Simón Bolívar has left a long lasting imprint on Venezuela's history in particular and South America in general. As a military cadet, Hugo Chávez was "a celebrant of the Bolivarian passion story". Chávez relied upon the ideas of Bolívar and on Bolívar as a popular symbol later in his military career as he put together his MBR-200 movement which would become a vehicle for his 1992 coup-attempt.
South America in the late 1980s and early 1990s was just recovering from the Latin American debt crisis of the mid-1980s and many governments had adopted austerity and privatization policies to finance International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans. It was in this context that Chávez and MBR-200 (as the Fifth Republic Movement) won the 1998 elections and initiated the constituent process that resulted in the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999.
Plan Bolívar 2000 was the first of the Bolivarian Missions enacted under of administration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. According to the United States Department of State, Chávez wanted to "send the message that the military was not a force of popular repression, but rather a force for development and security". The United States State Department also commented that this happened "only 23 days after his inauguration" and that he wanted to show his closest supporters "that he had not forgotten them". The plan involved around 40,000 Venezuelan soldiers engaged in door-to-door anti-poverty activities, including mass vaccinations, food distribution in slum areas and education.Several scandals affected the program as allegations of corruption were formulated against Generals involved in the plan, arguing that significant amounts of money had been diverted.
The program uses volunteers to teach reading, writing and arithmetic to the more than 1.5 million Venezuelan adults who were illiterate prior to Chávez's election to the presidency in 1999. The program is military-civilian in nature and sends soldiers to—among other places—remote and dangerous locales in order to reach the most undereducated, neglected and marginalized adult citizens to give them regular schooling and lessons.
The Mission involves a state-run company called Mercados de Alimentos, C.A. (MERCAL), which provides subsidised food and basic goods through a nationwide chain of stores. In 2010 Mercal was reported as having 16,600 outlets, "ranging from street-corner shops to huge warehouse stores", in addition to 6,000 soup kitchens. Mercal employs 85,000 workers. In 2006, some 11.36 million Venezuelans benefited from Mercal food programs on a regular basis. At least 14,208 Mission Mercal food distribution sites were spread throughout Venezuela and 4,543 metric tons of food distributed each day. In recent times, customers who had to wait in long lines for discounted products say that there were a lack of products in Mercal stores and that items available at the stores change constantly. Some customers complained about rationing being enforced at Mercal stores due to the lack of products. In some cases, protests have occurred due to the shortages in stores.
The mission was to provide comprehensive publicly funded health care, dental care and sports training to poor and marginalized communities in Venezuela. Barrio Adentro featured the construction of thousands of iconic two-story medical clinics—consultorios or doctor’s offices—as well as staffing with resident, certified medical professionals. Barrio Adentro constitutes an attempt to deliver a de facto form of universal health care, seeking to guarantee access to quality and cradle-to-grave medical attention for all Venezuelan citizens. As of 2006, the staff included 31,439 professionals, technical personnel, and health technicians, of which 15,356 were Cuban doctors and 1,234 Venezuelan doctors.
On 28 October 2005, Venezuela declared itself a "Territory Free of Illiteracy", having raised in its initial estimates the literacy rate to around 99%, although the statistic was changed to 96%. According to UNESCO standards, a country can be declared "illiteracy-free" if 96% of its population over age 15 can read and write. According to Francisco Rodríguez and Daniel Ortega of IESA, there has been "little evidence" of "statistically distinguishable effect on Venezuelan illiteracy". The Venezuelan government claimed that it had taught 1.5 million Venezuelans to read, but the study found that "only 1.1m were illiterate to begin with" and that the illiteracy reduction of less than 100,000 can be attributed to adults that were elderly and died. David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research responded to these doubts, finding that the data used by Rodríguez and Ortega was too crude a measure since the Household Survey from which it derived was never designed to measure literacy or reading skills and their methods were inappropriate to provide statistical evidence regarding the size of Venezuela's national literacy program. Rodríguez responded to Weisbrot's rebuttal by showing that Weisbrot used biased, distorted data and that the illiteracy argument Weisbrot used showed the exact opposite of what Weisbrot was attempting to convey.
Following the death of Hugo Chávez, his successor Nicolás Maduro faced the consequences of Chávez's policies, with Maduro's approval declining and protests in Venezuela beginning in 2014. The Chávez and Maduro administrations often blamed difficulties that Venezuela faced on foreign intervention in the country's affairs.
According to the International Policy Digest, "the Bolivarian revolution is a failure not because its ideals were unachievable but because its leaders were as corrupt as those they decry", with the Bolivarian government relying on oil for its economy, essentially suffering from Dutch disease. As of 2016, Bolivarian Venezuela suffered from hyperinflation and a dramatic loss of jobs and income and a soaring murder rate.