We use cookies for site personalization, analytics and advertising. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it



Click here to subscribe to the print edition. [image, unknown] new internationalist 146[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] April 1985[image, unknown] Click here to search the mega index.



Map of Venezuela

Leader: President Jaime Lusinchi

Economy: GNP per capita: $4,140 (1982)
Monetary unit. Bolivar
Main exports: crude petroleum. iron-ore, coffee, sisal, bananas

People: 116.7 million (mid-1982)

Health: Infant mortality: 39 per 1,000 live births

Life expectancy: 68

Percentage of population with access to clean water:
91% (urban) 50% (rural)

Culture: Mostly Spanish-Indian mestizos. Also pure-blood Indians, pure-blood Africans and some of mixed African, Indian and Spanish descent along the coast. Nearly one million European immigrants since World War Two.
Official language: Spanish
Religion: Largely Catholic

Sources: World Development Report 1984, State of the World’s Children 1985

When you first enter Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, three features strike you: the density of its traffic, the immensity of its skyscrapers, and the picturesque sight of the mountainsides which encircle it, dotted with colourful dwellings.

During the oil boom of the 1970s, skyscraper office blocks and prestige projects gave the city a veneer of great affluence. But it is the mountainsides which tell a more realistic story, littered with shanty housing, ramshackle and vulnerable to fatal land slips. This is where the hordes of the underemployed live.

Until well into the twentieth century, Venezuela was a comparatively insignificant agricultural country. When the Spaniards first arrived in 1499 it was sparsely inhabited by various tribes of Indians who had created no strong distinctive culture. Its largely uneventful colonial period came to an end at the beginning of the nineteenth century when Venezuela’s major historical figure, Simon Bolivar, set off from Caracas on a campaign which rapidly achieved independence from Spanish rule right down to the borders of Argentina.

For a hundred years following its establishment as an independent republic in 1830, despotism and anarchy alternated, and corruption flourished on a scale remarkable even for Latin America. During the long regime of its most notorious dictator, Gomez, oil was discovered in 1914. The country’s economy was transformed to such an extent that agriculture became neglected and food was imported.

Great wealth flowed to those able to benefit, but little attempt was made to address the problems of general education, health or housing.

Democracy was finally established in 1958. Since then the country has been one of the most stable in Latin America. As a result of its enormous oil reserves, Venezuela developed in the 1970s into the most prosperous country in South America. By 1980, 95 per cent of its export revenue came from oil. Belatedly money has been spent on state industry, agrarian reform, and tackling the problems of education, housing and unemployment. But huge numbers of the agricultural poor continue to pour into the cities. In the 1980s Venezuela has amassed great debts to the West, the payment of which is seriously undermining the economy.

In 1984 the centre-left ‘Accion Democratica’ regained power from the Christian Democrat (Copei) party. At each election for the past quarter century these two parties, the only ones with sufficient money to mount effective electoral campaigns, have exchanged power. It seems, after all, that the candles flickering around the statues of the Virgin in every Venezuelan village represent to the poor a more secure hope for the future than the posturings of the politicians.

Pete Turner

[image, unknown]
[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Latest figures show lowest 20% achieving 3% of house hold income, and highest 20% - 45%.
[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Now heavily dependent on foreign loans.
[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
‘Machismo’ still the norm.
[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] Periodic swings from centre-left to centre-right party.
[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Recent amnesty released many political prisoners. Some still held.
[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
68 years.

Previous page.
Choose another issue of NI.
Go to the contents page.
Go to the NI home page.
[image, unknown]

New Internationalist issue 146 magazine cover This article is from the April 1985 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Subscribe today »


Help us produce more like this

Editor Portrait Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.

Support us »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop