If you´re not interested in politics - skip this part !
Venezuela is a very divided country. And there is a very visible gap between the two types of people it seems. Not so much in a rich/poor sense like other countries I´ve visited like Bolivia, Brazil or Mehico. But more pro or anti Chavez.
For the most part the people I spoke to were of the middle class and very anti-Chavez but its predominantly the poor and rural who adore him. And its pretty obvious as to the reasons for both sets. The middle and upper classes have lost a lot during his reign. In the developing world the rich, in many countries, live in a very privileged position, often having the run of the place and can use money to achieve most everything.
It seems that Chavez has really gone about getting up their noses and made the country economically more conservative. Nationalising much of the oil industry (although I still noticed a few foreign companies like Shell and BP) and clamping down on the abilities of Venezuelans to obtain foreign currency (which has led to a huge black market) and on private individuals ability to buy foreign goods for import.
His supporters say that the international press´s (mainly from the States) reporting is largely biased against him which is probably right considering I´ve only read negative reports about him. Essentially he has widespread support and his party holds the governorships of all but 2 of the regions/provinces. He seems to be pumping a lot of resources into education and social programmes and is currently undertaking a large rail network project which is pretty progressive for a Latin American country. I presumed that he´d be more interested in building statues of himself.
The main economic story about Venezuela is Oil. After traveling around the US and seeing how paranoid they are getting about fuel prices, I had to laugh my ass off when I learned about Venezuela´s situation, as being one of the top five oil producers in the world. The Yanks are crying blue murder for having to pay $4 a gallon when we in Europe have been paying the equivalent of of $10 a gallon (get a fuckin grip like !) . In Ireland petrol is around 1.40 Euro ( i think) a litre, in Venezuela they pay, wait for it, 0.03 Euro a litre !! 3 fckin cents. unreal.
They don´t report that in the US. Goddam Communists !!!
In all seriousness its probably not a good thing in Venezuela cos they have a huge level of car ownership and Caracas has some of the worst traffic i´ve ever seen. Essentially though, it probably does more to add to Chavez´z reputation as a populist than anything. That plus the fact that he gave all the public workforce a 30% salary increase in the last two years has sent prices rocketing so much so that in my experience it is now the most expensive country in Latin America.
Whatever about the pros and cons of Chavez, most sane people were happy when his bid to amend the constitution to allow him to extend his term indefinitely was unsuccessful. He is definitely power hungry and the power he craves is very unhealthy for the nation. Even Mother Theresa herself would have turned for the worst with the amount of power! The strange thing is that he seems to have enough popular support to withstand the opposition for quite a while yet.
Generally I think he is positive for his country and it will be a better place because of him when he finishes in 2013. But more so I think he is positive for the continent. Latin America has suffered greatly over the past 50 years at the hands of the Yanks by being weakened through successive civil wars. Now the region is seeking to stand on its own two feet which can only be a good thing. The less positive side to Chavez is his quest to Cubanise the country. Cuba took that direction through necessity and during different times. Venezuela doesn´t need to do that and it seems that Hugo craves the longevity and power that Castro had.
I don´t think he has half the acumen that Fidel possesses. Castro never made his reign about him personally, it was always about the ´Revolucion´. You don´t see any statues or murals of him in Cuba - its all Guevara and Jose Marti. But in Venezuela its all about Chavez. The fucker is everywhere.
The other thing that I distrust about Chavez is his background. You show me a country ran by the military and I´ll show you a people that have suffered greatly as a result. Chavez is ex-military and it shows.
The other problem the rich have with him is his ethnicity. Generally speaking, the ruling powers in most Latin America countries are white Europeans. Chavez is a mix of white, indigenous and black. I can´t imagine the Venezuela rich being happy to be governed by someone racially "inferior".
The other thing that marks the anti-Chavez brigade from the rest are their lifestyles. Its very ironic that the country that is most anti-US in its orientation is one of the most US influenced countries in Latin America. In fact, apart from the colonial architecture and its Spanish language, there is little evidence of any European influence remaining in the country. The front page of the newspapers was covering not Euro 2008 but American baseball. The middle classes have a love for American style consumerism - be it really awful designer labeled clothing, lavish cars, a love for shopping malls and really expensive tacky bars and restaurants. Basically, if you have any cash in Venezuela, you do everything in your power to show it - bit like Ireland really !!
Two more little anecdotes about Chavez. The fucker decided that as part of his term in power that he would change the time. Yip, the time. So he moved the clocks back, not an hour, not two hours but ...... half an hour. If thats not egotistical I don´t know what is!
The other thing that struck me about Venezuela was that there were very few backpackers around (certainly compared to Colombia). But even of the backpackers I had met, there was one nation of people that were surprisingly missing. Nope not Americans but Israeli´s. Anyone who has travelled in Latin America or Asia will have met them in their truckloads. I couldn´t figure out why they weren´t there. Yeah its really expensive which would turn a lot of them away but still. So I put this to one of the locals , he started laughing ( a Chavista no doubt!). Apparently as Chavez is not exactly a fan of Israel, he makes them all apply for a visa to enter the country. So they don´t !