Venezuela: 2008 in Review

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The big news of the year in Latin America undoubtedly was the successful rescue operation carried out by the Colombian military, which released French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, Americans Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and eleven Colombian officers and NCOs. The success of this operation, which required near perfect execution by a military that only a few years ago could rarely be trusted, dealt a blow to Hugo Chavez’s dream of a Bolivarian empire in Latin America and changed the balance of power in the region away from Chavez. By year's end, Brazil also gained a much higher profile, stealing the limelight from Chavez by becoming a diplomatic power.

But let’s start in January:

The price of oil at the beginning of the year was $100 for Texas crude. In December 2007 Hugo Chavez had lost a referendum on amending the Venezuelan constitution which would have granted him unlimited terms and nearly unlimited powers. People were still using “Por que no te callas” ringtones in their cell phones. The best-selling ringtone used King Juan Carlos’s of Spain’s retort, and relations between Spain and Venezuela had become strained. At year's start, Chavez was proposing the rescue of three hostages, which was rumored to involve the payment of $500 million. The rescue did go through, but not as planned. The son of one of the women, who supposedly was going to be released at that time, not only had already been released, but was living in a Bogota orphanage.

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