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Military Government Falls in Venezuela - History

Military Government Falls in Venezuela - History

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Military Government Falls in Venezuela
The military dictatorship in Venezuela was ousted in 1957. Large scale rioting led to its fall.

Hugo Chavez Was Venezuela's Firebrand Dictator

Hugo Chavez (1954 - 2013) was a former Army Lieutenant Colonel and President of Venezuela. A populist, Chávez instituted what he calls a “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela, where key industries were nationalized and oil revenues were used in social programs for the poor. Hugo Chávez was a vocal critic of the United States of America and, in particular, former President George W. Bush, who he once famously and publicly called a “donkey.” He was very popular with poor Venezuelans, who in February of 2009 voted to abolish term limits, allowing him to run for re-election indefinitely.


Venezuela’s most economically significant natural resources are petroleum and natural gas, the mining of which accounts for about one-fifth of the gross domestic product (GDP) but less than 1 percent of the workforce. Coal is also important, and there are largely unexploited deposits of iron ore, bauxite, and other minerals. Some of the largest proven petroleum reserves in the world exist in the Orinoco delta and offshore, as well as in the eastern Llanos, in Guarico, Anzoategui, and Monagas states, in the Lake Maracaibo Lowlands (mainly Zulia state), and in the western Llanos, particularly in the states of Barinas and Apure. Before the government nationalized the industry, multinational firms accounted for more than four-fifths of production. Refining was primarily accomplished offshore in Aruba, Curaçao, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. After nationalization a state-owned company, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA), assumed responsibility for production, but PDVSA still depended heavily on foreign oil companies to refine, transport, and market the oil and natural gas and to provide technical assistance. The government, faced with economic difficulties, adopted reforms in the late 1980s and ’90s that included reopening the petroleum sector to foreign investment, notably to further explore and develop heavy crude oil deposits in the Orinoco basin, to upgrade refineries, and to streamline production through joint ventures. In a reversal of this trend, the oil industry became the focus of Chávez’s nationalization efforts in 2006, and in 2007 he completed the takeover of the sector by seizing operational control of the last privately run oil operation in the country—the Orinoco basin oil projects—from foreign-owned companies. Some of the heavy oil from the Orinoco basin is used to create bitumen-rich orimulsion, a boiler fuel that burns less cleanly than many other fuel sources.

Venezuela also has abundant natural gas deposits, again among the world’s largest proven reserves, and PDVSA has formed joint ventures for its exploration and production. In addition, a PDVSA subsidiary, Carbozulia, has developed major coal reserves in the Guasaré River basin.

Modern iron-ore mining in Venezuela began in the mid-20th century in the region surrounding present-day Ciudad Guayana, based on deposits at Cerro Bolívar and El Pao. In 1975 the U.S.-owned mining operations were nationalized, and the government-owned Venezuelan Guayana Corporation assumed control. Production of iron ore has grown substantially since the mid-1980s.

In the mid-1970s large deposits of bauxite were discovered in the Guiana Highlands, much of it high-grade ore suitable for alumina smelting in the Ciudad Guayana complex. Other important nonferrous minerals include gold and diamonds in the Guiana Highlands, coal northwest of Lake Maracaibo, salt deposits in the Araya Peninsula, and scattered deposits of industrial-grade limestone. There are also economically important quantities of nickel, phosphates, copper, zinc, lead, titanium, and manganese, and surveys indicate the existence of substantial deposits of uranium and thorium.

Venezuela: History

The Arawaks and the Caribs were the earliest inhabitants of Venezuela, along with certain nomadic hunting and fishing tribes. Columbus discovered the mouths of the Orinoco in 1498. In 1499 the Venezuelan coast was explored by Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci. The latter, coming upon an island off the Paraguaná peninsula (probably Aruba), nicknamed it Venezuela (little Venice) because of native villages built above the water on stilts the name held and was soon applied to the mainland. Spanish settlements were established on the coast at Cumaná (1520) and Santa Ana de Coro (1527).

The major task of the conquest was accomplished by German adventurers—Ambrosio de Alfinger, George de Speyer and especially Nikolaus Federmann—in the service of the Welsers, German bankers who had obtained rights in Venezuela from Emperor Charles V. During part of the colonial period the area was an adjunct of New Granada. Cocoa cultivation was the mainstay of the colonial economy. From the 16th to the 18th cent. the coastline was attacked by English buccaneers, and in the 18th cent. there was a brisk smuggling trade with the British islands of the West Indies.

In 1795 there was an uprising against Spanish control, but it was only after Napoleon had taken control of Spain that a real revolution began (1810) in Venezuela, under Francisco de Miranda. In 1811 complete independence was declared, but the revolution soon encountered difficulties. An earthquake in 1812 destroyed cities held by the patriots and helped to forward the cause of the royalists. Later, however, Simón Bolívar (born in Venezuela) and his lieutenants, working from Colombia, were able to liberate Venezuela despite setbacks administered by the royalist commander, Pablo Morillo. The victory of Carabobo (1821) secured independence from Spain.

Venezuela and other territories became part of the federal republic of Greater Colombia. Almost from the beginning, however, Venezuela was restive. José Antonio Páez, who had conquered the last Spanish garrison at Puerto Cabello in 1823, favored independence. He was a caudillo with a strong following among the hardy cattlemen, the llaneros. In 1830 the separatists gained the upper hand, and Venezuela became an independent state. Páez was the leading figure. Although conservative and liberal parties appeared, the actual control of Venezuela was held mainly by caudillos from the landholding class. After Páez, José Tadeo Monagas and his brother entrenched (1846) themselves in power, but not before a bitter struggle was waged to prevent the refractory Páez from keeping a large measure of political control.

The Monagas brothers were overthrown in 1858, and civil war among caudillos became chronic. A brief liberal regime under Juan Falcón created the decentralized United States of Venezuela in 1864. From 1870 to 1888, Guzmán Blanco dominated Venezuela. He improved education, communications, and finances, crushed the church, and enriched himself. He was overthrown in 1888, but dictatorship was resumed four years later under Joaquín Crespo. During Crespo's regime began the Venezuela Boundary Dispute with Great Britain over the border with British Guiana (now Guyana). Cipriano Castro, a new dictator, came to power in 1899. The financial corruption and incompetence of his administration helped to bring on a new international incident, that of the Venezuela Claims.

The year 1908 marked the beginning of the rule of one of the longest-lasting of all Latin American dictators, Juan Vicente Gómez, who stayed in power until his death in 1935. His regime was one of total and absolute tyranny, although he did force the state (with the help of foreign oil concessions) into national solvency and material prosperity. His death was followed by popular celebration. Eleazar López Contreras became president (1935–41) and increased Venezuela's share of the oil companies' profits under his legally elected successor, Isaías Medina Angarita, Venezuela sympathized with the Allies and finally entered World War II on the Allied side in 1945.

Later in 1945 a military junta committed to democracy and social reform gained control of the government, which was then headed by Rómulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action party. A new constitution promulgated in 1947 provided, for the first time in Venezuelan history, for the election of a president by direct popular vote. The first president elected under the new constitution was the eminent novelist Rómulo Gallegos. His administration, however, was short-lived.

A military coup in Nov., 1948, overthrew the Gallegos government, and a repressive military dictatorship was established. By 1952, Col. Marcos Pérez Jiménez had become dictator, and he made wide use of police state techniques. A popular revolt, supported by liberal units of the armed forces, broke out early in 1958 Pérez Jiménez fled. Elections held that year restored democratic rule to Venezuela. Rómulo Betancourt adopted a moderate program of gradual economic reform and maintained friendly relations with the United States despite the association of U.S. interests with Pérez Jiménez. A new constitution (1961) was adopted.

The country, long out of debt because of the oil revenues, reached a peak of prosperity, but the new administration was nevertheless gravely challenged. Left-wing groups, particularly the Communists, bitterly opposed the administration, and their activities, combined with the restiveness of the poorer classes and the dissidence of leftist elements in the military, led to numerous uprisings. Extreme right-wing elements also plotted against the Betancourt regime. Betancourt was succeeded in 1964 by Raúl Leoni. In 1968 the Social Christian party came to power when Rafael Caldera Rodríguez won a close presidential election. The boundary dispute with Guyana flared up again in the 1960s, with Venezuela laying claim to some 60% of Guyana's territory.

The 1973 presidential election was won by Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez of the Democratic Action party. That same year Venezuela joined the Andean Group (later the Andean Community), an economic association of Latin American nations. In 1976, Venezuela nationalized its foreign-owned oil and iron companies. Luis Herrera Campíns replaced Pérez in 1978. A decrease in world oil prices during the early 1980s shocked the Venezuelan economy and massively increased Venezuela's foreign debt.

Democratic Action candidate Jaime Lusinchi defeated Campíns in 1983. He renegotiated the national debt and introduced austerity budgets and cuts in social services, but inflation and unemployment continued to plague the country. Pérez was returned to office in 1989 amid demonstrations and riots sparked by deteriorating social conditions. In 1992 Pérez survived two attempted military coups, but the following year he was removed from office on corruption charges he was later convicted and sentenced to jail for misuse of a secret security fund. In 1994 Rafael Caldera Rodríguez again became president, this time under the banner of the National Convergence party. He unveiled austerity measures in 1996 and privatized some state-run companies.

Venezuela's economy sagged and its budget deficit grew as oil prices fell again in the late 1990s. Relations with Colombia, long strained over control of offshore oil reserves and the illegal movement of many Colombians into Venezuela to work, deteriorated in the 1990s as Venezuela claimed that Colombian guerrillas were trafficking drugs and arms across the border. In 1999, Hugo Chávez Frías, a former army colonel who had participated in a failed coup attempt against Pérez, became president after running as an independent. He called for a halt to privatization of state assets and approved a law enabling him to rule by decree in economic matters for six months. He also cut Venezuela's oil production to force up prices, and pushed for other OPEC members to do the same.

A referendum in Apr., 1999, called for a national constituent assembly to draft a new constitution the assembly was elected in July and convened a month later. The assembly and Chávez engaged in a contest for power with the congress and judiciary the assembly declared a national emergency and stripped the congress of its powers. A constitution establishing a strong president with a six-year term in office and the ability to run for immediate reelection and a unicameral National Assembly was approved in referendum in December the new constitution also reduced civilian control of the military and increased the government's control of the economy. In the same month Venezuela experienced its worst natural disaster of the century, as torrential rains caused huge, devastating mudslides along the Caribbean coast perhaps as many as 5,000 people were killed.

The disaster slowed plans for new elections, but the congress was replaced with a 21-member interim council. In July, 2000, Chávez won election to the presidency under the new constitution his coalition, the Political Pole, won 99 of the 165 seats in the assembly, short of the two-thirds majority needed to rule without constraints. Chávez won approval from the assembly to legislate by decree, and won passage of a Dec., 2000, referendum that ousted Venezuela's labor leaders, a move denounced by the International Labor Organization. Chávez also revived the dormant boundary dispute with Guyana, declaring that a satellite-launching facility being built by an American company in the territory claimed by Venezuela was a cover for a U.S. military presence.

In 2001, Chávez became somewhat more unpopular with the increasingly polarized Venezuelan people, although he still retained significant support among the lower classes. His attempts to assert control over the state oil company led to strikes and demonstrations in early 2002, and in April he was briefly ousted in a coup attempt. Latin American nations refused, however, to recognize a self-proclaimed interim government under business executive Pedro Carmona Estanga, and poorer Venezuelans mounted counter-demonstrations in his support. Chávez was restored to office and called for reconciliation a subsequent cabinet shakeup gave his government a less ideological cast.

The ongoing political turmoil, which led to a prolonged, polarizing antigovernment strike in the vital oil industry (Dec., 2002–Feb., 2003), sent the country into recession and reduced oil exports. Although Chávez outlasted his striking opponents, the crisis further eroded public support for his government. An agreement between the two sides, negotiated by the Organization of American States in May, 2003, called for an end to violence and a referendum on Chávez's presidency later in the year. An opposition petition calling for a referendum on Chávez was rejected in September, however, because of procedural errors.

A new petition for a recall referendum was presented in December, but so many of the signatures were rejected by the electoral commission that the petition was unsuccessful. Negotiations ultimately led to a compromise in which the opposition was allowed three days in May, 2004, to reaffirm disputed signatures, and the petition was validated. Also in May, a number of civilians and military officers were arrested on charges of plotting a coup against Chávez. In the referendum, held in August, 58% voted to retain Chávez, and despite opposition denunciations of the result, foreign observers strongly endorsed it. Several opposition leaders were later charged (July, 2005) with conspiring to undermine Venezuela's government because their organization, Súmate, which played a major role in the petition drive, had received U.S. funds that were alleged to have been used to fund the referendum effort.

In Jan., 2005, the president signed a decree establishing a national land commission that would begin the process of breaking up the country's large estates and redistributing the land. During the same month relations with Colombia were tense after a Colombian rebel in Venezuela was kidnapped (Dec., 2004) by bounty hunters and turned over to Colombia authorities, but the dispute was resolved by the time both nations' presidents met in Caracas in February. National assembly elections in Dec., 2005, resulted in a sweep for parties supporting the president, but only a quarter of the electorate voted. Most opposition candidates withdrew from the contest before the vote in protest against what they said were biases and flaws in the electoral process, ceding complete control of the legislature to Chávez.

Chávez used Venezuela's increased oil revenues to fund social programs, to create a large military reserve and expanded militia, and to establish programs designed to reduce the effects of high energy prices on Caribbean nations. Chávez also publicly accused the United States of planning an invasion to overthrow him, while U.S. officials accused him of supporting antidemocratic forces in Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador. His public support, in 2006, for one candidate in the Peruvian presidential race and criticisms of the ultimate winner, Alan García, led Peru to recall its ambassador. Venezuela was admitted to full membership in Mercosur in mid-2006 (ratifed in 2012) at the same time it withdrew from the Andean Community, whose members included Peru and Colombia.

Chávez was handily reelected in Dec., 2006, benefiting from an economic boom due to high petroleum prices and from the social programs he had instituted for the poor, but the strong win masked the continuing polarization of Venezuelan society along class lines, with the poorer classes overwhelmingly favoring the president. At the same time, however, inflation was increasing, and it continued to grow thoughout 2007 and 2008. Proclaiming socialism or death at his inauguration (Jan., 2007), Chávez moved to nationalize all energy and power companies and the country's largest telecommunications firm. He also moved to consolidate some two dozen parties supporting him into a unified socialist party, which was only partially successful, and secured the right to rule by decree for 18 months. Chávez subsequently won passage of constitutional amendments that would have ended presidential term limits, increased the length of the president's term, and enhanced the president's powers generally, but the changes failed (Dec., 2007) to win the voters' approval.

After a Colombian raid (Mar., 2008) against rebels based in Ecuador there were several days of tensions between Colombia and neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela, who mobilized forces to their borders. Colombia said computer files seized in the raid had evidence of ties between the rebels and Chávez's government. Though Venezuela denied that, Chávez, who had succeeded in winning the release of several hostages held by the rebels, expressed public sympathy for the Colombian rebel leader killed in the raid. (The head of the Organization of American States said the following month that no government had presented it with evidence of ties between Venezuela and any terrorist group.) From mid-2009 relations with Colombia were again strained by Colombian accusations of Venezuela support for Colombian rebels, prompted in part by the capture from the rebels of weapons purchased by Venezuela from Sweden Venezuela alleged that Colombia's allowing U.S. forces to use Colombian bases against drug traffickers was a belligerent move by the United States. In Nov., 2009, Chávez ordered 15,000 troops to the Colombian border the following month he accused the United States of violating Venezuelan airspace from the Netherlands Antilles, where U.S. antidrug operations are based.

In Apr., 2008, Chávez ordered the nationalization of the cement industry and of Venezuela's largest steelmaker additional companies and industries, perhaps most notably financial institutions, were nationalized into 2010. As his right to rule by decree expired at the end of July, 2008, Chávez signed a number of decrees that mirrored many of the constitutional amendments that voters had rejected at the end of 2007, and in Jan., 2009, he secured legislative passage of a constitutional amendment that would end term limits for all elected officials. A referendum approved the amendment in Feb., 2009.

Meanwhile, in Nov., 2008, Chávez's allies again won a majority of the posts in local and regional elections, but the opposition increased the number of posts it held and won the Caracas mayorlty. Subsequent government moves stripped significant powers from posts that opposition candidates won, further concentrating power in central government hands, and the government launched corruption investigations or other cases against a number of leading opposition figures and critics. By late 2009, drought and increasing energy demands had led to such low water levels behind the Guri Dam that industrial cutbacks and other rationing measures, including rolling blackouts in 2010, were instituted. In Feb., 2010, the government declared an electricity emergency and imposed stricter rationing.

The National Assembly elections in September were won by Chávez's party, but the opposition, which did not boycott the elections, made significant gains, winning 47% of the vote and nearly 40% of the seats and denying the ruling party a constitutionally significant two-thirds majority. In Dec., 2010, there was significant flooding in states along the central and W Caribbean coast, and flood recovery and reconstruction was the pretext for Chávez's seeking legislation to rule by decree. Decried by his critics as an attempt to circumvent the incoming National Assembly, the law gave him decree powers for 18 months in many areas, such as banking and defense, not related to reconstruction. In Mar., 2011, the government adopted rules authorizing the military to arm the nation's militias, a progovernment force made up of militant Chávez supporters they had previously not been issued firearms.

Chávez was again reelected in Oct., 2012, after having been treated for cancer and declaring himself fully recovered his margin of victory was much less than in 2006. Subsequently, however, the president was again treated for cancer. This time, complications kept him in a Cuban hospital and led to the postponing of his Jan., 2013, inauguration. In Dec., 2012, Chávez's party made gains in the governors elections. Chávez died in Mar., 2013, after returning to Venezuela Nicolás Maduro Moros, his vice president, became interim president.

In the April presidential election Maduro was elected, but he only narrowly defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who had lost to Chávez in 2012 by more than 10%. Capriles called for a recount, but a more limited audit was conducted. There was some postelection violence, and Maduro accused Capriles of attempting a coup. In June, 2013, the Venezuela government said it had foiled a Colombian-based attempt to assassinate Maduro. Maduro had previously accused former Colombian president Uribe of plotting to kill him, and his subsequent tenure was marked by recurring charges of assassination plots by various opponents.

A couple significant power blackouts affected Venezuela's electrical grid in late 2013. The government blamed the blackouts on sabotage, and in October expelled several U.S. diplomats it accused of being involved in one blackout, but no concrete evidence of sabotage was presented by the government. Maduro received the power to rule by decree for 12 months in November, which he said was necessary to fight corruption and regulate the economy inflation rate meanwhile increased to above 50% in 2013 despite government price controls and remained high during 2014, when the country entered a recession. The country also suffered economically from the 2014 oil price collapse, and its economic troubles continued into 2015.

Antigovernment demonstrations surged beginning in Feb., 2014, after students protested alleged police indifference to an attempted sexual assault weeks of protests were marked by clashes with security forces and attacks by armed militants loyal to government. A number of opposition leaders, mainly from more hardline groups, were arrested in February and March, and three air force generals were arrested in March on charges of plotting an uprising. Denunciations of opposition plots against the president and arrests and charges against political opponents continued into 2015. Maduro also faced criticism beginning in 2014 from prominent leftists who had been supporters of Chávez.

After the United States imposed sanctions against Venezuelan officials for alleged human-rights violations in early 2015, Maduro sought and was given the power to govern by decree during 2015. He subsequently revived the boundary dispute with Guyana, over oil exploration offshore of Guyanaese territory. A Venezuelan crackdown against Colombian migrants and smugglers in Aug.–Sept., 2015, led thousands to flee to Colombia and created tense relations between the two nations. The opposition won the National Assembly elections of Dec., 2015, in a landslide, narrowly winning a two-thirds majority, but a handful of its victories were subsequently challenged in court by the ruling party. The Maduro government subsequently packed the supreme court with sympathetic judges and limited the National Assembly's powers over the central bank the court subsequently aligned itself with Maduro in disputes with the National Assembly.

In Jan., 2016, Maduro declared an economic emergency, allowing him to rule by edict for two months it was extended in March and again in May, when he also declared a state of exception, greatly increasing his powers. None of the decrees were approved by the assembly, but they were nonetheless allowed by the court. The opposition continued with its attempts to recall the president as economic conditions in the country further deteriorated, leading to widespread food shortages and looting of food markets. There were also electricity shortfalls for several months in the first half of 2016, linked (as in 2009) to issues with the Guri Dam. Maduro used the electoral council to delay a recall referendum, first postponing a possible vote until 2017 and then suspending the recall drive and delaying state governor elections. The supreme court overturned laws passed by the National Assembly and allowed Maduro to rule without legislative approval, as the opposition meanwhile mounted several mass protests against Maduro.

In Dec., 2016, the country was suspended from Mercosur for failing to align its national laws with the organization's key trade and human rights rules and accords the suspension became indefinite in Aug., 2017. By Dec., 2016, Venezuela was experiencing hyperinflation and in Jan., 2017, it introduced large-denomination banknotes. An attempted withdrawal in the previous month of the then-largest denomination banknote had sparked protests and riots. In Mar., 2017, the supreme court declared that the National Assembly was in contempt and that it would legislate instead. Widespread national and international criticism forced Maduro and the court to reverse parts of the antidemocratic ruling, but both the president and the court continued to work together to rule without the opposition-controlled legislature. The move also sparked recurring demonstrations that continued for weeks.

In May, Maduro called for a constitutional assembly, to be elected by social organizations and municipal governments more supportive of the ruling party than the population the new body was seen as a way of invalidating the freely elected National Assembly. The July election for the constitutional assembly was boycotted by the opposition, but the government claimed victory and a 40% turnout the voting system company said turnout figures had been tampered with. The new assembly dismissed (August) the Socialist attorney general, who had become a vocal critic of Maduro and said she would investigate the July election results. It also claimed sole power to pass laws. The election of the new assembly also led to crippling new financial sanctions on the government by the United States.

In the Oct., 2017, gubernatorial elections, Maduro's party secured the vast majority of the posts despite his unpopularity the opposition claimed fraud, and there was evidence of some unfairness in the voting process, but abstention by opposition voters also was a factor. In May, 2018, Maduro won reelection in a contest largely boycotted by the opposition, which denounced it as rigged. In Aug., 2018, Maduro was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. The country's hyperinflation led to the introduction of a new, revalued currency, an increase in the minimum wage, and a cut in fuel subsidies, beginning in August.

When Maduro took office in Jan., 2019, the National Assembly declared his government illegitimate, and then recognized Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, as interim president. Many American and European nations recognized Guaidó as the country's leader, and a number of them imposed new sanctions on Maduro's government the United States in particular increased the severity of its sanctions as time progressed. Those moves and large demonstrations in favor of Guaidó failed to dislodge Maduro, who retained the support of Russia and China. In March two electrical blackouts left large areas of the country without power for days at a time a massive blackout also occurred in July.

In Jan., 2020, Maduro allies sought to elect a new National Assembly speaker, Luis Parra, a former Guaidó ally, by preventing most legislators from entering the assembly building Guaidó was reelected by the majority in another location. Maduro and other high-ranking government officials were charged with narcoterrorism and other crimes by the United States in Mar., 2020. The United Nations estimates that some 4.6 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015 due primarily to economic conditions (the economy having contracted more than 60% since 2013) most went to Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.

An attempt to kidnap Maduro in May, 2020, was foiled by Venezuelan security forces organized by a U.S. veteran, it had originally been planned in conjunction with two of Guaidó's advisers, who later withdrew. In June and July, the supreme court ordered the takeover of several major opposition parties including Guaidó's. Those moves and the reorganization of the national election council were denounced as designed to frustrate opposition candidates in the 2020 National Assembly elections.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: South American Political Geography

Instability in Venezuela

Venezuela is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people flee the country every day, mostly on foot. In April 2019, after years of denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis and refusing to allow foreign aid to enter the country—calling aid shipments a political ploy by the United States—Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro allowed the entry of a shipment of emergency supplies from the Red Cross. Venezuela’s infrastructure has been poorly maintained, recently leading to a series of country-wide blackouts in March 2019 that left millions without power.

Maduro was reelected to a second six-year term in May 2018, despite boycotts and accusations of fraud in a widely condemned election, including by a group of fourteen neighboring countries known as the Lima Group, and was officially sworn in to office in January 2019. Two weeks later, on January 15, the National Assembly declared Maduro’s election illegitimate and opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced that he would assume office as interim president until free and fair elections could be held. Guaidó was quickly recognized as interim president by the United States, Canada, most of the European Union, and the Organization of American States, but Maduro retains the support of several major countries including China, Cuba, Russia, and Turkey.

The resulting political standoff has seen an increase in U.S. sanctions against the Maduro government, including targeting oil shipments to Cuba—Maduro has increasingly relied on Cuban military and intelligence support to stay in power—as well as discussions about a potential military intervention. Russia, meanwhile, continues to support the Maduro government, sending Russian troops to Venezuela in March 2019 and helping the government evade sanctions on the oil industry. China has continued to back the Maduro government as well, including offering to help rebuild the national power grid.

Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela in 1998 and, because Venezuela is a petrostate with the largest oil reserves in the world, his socialist government was able to successfully implement its plan to provide subsidized goods and services to the Venezuelan people. However, years of economic mismanagement and corruption under Chavez led to Venezuela’s almost complete dependence on oil exports, and the collapse of global oil prices in 2014 led to a rapid economic decline.

After Chavez’s death in 2013, then–Vice President Maduro assumed the presidency and was subsequently elected to office. His government attempted to address the economic crisis by printing money. This policy resulted in hyperinflation (the International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation could hit 10 million percent in 2019). By 2014, large-scale anti-government protests erupted across the country and, in 2015, voters expressed their dissatisfaction by electing the first opposition-controlled National Assembly in two decades.

Since the situation deteriorated and the crisis escalated in 2015, an estimated 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled the country Venezuela’s neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean host approximately 2.7 million refugees, with nearly 1.5 million in Colombia. Estimates from the United Nations suggest that these numbers will increase, with 5.4 million projected to leave the country by the end of 2019. The exodus has also caused a regional humanitarian crisis, as neighboring governments are unable to absorb refugees and asylum seekers. Moreover, because the government has been unable to provide social services, Venezuelans face severe food and medicine shortages, as well as the continuing spread of infectious diseases.

As the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela escalates and the political situation deteriorates, the exodus of Venezuelans to neighboring countries is expected to continue. The strain on aid groups and regional governments to support refugees and asylum seekers may further expand what has already become a regional crisis. The United States has stated its interest in mitigating the humanitarian crisis and preventing further destabilization of the region.

Military Government Falls in Venezuela - History

Editor's Note:

Boom and bust. That economic cycle has happened repeatedly in places dependent on one natural resource, like Venezuela and petroleum. The history behind the most dramatic economic and human rights crisis in the Americas.

In the 1970s, Venezuela had the highest growth rate and lowest inequality in Latin America. Thanks to an oil bonanza, the government was able to spend more money (in absolute terms) from 1974 to 1979 than in its entire independent history. Indeed, during this time, this Gran Venezuela had the highest per capita GDP in region.

Scotch whiskey consumption was the highest in the world, the middle class drove Cadillacs and Buicks, and the free-spending upper class jetted off on shopping sprees to Miami, where they were known as “dame dos” (“give me two”). Politically, the country was one of only three democracies in Latin America in 1977, along with Costa Rica and Colombia.

But Venezuela is now deeply mired in political, economic, and humanitarian crises.

The nation’s economy contracted an estimated 18.6 percent in 2016, and is expected to shrink between 4.3 and 6 percent further in 2017. The 2016 inflation rate was estimated at 290 to 800 percent, and in December 2016 the country became the seventh in Latin American history to experience hyperinflation. Despite the government’s best efforts to continue payments, a crippling debt default also appears likely in 2017.

The human costs of the crisis have been dire, with food and medicine shortages, soaring infant mortality, and one of the world’s highest violent crime rates.

Massive queues for scarce goods like toilet paper, milk, cooking oil, butter, and corn flour (for the country’s ubiquitous arepas) have given rise to professional line standers who are paid to wait on behalf of others, digital apps to help citizens find scarce items, and stories like women giving birth in line or placid observers holding their places while witnessing a murder.

Three-quarters of Venezuelans have lost about 19 pounds of body weight in the last year on what people are calling “the Maduro Diet,” a scathing reference to current president Nicolás Maduro.

Public health is just as bad. As hospitals have run out of imported antibiotics, surgical supplies and spare parts for medical equipment, infant mortality rose 30 percent, maternal mortality 65 percent, and malaria 76 percent in 2016. Diphtheria, once thought eradicated, has made a comeback.

By some estimates, 2.5 million people have left the country since 1999 and Venezuela now leads U.S. asylum requests. On par with these devastating developments, the country has slipped from a hybrid regime—a type of political system that combines democratic traits with autocratic ones—into pure authoritarianism. The government postponed regional elections and suspended an opposition-driven presidential recall referendum against Maduro in October 2016.

Maduro has since tried attempted to dissolve the National Assembly, provoking international opprobrium, massive demonstrations, and condemnation from members of his own party. Some analysts fear the country may be on the brink of civil war.

Toilet paper is one of the basic necessities Venezuela has had a shortage of in recent years. This sign from 2014 limits customers to only three packages of toilet paper per person (left). The murder rate in Venezuela from 1998 to 2016 according to three different agencies (right).

What are the roots of this extraordinary economic and democratic decay?

To begin, Venezuela suffers from the resource curse, where instead of aiding development, the country’s ample mineral wealth actually undermined constructive economic and social development. And although the democracy of the country’s Fourth Republic (1958-1998) was enduring, its quality was not high: the party system was restrictive and unrepresentative of many sectors of society, and it eventually suffered a crisis of legitimacy.

Dissatisfied with the economic situation and a discredited political establishment, voters opted for the promises of the populist Hugo Chávez in 1998.

Chávez managed to radically change the country’s politics and economics without resolving any of the underlying political or economic problems. Instead, his free spending, ambivalent attitude towards liberal democracy, and astonishing economic mismanagement by both him and the feckless Maduro steered the country into today’s crisis.

President Hugo Chávez greeting supporters ahead of his election as president in 1998 ( left ). President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s handpicked successor, wearing the presidential sash in 2015 ( right ).

Oil Dependency and the Resource Curse

Venezuelan diplomat Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), predicted that Venezuela’s dependence on petroleum would leave it destitute. Amid the oil boom of the 1970s, he prophesied, “Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see oil will bring us ruin . It is the devil’s excrement.”

The statement proved prescient.

Unlike some of its neighbors, which were long dependent on exporting a single commodity but have since diversified, Venezuela is a rentier state wholly dependent on the extraction and export of petroleum and its derivatives. The oil sector is the country’s largest source of foreign currency, the biggest contributor to the fiscal sector, and the leading economic activity. In 2016, revenue from petroleum exports accounted for more than 50 percent of the country’s GDP and roughly 96 percent of total exports.

A graph showing oil as a percentage of export earnings in Venezuela from 1998 to 2013 (graph created by the author from information from the Venezuelan Central Bank).

This level of dependency causes a “paradox of plenty,” or “resource curse,” in which a country with large natural resource endowments is nonetheless hard pressed to develop. It also leads to corruption, since a limited number of people generate wealth and the government plays a central role in distributing it. In places with weak representative institutions, oil booms—which create the illusion of prosperity and development—may actually destabilize regimes by reinforcing oil-based interests and further weakening state capacity.

All of this has happened in Venezuela, where oil dependency has contributed to at least three recurrent problems. First, it is difficult for dependent states to invest oil rents in developing a strong domestic productive sector.

Abundant revenue from natural resource extraction discourages the long-term investment in infrastructure that would support a more diverse economy. Venezuelan leaders have long recognized this challenge. In a famous 1936 op-ed, writer and intellectual Arturo Uslar Pietri urged his countrymen to “sembrar el petróleo” (plant the oil) by using oil rents to grow the country’s productive capacity, modernize, and educate.

Venezuelan intellectual Arturo Uslar Pietri urged his fellow citizens to use oil profits to develop the country and its people (left). A graph of Venezuela’s production (grey), consumption (black line), and exportation (green) of oil from 1965 to 2015 (right).

Leaders have been unable to heed his advice. Instead, mini-booms in oil prices consistently reverse growth in Venezuela’s non-oil sector, which sees an average 3.3 percent growth in pre-boom years turn into -2.8 percent in post-boom years.

The result is continued dependence on oil revenue at the expense of other industries, and a concentration of risk in a volatile commodity. As the above graph shows, oil dependency has grown since 1998, as the percent of export earning derived from petroleum rose from under 70 percent to more than 95 percent in 2012—and a reported 96 percent in 2016.

Second, in times of bonanza, oil rents may also cause a growing dependence on foreign imports at the expense of domestic industry.

This is due to the fact that new discoveries or rapidly rising prices of oil bring a sharp inflow of foreign currency. An increase in currency reserves leads to appreciation in the value of the currency, which hurts the competitiveness of the other products on the export market and increases dependence on foreign imports, which are cheaper. When oil money is flowing, imports increase.

However, when crude prices drop and petrodollars fall, as they have now, it becomes more difficult for the government to import goods, as demonstrated by scarcity in the 1980s and again since 2012. Compounding things right now, Venezuela’s government has made it a priority to pay its sovereign debt obligations rather than import more goods.

A third consequence of the resource curse is endemic corruption. Countries heavily dependent on external rents, such as natural resource exports, are able to embark on large public expenditure programs without having to develop a fiscal system to tax their populations. As a result, citizens have reduced incentives to hold the government accountable.

Further, whenever public agents have monopoly power and discretion over the distribution of valuable rights, incentives for corruption increase. This has long been the case in Venezuela, which has suffered from public sector corruption dating back at least to democratization in 1958. As oil prices skyrocketed in the late 2000s, horizontal checks on executive power and oversight of the state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA) decreased. Today, corruption has reached unprecedented levels.

This is reflected in the evolution of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in Venezuela. The country consistently ranked in the top 10% of the world’s most corrupt countries beginning with the first survey in 1995. Yet probity has dipped further since the mid-2000s, reflecting decreasing confidence in any measure of government rectitude under both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.

The Military, Democratization, and “Partyarchy”

Political factors such as a tradition of military government, late democratization, and weak democratic representation have also greatly contributed to the present crisis.

Simón Bolívar, known at El Libertador, was a military and political figure who played a leading role in bringing independence from Spain to Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama (left). A 2014 military parade to commemorate President Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013 (right).

Independence hero Simón Bolívar supposedly said that “Ecuador is a convent, Colombia a university, and Venezuela a military barracks.” Indeed, the Venezuelan armed forces have been key actors in Venezuelan politics and state building. Until Julián Castro’s military dictatorship in 1858, all post-independence leaders were ex-military officers who represented the Liberal and Conservative parties.

Alternation between active and retired officers holding political power ended definitively with the Liberal Restoration Revolution of 1899. From that time until 1945, a succession of military officers ruled the country under dictatorship: Cipriano Castro (1899-1908) Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1935) Eleazar López Contreras (1935-1941) and Isaías Medina Angarita (1941-1945).

President Cipriano Castro ruled Venezuela from 1899 to 1908 after seizing power with his personal army (left). President Juan Vicente Gómez seized power from his predecessor and ruled from 1908 until his death in 1935 (second from left). President Eleazar López Contreras served as his predecessor’s War Minister before ruling Venezuela from 1935 to 1941 (third from left). President Isaías Medina Angarita also served as his predecessor’s War Minister and ruled Venezuela from 1941 until 1945 (right).

The country attempted electoral democracy during the trienio adeco (1945-1948), but this was quickly followed by the repressive dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez. In the absence of interstate conflict, the armed forces saw themselves as the key institution fostering internal development and modernization.

Military involvement in politics meant democracy arrived late. Stable democracy, in fact, did not occur until 1958, when representatives of Venezuela's three main political parties—the Social Democratic Acción Democrática (AD), Social Christian COPEI and Unión Republicana Democrática (URD)—signed a formal agreement known as the Pact of Punto Fijo.

President Rómulo Betancourt, the “Father of Venezuelan Democracy,” voting in 1946 (left). President Marcos Pérez Jiménez, who ruled as a military dictator from 1952 to 1958, receiving a commendation from U.S. Ambassador Fletcher Warren in 1954 (right).

The pact aimed to preserve democracy through elections, cabinet and bureaucratic power sharing, and a basic program of government. Although the accord allowed Venezuelan democracy to survive the tumultuous 1960s and a leftist guerrilla threat, as well as destabilization attempts by the Dominican Republic’s right wing dictator, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, it also helped bind Venezuela’s political system to exclusive competition between two parties, AD and COPEI, after the URD lost power in the 1960s.

This two-party dominance created what Michael Coppedge termed “partyarchy”: government of the people, by the parties, for the parties. In it, AD and COPEI exercised a “pathological kind of political control” over political, economic, and social life that guaranteed stability at the expense of representation.

The parties relied on a system of concertación, in which they would confer with each other or business and military interests to seek consensus on major policies. They also used patronage to coopt civil society organizations and other means of limiting channels of representation such as interest groups, the media, and the courts.

From left to right, Rafael Caldera, Jóvito Villalba, and Rómulo Betancourt at the signing of the Pact of Punto Fijo in 1958 (left). The logo of the Social Democratic Party, Acción Democrática, (AD) (top). Members of the Social Christian Party, COPEI, marching for a mayoral candidate around 2010 in the party’s trademark green color (bottom).

These limitations hurt the system, and as oil prices fell and resources for patronage dried up in the 1980s, public support for the parties and the Fourth Republic democratic system declined.

Venezuela’s achievements in the 1960s and 1970s, look less impressive through the prisms of oil dependency and democratic rigidity. While GDP per capita, social spending, and quality of life all rose, and while the country avoided the democratic collapses of Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and others, its gains were ultimately unsustainable.

These fundamental political and economic weaknesses also created conditions for the crises of the 1980s and 1990s and paved the way for the allure of populism and the explicit involvement of the armed forces in politics in the 2000s.

Economic Crisis and the Unraveling of Partyarchy

The economic shoe was the first one to drop, as oil prices collapsed in the early 1980s. High public debt, the drying up of international loans, and an overvalued currency led to massive capital flight in 1982 and early 1983.

On February 18, 1983, or viernes negro as it is known in Venezuela, the government established currency controls—something Chávez would do 20 years later—to stop this flight and halt inflation. Purchasing power declined by almost 75 percent overnight.

Partyarchy also began to crumble.

Buffeted by low oil prices and rising interest rates on its international debt, the Venezuelan government struggled to finance itself. President Carlos Andrés Pérez attempted a fix through a packet of neoliberal economic reforms in February 1989, but they only further aggravated the economic situation for the working class, leading to a wave of protests, riots, and looting on February 27 that left hundreds of civilians dead.

In its wake, the Revolutionary Bolivarian 200 Movement (MBR-200), a radical left-wing group led by Army Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez Frías, accelerated its planning for a coup d’état. This February 1992 coup attempt was unsuccessful—as was a second attempt by the Air Force in November of that year—but it marked the beginning of the end of Punto Fijo democracy.

A deep institutional crisis followed during the 1990s with the impeachment of Pérez in 1993 and a major financial and economic crisis during the Rafael Caldera administration (1994-1999) that coincided with the lowest international crude prices in decades.

The military and educational pathways

Venezuela’s first military academy was founded in Caracas in 1910. At the time, this constituted a milestone in the gradual formation of a centralized modern state after decades of fractional struggles, caudillo rule and civil wars following the country’s liberation from Spain in 1811. 6

In 1971, the Venezuelan government implemented what was known as Plan Andrés Bello, which implied expanding the academic focus on military education, translating it into university standards. This reform did not only intellectualize military education, familiarizing students with critical political thinking and leftist writers, but it also expanded their contact with civilian progressive circles. The new educational model put strong emphasis on honor, discipline and self-sacrifice, as well as inciting deep nationalist and patriotic sentiments inspired by the Venezuelan national hero from the Wars of Independence, Simón Bolívar. His teachings were (in comparison with dominant thinking at the time) egalitarian and progressive as well as anti-imperial, adding to the nascent leftist-progressive and nationalist current amongst junior officers—a change that also represented a generational shift within the Armed Forces (ibid., 46–47).

In a country with relatively rigid class structures, the military constituted a potential path for upward mobility through its enrollment programs, allowing lower-class and middle-class citizens to enter military education on special scholarships. Amongst them was Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, the son of two poor rural teachers from the inland state of Barinas. Chávez had entered the military academy on a baseball scholarship and had originally envisioned a future as a baseball player in the United States. However, whilst at the military academy he became increasingly caught up in political activities through his older brother Adán, who was an important figure amongst communist groups. Throughout the 1980s, Chávez gradually became a key figure of a clandestine leftist network within the military, whilst at the same time ascending in military ranks and eventually reaching the degree of Lieutenant Colonel.


Etymology Edit

The waterfall has been known as the Angel Falls since the mid-20th century they are named after Jimmie Angel, a U.S. aviator, who was the first person to fly over the falls. [2] Angel's ashes were scattered over the falls on 2 July 1960. [3]

The common Spanish name Salto Ángel derives from his surname. In 2009, President Hugo Chávez announced his intention to change the name to the purported original indigenous Pemon term ("Kerepakupai Vená", meaning "waterfall of the deepest place"), on the grounds that the nation's most famous landmark should bear an indigenous name. [4] Explaining the name change, Chávez was reported to have said, "This is ours, long before Angel ever arrived there . this is indigenous land." [5] However, he later said that he would not decree the change of name, but only was defending the use of Kerepakupai Vená. [6]

Exploration Edit

Sir Walter Raleigh, in his expedition to find the fabled city of El Dorado, described what was possibly a tepui (table top mountain), and he is said to have been the first European to view Angel Falls, although these claims are considered far-fetched. [7] Some historians state that the first European to visit the waterfall was Fernando de Berrío, a Spanish explorer and governor from the 16th and 17th centuries. [8] Other sources state that the first Westerner to see the waterfall was the Spanish explorer Fèlix Cardona in 1927. [9]

They were not known to the outside world until American aviator Jimmie Angel, following directions given by Cardona, flew over them on 16 November 1933 on a flight while he was searching for a valuable ore bed. [9] [10] [11]

Returning on 9 October 1937, Angel tried to land his Flamingo monoplane El Río Caroní atop Auyán-tepui, but the plane was damaged when the wheels sank into the marshy ground. Angel and his three companions, including his wife Marie, were forced to descend the tepui on foot. It took them 11 days to make their way back to civilization by the gradually sloping back side, but news of their adventure spread and the waterfall was named Angel Falls in his honor. The name of the waterfall—"Salto del Ángel"—was first published on a Venezuelan government map in December 1939. [12]

Angel's plane remained on top of the tepui for 33 years before being lifted out by helicopter. [13] It was restored at the Aviation Museum in Maracay and now sits outdoors on the front of the airport at Ciudad Bolívar.

The first recorded European to reach the base of the falls was the Latvian explorer Aleksandrs Laime, also known as Alejandro Laime to the native Pemon tribe. He reached the falls alone in 1946. He was the first to reach the upper side of falls in the late 1950s, by climbing on the back side where the slope is not vertical. [14] He also reached Angel's plane 18 years after the crash landing. On 18 November 1955, Latvian independence day, he announced to the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional that this stream without any known local name should be named after a Latvian river, Gauja. The same year, this name was registered in the National Cartographic Institution of Venezuela. There is no convincing proof that the indigenous Pemon people had named the local streams, as Auyán-tepui was considered to be a dangerous place and was not visited by the indigenous people. [14] However, lately the Pemon name Kerep is used as well.

Laime was also the first to clear a trail that leads from the Churún River to the base of the falls. On the way is a viewpoint commonly used to capture the falls in photographs. It is named Mirador Laime ("Laime's Viewpoint" in Spanish) in his honor. This trail is used now mostly for tourists, to lead them from the Isla Ratón camp to the small clearing.

The official height of the falls was determined by a survey carried out by an expedition organized and financed by American journalist Ruth Robertson on 13 May 1949. [12] [15] Robertson's expedition, which began on 23 April 1949, was also the first to reach the foot of the falls. [16] The first known attempt to climb the face of the cliff was made in 1968 during the wet season. It failed because of slippery rock. In 1969, a second attempt was made during the dry season. This attempt was thwarted by lack of water and an overhang 120 metres (400 ft) from the top. The first climb to the top of the cliff was completed on 13 January 1971. The climbers required nine and a half days to ascend and one and a half days to rappel down. [17]

Angel Falls is one of Venezuela's top tourist attractions, though a trip to the falls is a complicated affair. The falls are located in an isolated jungle. A flight from Maiquetia Airport or Puerto Ordaz or Ciudad Bolívar is required to reach Canaima camp, the starting point for river trips to the base of the falls. River trips generally take place from June to December, when the rivers are deep enough for use by the Pemon guides. During the dry season (December to March), there is less water seen than in the other months.

What do Venezuelans say?

One of the biggest challenges facing Venezuelans is hyperinflation. According to a study released by the National Assembly, by the end of 2018, prices were doubling every 19 days on average.

“[Regardless of the politics] we don’t have a good life [in Venezuela], we are forced to leave. There are people dying because we don’t have the right medicines in the country, or food, or we don’t have security in the streets,” Rosina Estrada, a Venezuelan citizen, told Al Jazeera.

The International Monetary Fund anticipates that the country’s inflation rate will reach 10 million percent in 2019.

Venezuela is also facing what has become the largest exodus in Latin America history. Over three million people have fled the country since 2014, and it’s expected to reach 5.3 million by the end of 2019, according to the UN figures.

“The situation we are living in is unprecedented. And on top of all the domestic challenges, we are seeing a fragile government that still has some power and force, but that is slowly losing control,” Ramon Pinango, a Venezuelan sociologist, told Al Jazeera.

The dire situation have led many Venezuelans to question the current government, analysts say.

“Maduro has a big challenge internally with the current hyperinflation [and the situation], it’s obvious that his rule doesn’t have the support that Chavez had,” Javier Buenrostro, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said.

“But we can’t forget that the opposition is not characterised for playing fair, and they haven’t found support among the citizens either,” he added.

The opposition, as a group, has also showed divisions and has failed to demonstrate clear leadership in its movement.

One clear of example took place in 2017 when four opposition politicians broke with the official line and acknowledged the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly, after a loss for the group in regional elections.

“The Chavismo not only managed to win critical elections [back then], they also managed to put the opposition in crisis by leading them to an electoral confrontation,” Marco Terugi, an author and political analyst explained.

One of the biggest challenges facing Venezuelans is hyperinflation [File: Rodrigo Abd/AP]

President Chavez dies

2013 April - President Hugo Chavez dies at age 58 in March after a battle with cancer. Nicolas Maduro, his chosen successor, is elected president by a narrow margin. The opposition contests the result.

2014 February-March - At least 28 people die in suppression of anti-government protests.

2014 November - Government announces cuts in public spending as oil prices reach a four-year low.

2015 December - Opposition Democratic Unity coalition wins two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections, ending 16 years of Socialist Party control.

2016 September - Hundreds of thousands of people take part in a protest in Caracas calling for the removal of President Maduro, accusing him of responsibility for the economic crisis.

2017 July - Controversial constituent assembly elected in the face of an opposition boycott and international condemnation.

2018 May - Opposition contests the official victory of President Maduro at presidential elections.

2018 August - UN says two million Venezuelans have fled abroad to neighbouring countries since 2014.

2019 January-February - Opposition leader Juan Guaidó declares himself interim president, appeals to military to oust President Maduro on the grounds that the 2018 election was rigged.

European Union, United States, and most Latin American countries recognise Mr Guaidó.

2020 December - Opposition boycotts legislative elections, which are duly won by President Maduro's party and allies.

Watch the video: Κωνσταντίνος Λαμπρόπουλος: Η Άλωση της Τριπολιτσάς στο στόχαστρο των γνωστών αναθεωρητών (May 2022).