Venezuela, on the northern coast of South America, has been ruled by democratically elected governments since 1959, and in 1999 adopted a new constitution and governmental reorganization. At the same time, newly elected president Hugo Chavez instituted a number of reforms to redistribute wealth and fund programs in health care and education, resulting in improved health for mothers and children. Venezuela has significant oil reserves, which account for about 30 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 90 percent of export earnings. The per capita income in 2008 was $13,500 and remains unevenly distributed with a Gini Index of 48.2; the top decile of households earn 35.2 percent of the income, versus 0.7 percent for the lowest decile, and poverty levels remain just below 50 ...

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