Venezuela, home to some of the world’s largest deposits of oil, has long been an important ally of the US in Latin America. However, since President Hugo Chavez first took office in 1999, US-Venezuela relations have been anything but friendly. Chavez with his anti-imperialist rhetoric has aggressively targeted US interference in Latin American affairs as well as US foreign policy with regard to areas like the Middle East.
Elected at a time when most of the country’s wealth was controlled by a small fraction of the population, Chavez has sought to lessen the class divide under his own brand of 21st century socialism. In what many in Venezuela refer to as a “revolutionary process,” the government has centralized control of the national oil company while attempting to redistribute the oil wealth through social programs that provide education, healthcare, food and cultural activities to Venezuela’s poorest and most neglected communities. The government has also supported a system of “participatory democracy” encouraging all Venezuelans to take on an active role in reforming their country.
After a coup in 2002 that briefly overthrew the president for 48 hours before mass demonstrations brought him back, Chavez has pushed harder to implement his socialist policies which has further upset the opposition backed by the country’s elite. Chavez’s increasing popularity inside Venezuela and out has become a major concern to the US, as a handful of Latin American countries formerly allied with the US have elected leftists to their respective premierships in recent years. After a referendum in February 2009 in which a majority of Venezuelans voted “Si” (Yes) to removing presidential term limits, most predict that the Chavez government and its revolutionary process will continue for many years to come.