With its laid-back lifestyle and fun-loving people, Venezuela is as much Caribbean as Latin American. Music, soap operas, and beauty queens distract the population from the real-life drama being played out on the country’s economic and political stage. Venezuela’s oil-driven economy has had a rough ride, and maverick president Hugo Chávez stormed into office in 1998 promising to do something about it. He’s been very active, but not all Venezuelans have been happy with his methods. Economic growth is important, they say, but democracy matters more.