"Under the populist rule of President Hugo Chávez, first elected in 1998 and most recently reelected to a six-year term in December 2006, Venezuela has undergone enormous political changes, with a new constitution and unicameral legislature, and even a new name for the country, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. U.S. officials and human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the deterioration of democratic institutions and threats to freedom of expression under President Chávez, who has survived several attempts to remove him from power. The government has benefitted from the rise in world oil prices, which has sparked an economic boom and allowed Chávez to increase expenditures on social programs associated with his populist agenda. After he was reelected, Chávez announced new measures to move the country toward socialism. His May 2007 closure of a popular Venezuelan television station (RCTV) that was critical of the government sparked student-led protests and international condemnation. President Chávez was dealt a setback on December 2, 2007, when his proposed constitutional amendment package was defeated by a close margin in a national referendum. Many of the amendments proved controversial, such as the removal of presidential term limits and the government's ability to suspend certain constitutional rights during a state of emergency. The United States traditionally has had close relations with Venezuela, the fourth major supplier of foreign oil to the United States, but there has been friction in relations with the Chávez government."
CRS Report for Congress, RL32488