Freedom in the World
Venezuela’s civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5 due to a raft of legislation that granted President Hugo Chávez Frias wide-ranging decree powers, tightened restrictions on civil society and the media, and attempted to vitiate opposition gains in September 2010 parliamentary elections.
Opposition candidates won a majority of the votes in parliamentary elections held in September 2010, but electoral rules that favor the ruling party allowed the government to retain its legislative majority. Prior to the end of the 2006–10 parliamentary term, legislators passed 13 new laws on topics including civil society, the media, and subnational government structures. President Hugo Chávez Frias was also granted wide-ranging decree powers for 18 months.
The Republic of Venezuela was founded in 1830, nine years after independence from Spain. Long periods of instability and military dictatorship ended with the establishment of civilian rule in 1958 and the approval of a constitution in 1961. Until 1993, the center-left Democratic Action (AD) party and the Social Christian Party (COPEI) dominated politics under an arrangement known as the Punto Fijo pact. President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1989–93) of the AD, already weakened by the violent political fallout from his free-market reforms, was nearly overthrown by Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez Frias and other nationalist military officers in two 1992 coup attempts, in which dozens of people were killed. Pérez was subsequently impeached as a result of corruption and his inability to stem the social consequences of economic decline, which had coincided with lower oil prices beginning in the 1980s. Rafael Caldera, a former president (1969–74) and founder of COPEI, was elected president in late 1993 as head of the 16-party Convergence coalition, which included both left- and right-wing groups.
Venezuelais not an electoral democracy. While the act of voting is relatively free and the count is fair, the political playing field favors government-backed candidates, and the separation of powers is nearly nonexistent.