Venezuela

Overview

Introduction

Venezuela is in the news a lot these days for its widespread poverty; food and health care shortage; and economic and political instability. Most governments are recommending their residents be cautious when traveling there because of the volatile political situation and lack of security in the big cities and border areas. Until stability returns to the country, a visit should be approached with extreme caution.

Exactly when stability will return is anyone's guess, but a coalition of opposition forces now holds a majority in Congress as a result of nationwide general elections held in late 2015. However, this majority does not yet translate to the ability to overturn existing legislation or guarantee passage of promised reforms. Nicolas Maduro, hand-picked successor to the virulently anti-U.S. Hugo Chavez, has promised his supporters that until his term of office as president ends in 2018, he will work to undo whatever progress the opposition hopes to make, and the opposition itself is a loose coalition with differing agendas. Hopefully following political changes in 2018, the sun should at last shine on Venezuela again as an in-demand destination.

Caracas, Venezuela's cosmopolitan capital, has fine restaurants and boutiques that formerly rivaled those of Paris or New York City. The country's high-end resorts held their own with any in the Caribbean, and its infrastructure was among the best on the continent. All this has changed in the 18 years of Chavez and Maduro's relentless dismantling of the economy and increasing isolation of the country. Crime rates have soared, once-beautiful parks and shopping malls are trash heaps, inflation is the highest in the world and the economy has been devastated. But Venezuelans are nothing if not resourceful, and the vast majority have had enough of the western hemisphere's most totalitarian regime. The opposition's wide margin of victory, even in the areas predicted to remain strongholds of chavismo, in time will empower it to make urgently needed reforms to almost every economic sector.

Venezuela is also attempting to restructure its economy, which is in freefall and plagued by capital flight, extreme inflation, multiple exchange rates, lack of transparency and a nearly worthless currency. It is even now attempting to wean itself off of a dependence on oil and move on to more diverse resources such as gold, diamonds, aluminum, steel and iron ore. The country is also counting more and more on its other natural assets—Andean mountains, dramatic waterfalls, tropical jungles and miles/kilometers of Caribbean beaches—to bolster its economy.

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