Venezuela has a population of twenty-four million people and is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter. Despite its rich natural resources, the country's wealth is held by a very small percentage. The middle class is very small with about 80% of the population living at or below poverty level.
President Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998 for a term of five years with no re-election. He took office in 1999. A newly-elected National Assembly passed a Constitution, overwhelmingly ratified by the people. The new Constitution established a six-year presidential term of office permitting one re-election and a very unusual mid-term confirmatory referendum upon request of 15% of the 11 million registered voters. In April 2000, Chavez was confirmed under the new Constitution or, in essence, elected for a new six-year term through 2006 with a possible re-election.
Many people are now disillusioned with Chavez's failure to deliver on campaign promises and his alignment with Castro's communist dictatorship. A coup in mid-April 2002 deposed Chavez for two days and resulted in twenty-one deaths. Each side is blaming the other for the violence and the matter is unresolved. The opposition scheduled demonstrations throughout the country during October in an effort to force the charismatic vitriolic Chavez to resign or to schedule an early election rather than waiting until a possible mid-term vote in 2003. The opposition was disorganized and had no single leader or uniform plan of action. The political scene was heating up as the value of the Bolivar remained low.
Despite the political and economic unrest, life was good for tourists. Most Venezuelans are genuinely nice and go out of their way to be helpful, providing directions, helping with buses, etc. They are very tolerant of those who don't speak the language.
Food is very reasonably priced so we seldom cooked on the boat. Street fare was good or you could sit down to a leisurely meal in a restaurant. One of our favorites was Gambero Rosso Ristorante. Fulvio, the owner, reminded me of my brother Jack. Their manners are similar in that they go from table to table, remembering customers from previous visits, talking and joking. Fulvio displayed homemade pastas and seafood on ice from which patrons selected fresh entrees.