It has the biggest oil reserves on the planet. But instead of living like Middle Eastern sheiks, many Venezuelans are on the brink of famine.
The economy is in ruins, the currency is all but worthless, shops are empty and people queue for subsidised food rations to survive.
A charismatic former army colonel named Hugo Chavez launched a socialist revolution after he was elected in 1998. But under his successor, Nicolas Maduro, the oil-rich country has become a failing state.
A week in the capital Caracas revealed a city on the edge of destruction.
The first things you see are the queues. They start at about 3:00am across the city, with tens of thousands waiting in line to buy subsidised food. The reward for six hours of waiting might be two small bags of flour.
'They are fine in the government, they eat," one woman clutching a baby tells us in disgust.
People tell us they eat only once a day so there'll be something to give the children for dinner. We hear stories of people fainting from hunger in the slums.
'The whole system has to change," one man cries.
"It can't go on like this."
Word spreads through the crowd that journalists have come and others call us over to talk to them. But we can't stay long.
Police are guarding the food stores to prevent riots and if they spot us we'll be arrested.
We move on to our next location, passing people scavenging through garbage for food and socialist billboards boasting how much more people are eating since the revolution.
We catch a train to the edge of the city. The greater Caracas area has 5 million people and most of them live in slums called barrios on the surrounding hills.
As a general rule, the poorer you are, the higher you live. Taxis don't even go the higher barrios. People climb up winding pot-holed streets or catch communal buses or even motorcycle taxis called motos.
At the top of one barrio we find a crowd of people waiting for government deliveries of gas that were supposed to come days before.
Behind them is a giant mural of Hugo Chavez, the first socialist president who lavished oil money on the barrios before dying unexpectedly in 2013.
"We miss him a lot," says an old woman named Josepina Lopez.
"He used to solve all the problems we have now."
But others have only contempt for the new president, Nicolas Maduro.
"People want him out of power," says a moto driver Leon Guerrero.
"But he does not let us vote because he knows he is going to lose. Every day the situation is harder and sometimes in feel suffocated."
The only business that's booming in the barrios is crime. With close to 4,000 murders a year Caracas is getting a reputation as the most dangerous city in Latin America.
Our translator puts us in touch with a local gang who agree to meet us.
We are taken into a concrete room and searched by young men wearing balaclavas and holding pistols.
The leader tells me nonchalantly what they do.
"A bit of everything," he says, "drugs, kidnapping, stealing cars, contract killings. Mostly drugs."
He says business is good.
"Do you worry about police?" I ask.
"No, we have good contacts."
He takes the bullets from his gun and gives it me to hold, then jokes I've left my fingerprints on it.
They line up to show us their weapons and agree to a group photograph.
We politely decline their invitation to smoke marijuana with them.
One of the gang members escorts us back down to the road with a gun "for safety".
We go back to the city centre to meet an eminent historian, Professor Margarita Lopez Maya.
She unlocks the gate to her compound and the heavy locks on her apartment where we set up the small, tourist-style cameras we've brought to interview her.
She explains that falling world oil prices are only part of the reason for the economy's collapse.
The socialist regime didn't just destroy the market economy though mass nationalisation.
It also ran down the state oil company, putting all the profits into social programs and nothing back into the ageing oil infrastructure.
"Venezuela today has the biggest reserves of oil in the world," she says.
"But the problem has been that during the Chavez era, the company has deteriorated seriously, especially in the last years.
"And we are reducing our oil production. They have killed the golden goose."
But even she is surprised by how quickly the economy fell apart when oil prices halved after Chavez's death.
"It's broken, it's absolutely broken," she says.
"Listen, it's so amazing what's going on in Venezuela and so unnecessary.
"You can't believe it!'
We need to change US dollars for the local currency, the Bolivar, named after the 19th century military leader Simon Bolivar who helped win independence from Spain.
The official exchange rate is a joke.
The currency is almost worthless, thanks partly to the government printing more money to pay its bills.
Everyone changes money on the black market where the rate is five to eight times higher.
I meet a man recommended by a barman in the hotel.
I give him four one-hundred dollar bills. He gives me a sack of bolivars. I am now a bolivar millionaire.
Every day we have to haul out huge wads of money and painstakingly count them out to pay for meals.
It's an inconvenience for foreigners, but a catastrophe for locals.
Their savings have been wiped out and hyperinflation means their wages can't cover food or medicine, even if they can find stores that stock them.
The tension of filming secretly rises each day with news of media crackdowns.
We learn two Brazilian journalists have just been arrested and deported.
An American reporter writes of being held for three days and interrogated after he was caught filming at a hospital.
The government takes CNN's Spanish broadcast off-air after it reports on food queues.
The government hasn't banned television journalists outright.
Like many authoritarian regimes, it's just stopped giving visa or filming permits.
Newspaper reporters and bloggers occasionally slip in, but some have been detained on arrival at Caracas airport and flown straight back out.
The atmosphere of surveillance is oppressive. Police are everywhere.
The streets are plastered with giant murals of Hugo Chavez's eyes, as if watching over the revolution.
Red mask-wearing 'colectivos', the government's civilian militia, monitor the barrios for 'counter-revolutionaries'.
Our translator keeps watch, telling us when to hide the camera.
Our luck finally runs out when a motorcycle patrol of the National Guard spots us filming in the street.
Fortunately we are interviewing a die-hard supporter who has tattooed the eyes of Chavez on his forehead.
We tell them we are socialist filmmakers showing the strong support for socialism in the barrios.
They let us go without checking for our permits.
We visit the heavily secured office of an opposition party called Vente to meet its leader Maria Corina Machado.
She tells us how the authorities are trying to break them. She's been accused of plotting to kill President Maduro.
At a rally she was fired on and the woman standing next to her was shot in the head.
She sent her children to grow up in the US after receiving repeated death threats. The government won't give her an exit permit to see them.
"They are the main reason for me to keep moving ahead," she tells us.
"I'm determined to see my kids as well as all Venezuelan children living in a nation full of opportunities, with solidarity, innovation and prosperity, and freedom."
But she says people are losing hope for change. Opposition parties won control of parliament last year but Maduro simply ignored its rulings.
New restrictions may stop them being able to register for next year's presidential election.
"Even though today over 80 per cent of the population is desperate for a profound change," she says, "they have realised that they no longer can have even uncompetitive elections."
We film around her crowded office. Everyone is white, educated and middle class.
They seem to confirm the government line, repeated endlessly on state-controlled television, that they are part of an out-of-touch elite.
But we learn later it's not so simple.
The regime illegally uses public money to fund its election campaigns but stops any opposition parties accessing it.
Only the middle class can afford to compete. And the regime is working hard to make sure they can never win.