The problem of translating enormous mineral wealth into practical help for an underprivileged population is common to many nations.
The problem of translating enormous mineral wealth into practical help for an underprivileged population is common to many nations. But it is probably as acute in Venezuela as anywhere else.
Venezuela is the world's third largest oil producing nation. Its oil revenue last year totalled 2,000 million dollars (1,272 million sterling) and it is expected to reach 10,000 million dollars (4,347 million sterling) this year.
But little has yet been done to tackle the nation's most urgent problems -- a soaring birth rate and serious malnutrition among the young.
Venezuela has a population of eleven millions, half of them under the age of twenty. And a government study has recently revealed that the majority of children throughout the country suffer from malnutrition.
The contrast between oil riches and extreme poverty is well illustrated in the capital, Caracas. Within sight of towering skyscrapers and expensive hotels, thousands live in a shanty town built on the city rubbish tip.
They are mainly peasants, attracted to the city and its industrial centres by the promise of high wages. But they find either that the jobs do not exist, or that inflation makes it impossible for them to earn a decent living.
And there is another worrying side-effect to continual under-nourishment. Dr. Carlos Medina, director of Venezuela's Centre For Nutritional Recuperation in Caracas, says that severe malnutrition during the last months of pregnancy and the first eighteen months of childhood can cause permanent brain damage.
Venezuela's new government, under President Carlos Andres Perez, has committed itself to a new programme of social and economic reform, to be paid for by the nation's increased oil income.
But it needs to be started soon, or Venezuela's future generations may face permanent suffering.