DEC. 6, 1998 On this date, Venezuelans elected as their president Hugo Chávez, a military officer who was imprisoned after taking part in a coup attempt. "His victory reflected the discontent among Venezuela's poor with the political establishment and created uncertainty about the future of the nation's 40-year-old democracy and Latin America's fourth-largest economy," reporter Serge Kovaleski wrote in The Washington Post a day after the vote. Political elites feared that the socialist leader's radical proposals might damage the country's economy and political system. Once in office, Chávez nationalized industries and made it easier for Venezuelans to get food, education, health care and housing. The country could afford to do so at the time because of soaring prices for its oil exports. But after oil prices started to fall in late 2008, that level of spending became unsustainable and the economy suffered. The country remains in a financial crisis, and Venezuelans have been enduring shortages of food and other necessities. Nicolás Maduro succeeded Chávez after his death from cancer in 2013. The United States has accused Maduro of being a dictator and has imposed economic sanctions.