Authoritarian rule characterized Venezuela’s political climate throughout much of the 20th century, when two dictators brought repression from 1908-1935 and from 1950-1958. After World War I, Venezuela’s economy shifted from one of agriculture to one of oil production and export, and this brought an increased standard of living to the country. But the period of stability that began in 1958 ended in 1989, when rioting in Caracas killed more than 200 people. Hugo Chávez led an unsuccessful coup to overthrow the president in 1992, and eventually took over the leadership of Venezuela, when he was elected president in 1998, ushering in a new age in Venezuelan politics.
Lay of the Land: Venezuela is situated on the north coast of South America and can be divided into four distinct geographical areas: the Andes in the northwest, the long Atlantic and Caribbean coastlines, the central plains, or llanos, and the dense, forbidding jungle in the southeast that makes up nearly half the country.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1835, four years after Venezuela became independent from Spain, when John G. A. Williamson presented his credentials in Caracas.
Relations between the US and Venezuela are currently tense. Since he came to office, President Chávez has defined himself in opposition to the policies of the United States, and his rhetoric has been incendiary at times, particularly with regards to former President George W. Bush and the members of his cabinet. In a September 2006 speech before the UN General Assembly, Chávez called Bush “the Devil,” and other offensive names. On September 11, 2008, Chávez ordered the expulsion of the US Ambassador, in solidarity with the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the US Ambassador in La Paz. In retaliation, the US expelled the Venezuelan Ambassador to Washington.
There is little doubt about what constitutes the most critical aspect of trade between the US and Venezuela. In 2008, the US imported $51 billion from the South American country—and $40 billion of that was crude oil. Oil imports have steadily risen this decade, from $17 billion in 2004, despite animosities between Caracas and Washington.
Chávez Fires Houston Counsel in US
The State Department’s 2008 human rights report for Venezuela found that security forces had committed unlawful killings, including summary executions of criminal suspects. Prosecutors rarely brought cases against perpetrators of unlawful killings. Sentences frequently were light, and convictions often were overturned on appeal. Members of the security forces charged with or convicted of crimes rarely were imprisoned. Human rights groups claimed that police officers and military officials sometimes disposed of their victims’ bodies to avoid investigations. There also were credible reports that security forces continued to torture and abuse detainees.
John G.A. Williamson
Appointment: Mar 3, 1835
Presentation of Credentials: 30 Jun 1835
Termination of Mission: Died at post Aug 7, 1840
Bernardo Álvarez Herrera has served as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States since February 26, 2003. Álvarez holds a degree in Political Science from Universidad Central de Venezuela (1975-1980), and an MA in Development Studies from the University of Sussex, England (1980-1982).
John Caulfield took over the leadership of the US Embassy in Caracas as Chargé d’Affaires following the expulsion of US Ambassador Patrick Duddy in September 2008. Originally from New Jersey, Caulfield graduated from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia with a degree in international relations and Latin American studies.