves set about nationalizing utilities and industries like steel and coal. Then he took over the banks.
During his time, Chavez redistributed the wealth, rewrote the constitution, and even renamed the country to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The people saw their mistake and tried to remove him in 2002, but two days later he was back in control. He stayed there, until his death in 2013, when his right-hand man, Nicolás Maduro took over the dictatorship.
This is the same man who is currently at the helm.
Today the streets of Venezuela still run with blood. Where people are not fighting, they are in turmoil, hungry, and beyond frustration.
The Little Venice of America keeps an alliance with communist nations like Nicaragua, Cuba, and mother Russia. The U.S. dare not involve themselves, erring on the side that the Venezuelan people must liberate themselves.
It’s probably true, but when all they know is violence and corruption, any control they take will return to the same state of affairs in time.