Hello, mis chamos.
As most of you know, Venezuela is a country in crisis.
What some of you may not know is that it was once the richest country in South America.
Today, I figured I’d share some photos from Venezuela’s better days.
I hope you like them.
At the end of the article, I’ll provide a brief history of the country.
Because, you know, history is important.
Vintage Photos of Venezuela
A Brief History Of Venezuela
The earliest known inhabitants of Venezuela came during the Upper Paleolithic Period (beginning approximately 40,000 years ago).
In 1498, Christopher Columbus reached the shores. European explores named the country Venezuela (“little Venice”) after seeing houses on stilts over water.
Presumably, these houses reminded them of Venice.
In the latter half of the 16th century, the Spanish began to colonize the country, basing the economy on agriculture and stock raising.
The French, Dutch and English moved in and began taking over commerce, but it was relatively short-lived — in the 18th century, the Spanish established a monopoly trading company which reinforced Spain’s influence over the country.
During this time, the Spanish firmly led Venezuelan society, but much of the land was controlled by locals of European descent born in the Americas (known as “Creoles”).
The Creoles exercised their power over the Black, Indian and Mulatto population, who generally didn’t own land and had no societal clout.
In 1797, the Creoles boldly declared their country “independent”, but… it really wasn’t. Spanish still controlled most of everything. Nothing really came of that, but it did set the stage for the forthcoming wave of revolution in the region.
It wasn’t until 1813 that revolutionary stuff really started to kick off.
The revolutionary junta appointed Simon Bolivar, a wealthy Creole born in Caracas, to command the revolutionary effort.
Bolivar was successful in liberating (roughly) the modern nations of Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.
But, not for long.
In-fighting occurred, and in 1829 Venezuela broke away from the newly-formed republic of Gran Colombia. Bolivar died a year later.
Venezuela then had over 100 years of dictatorships.
In 1945, military officers and civilian political leaders overthrew the government (with the support of the people), and controlled the country for 28 months. The Democratic Action party (as they were known), adopted a new constitution that reflected the leftist values of the party, and a novelist by the name of Rómulo Gallegos was elected president.
But, again, short-lived.
A military dictatorship took over again in 1948.
Then the Democratic Action party got back in.
Then the opposition Christian Democrats got in.
…then the Democratic Action party returned.
The economy went through a boom and bust period, and the country oscillated between Democratic Action and Christian Democrat rule.
Now, the Venezuelan economy was at the mercy of oil prices. In the early 90s, people were angry at austerity measures taken by the government after oil prices tanked (no pun intended) — labour strikes, protests and general discontent went down around the country.
Hugo Chavez, an army Lieutenant at the time, tried to overthrow the government twice. He failed, but in 1993, President Pérez was charged with appropriating funds and was forced to leave office.
Former president Rafael Caldera took over, and released Chavez from prison, making Chavez eligible to run for office.
In 1998, Chavez wins the presidency.
Chavez mismanages the economy, but he basically rides an oil boom until his death in 2013, so things don’t seem as bad as they are.
After his death in 2013, Maduro gets elected, and oil prices collapse.
Maduro has since become a dictator, and the Venezuelan economy has been getting worse and worse each year.
Crime, as well as food, electricity and medicine shortages, inflation and just all around misery is causing an exodus from Venezuela. Millions of Venezuelans have left the country for Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, the USA…just about anywhere they can get that isn’t Venezuela.
Even here in Mexico City there is a growing Venezuelan population. Seems like every month more and more Venezuelan restaurants are popping up everywhere (Los Chamos and Orale Arepa are my favorites).
You gotta hope the country has better days ahead. Juan Guaido has declared himself the president of Venezuela after the most recent fraud elections, and many major countries have recognized him as the rightful ruler of Venezuela. Maduro is on the rocks, but he’s still clinging on. There’s a cautious optimism that this could finally spell the end of his dictatorship, but only time will tell.
So, for now we’ll raise a glass to the future. A day when everyday Venezuelans can buy a tetero grande or an ice-cold Polar without handing over their monthly salary.
As for when that day will come, no one knows.
Thanks for listening.
Until next time,
Want to see more old photos of Latin America? Check out these incredible vintage photos of Mexico.