Brief Historical Timeline: Venezuela

Taken From:


With significant detailing from Latin American Politics and Development, Sixth Edition, Edited by Howard J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline


A chronology of key events

1498-99 – Christopher Columbus and Alonso de Ojeda visit Venezuela, which is inhabited by Carib, Arawak and Chibcha peoples. Venezuela was the first area that the Spanish made contact with in South America. It was a disappointment for them, however, when compared to the riches to be extracted in Mexico and Peru.

1749 – First rebellion against Spanish colonial rule. Caracas was becoming the most important and powerful of the provinces, housing the “mature colonial society.”

1810 – Venezuelan patriots take advantage of Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain to declare independence along with other Latin American Counties.

1811 – Independence Act signed.

1829-30 Venezuela secedes from Gran Colombia and becomes an independent republic with its capital at Caracas. Militarization was used to enforce a new system of governance. A large class of wealthy and elitist bureaucracy forms.

1870-88 – Venezuela governed by Antonio Guzman Blanco, who attracts foreign investment from Western Europe and the US, modernizes industry and infrastructure and develops agriculture and education.

1902 – Venezuela fails to repay loans and, as a result, its ports are blockaded by British, Italian and German warships.

1908-35 – Dictator Juan Vicente Gomez furthers Blanco’s plans, fiercely developing the petroleum industry until becoming the world’s largest exporter of oil. Caracas was becoming more and more “modern” (like North America) while the rest of Venezuela was lagging way behind.

1945– Junior military officers joined with working/middle class reformers for the interior to seize power in a coup d’état in order to bring greater democracy to the masses. They created the leftist political party, Acción Democrática (AD) to control government and pass laws to redistribute wealth and power. Upper/middle classes panicked and turned to the military for protection.

1947-48 – President Romulo Gallegos, Venezuela’s first democratically elected leader, overthrown within eight months in military coup led by Marcos Perez Jimenez, who forms government with backing from the armed forces and the US (who wanted to keep communism away from American capitalist integration).

1950s- There was a heavy reliance on the oil industry’s growth for funding import-driven economic development, and it appeared to be working. National income was soaring.

1956– Economic and political circumstances were deteriorating; too much attention was given to petroleum industry while agriculture was being ignored (Dutch disease!). Evident in society; those who benefited from the technological and industrial rewards were disproportionately better off than those who were left out (farmers, etc)

Democratic rule

1958 – Admiral Wolfgang Larrazabal ousts Marcos Perez Jimenez; leftist Romulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action Party (AD) wins democratic presidential election. Wanted to build support for economic pluralism be undertaking wealth redistribution.

1960 – Movement of the Revolutionary Left splits from AD and commences anti-government work.

1964 – Venezuela’s first presidential handover from one civilian to another takes place when Dr Raul Leoni (AD) is elected president.

Boom and bust

1973 – Venezuela benefits from oil boom (revenue tripled during this time) and its currency peaks against the US dollar; oil and iron industries nationalized. President Carlos Andres Perez starts many infrastructural development projects, but the payoffs were going to be seen in the long-term and he continued to import food at massive rates

1979­- Era of prolonged budgetary deficits. The Presidency of Luis Herrera saw unprecedented borrowing that tripled the country’s international debt. Economic stagnation made him implement an austerity program and devalue the currency.

1983-84 – Fall in world oil prices generates unrest and cuts in welfare spending; Dr Jaime Lusinchi (AD) elected president and signs pact involving government, trade unions and business. But reduced income from petroleum wasn’t being matched by decreases in government spending; it was consuming more than it was producing.

1989 – Carlos Andres Perez (AD) elected president again against the background of economic depression (foreign reserves were depleted, balance of payments had largest deficit in history), which necessitates another austerity program, an IMF loan and entry into the GATT. El Gran Viraje relied on macroeconomic stabilization, trade liberalization, privatization, and deregulation. Barriers to foreign investment and exports were lifted, and bureaucratic interference was minimized. Social and political upheaval includes riots, in which between 300 and 2,000 people are killed, martial law and a general strike.

1992 – Some 120 people are killed in two attempted coups, the first led by future president Colonel Hugo Chavez, and the second carried out by his supporters. Chavez is jailed for two years before being pardoned.

1993-95 – Ramon Jose Velasquez becomes interim president after Perez is ousted on charges of corruption; Rafael Caldera elected president. He instituted neoliberal policies that he criticized during his campaign, takes out another structural adjustment IMF loan.

1996 – Perez imprisoned after being found guilty of embezzlement and corruption.

1998 – Hugo Chavez elected president.

1999 – Severe floods and mudslides hit the north, killing tens of thousands of people. The new constitution is approved and publicized.

2000 – Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel discloses plot to kill Chavez. Chavez wins another six years in office and a mandate to pursue political reforms.

Chavez becomes the first foreign head of state to visit Iraq since the 1991 Gulf war, in defiance of strong opposition from the US.

Reform controversy

2001 November – President Chavez appears on TV to hail 49 reform laws that his government has introduced, including land and oil industry reforms, under powers that did not require them to be approved by the National Assembly.

2002 February – National currency, the bolivar, plummets 25% against the US dollar after the government scraps exchange rate controls.

2002 25 February – Chavez appoints new board of directors to state oil monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela in move opposed by executives.

2002 9 April – Trade unions and the Fedecamaras business association declare general strike to support Petroleos de Venezuela dissidents.

Chavez ouster

2002 11 April – Some 150,000 people rally in support of strike and oil protest. National Guard and pro-Chavez gunmen clash with protesters – more than 10 are killed and 110 injured. Military high command rebels and demands that Chavez resign.

2002 April 12 – Armed forces head announces Chavez has resigned, a claim later denied by Chavez. Chavez is taken into military custody. Military names Pedro Carmona, one of the strike organisers, as head of transitional government.

2002 April 14 – Chavez returns to office after the collapse of the interim government.

2002 December – Opposition strike cripples the oil industry. Organisers demand that Chavez resign. The nine-week stoppage leads to fuel shortages.

Referendum petitions

2003 May – Government, opposition sign deal brokered by Organisation of American States (OAS) which sets out framework for referendum on Hugo Chavez’s rule.

2003 August-September – Opposition delivers petition with more than three million signatures demanding referendum on Chavez’s rule. Electoral body rejects petition saying it fails to meet technical requirements.

2003 December – Second petition demanding referendum on rule of Hugo Chavez is delivered. Opposition says it contains 3.4 million signatures.

2004 March – Several people are killed and many are injured in clashes between opponents and supporters of President Chavez.

2004 August – President Chavez wins referendum in which Venezuelans are asked whether he should serve out the remaining two-and-a-half years of his term.

Land reform

2005 January – President Chavez signs decree on land reform which aims to eliminate Venezuela’s large estates. President says land redistribution will bring justice to rural poor; ranchers say move is an attack on private property. Bitter dispute with Colombia over the capture of a Colombian rebel FARC leader on Venezuelan soil. The presidents of both nations resolve the affair at talks in Caracas in February.

2005 June – Venezuela and 13 Caribbean states launch a regional oil company at a summit in Caracas. Venezuela, a major producer, agrees to supply the nations with cheap fuel. Critics accuse President Chavez of using oil to increase diplomatic influence.

2005 December – Parties loyal to President Chavez make big gains in parliamentary elections. Opposition parties boycott the poll, leaving parliament entirely made up of supporters of the president.

2006 July – President Chavez signs a $3bn (£1.6bn) arms deal with Russia, including an agreement to buy fighter jets and helicopters.

2006 December – Hugo Chavez wins a third term in presidential elections with 63% of the vote.

Nationalization drive

2007 January – President Chavez announces that key energy and telecommunications companies will be nationalized.

National Assembly grants President Chavez sweeping powers to rule by decree for the next eighteen months. Government takes control of oil projects in the Orinoco Delta as part of the nationalization drive.

2007 December – Mr. Chavez suffers his first defeat at the ballot box, when voters in a referendum narrowly reject proposals to extend his powers and accelerate his socialist revolution.

Diplomatic crisis

2008 January, February – After President Chavez’s mediation with the FARC, the Colombian rebel group releases six hostages.

Relations with Colombia deteriorate after Colombian President Alvaro Uribe rejects Mr Chavez’s call for left-wing rebels to be treated as insurgents instead of terrorists.

2008 March – Diplomatic crisis after Colombian armed forces make cross-border raid into Ecuador, a Venezuelan ally, killing senior FARC rebel Raul Reyes. Mr Chavez mobilizes troops along Venezuelan-Colombian border. Government lifts some price controls on staple foods in an attempt to avert shortages.

Ties with Russia

2008 Venezuela and Russia sign oil and gas cooperation accord. Venezuela expels US ambassador in solidarity with similar Bolivian move. US reciprocates.

2009 February – Voters in a referendum approve plans to abolish limits on the number of terms in office for elected officials; this would allow President Chavez to stand again when his current term expires in 2012.

Tensions with Colombia

2010 January – President Chavez devalues the bolivar, by 17% against the US dollar for “priority” imports and by 50% for items considered non-essential, to boost revenue from oil exports.

Six TV channels taken off air for breaking rules on transmitting government material.

2010 March – Economy shrank by 5.8 % in last three months of 2009, according to the central bank.

2010 September – Parliamentary elections. Opposition makes significant gains. The socialist party of Mr Chavez still controls congress, but with a reduced majority.

Alliance with Iran

2010 October – Mr Chavez visits Iran, where he and the Iranian president promise to deepen their “strategic alliance” against US “imperialism”.

2010 December – Parliament grants Mr Chavez special powers to deal with the aftermath of devastating floods, which critics say will turn the country into a near-dictatorship.

2011 June – Mr Chavez undergoes cancer surgery in Cuba. After his return to Venezuela in July, he reduces his workload and makes shorter speeches than usual.


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Filed under History, Hugo Chavez, Politics, Venezuela

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