Hugo Chávez Explained

Hugo Chávez
Order:President of Venezuela
Vicepresident:Isaías Rodríguez (2000)
Adina Bastidas (2000-2002)
Diosdado Cabello (2002)
José Rangel (2002-2007)
Jorge Rodríguez (2007-2008)
Ramón Carrizales (2008-)
Term Start:February 2, 1999
Predecessor:Rafael Caldera
Birth Date:28 July 1954
Birth Place:Sabaneta, Barinas, Venezuela
Party:MVR (1997 – 2008)
PSUV (2008 – present)
Occupation:Military officer (Lt. col.)
Spouse:Nancy Colmenares (div.)
Marisabel Rodríguez (div.)
Religion:Roman Catholic

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (born July 28, 1954) is the current President of Venezuela. As the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chávez promotes a political doctrine of participatory democracy, socialism and Latin American and Caribbean cooperation.[1] He is also a critic of neoliberalism, globalization, and United States foreign policy.[2]

A career military officer, Chávez founded the left-wing Fifth Republic Movement after orchestrating a failed 1992 coup d'état against former President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Chávez was elected President in 1998 with a campaign centering on promises of aiding Venezuela's poor majority, and was reelected in 2000 and in 2006. Domestically, Chávez has maintained nationwide Bolivarian Missions, whose goals are to combat disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty, and other social ills. Abroad, Chávez has acted against the Washington Consensus by supporting alternative models of economic development, and has advocated cooperation among the world's poor nations, especially those in Latin America.

Chávez's policies have evoked controversy in Venezuela and abroad, receiving anything from vehement criticism to enthusiastic support. The government of the United States claims that Chávez is a threat to democracy in Latin America.[3] Many other governments sympathize with his ideology[4] and/or welcome his bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements.[5] In 2005 and 2006 he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people.[6] [7]

Early life (1954–1992)

See main article: Early life of Hugo Chávez and Military career of Hugo Chávez. Chávez was born on July 28, 1954 in the town of Sabaneta, Barinas. The second son of two schoolteachers, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez and Elena Frías de Chávez, he is of mixed Amerindian, Afro-Venezuelan, and Spanish descent. Chávez was born in a mud hut near Sabaneta. Due to the Chávez family's impoverished conditions, Hugo Chávez was sent to Sabaneta with his older brother Adán to live with his paternal grandmother, Rosa Inés Chávez. There, he pursued hobbies such as painting, singing, and baseball, while also attending elementary school at the Julián Pino School. He was later forced to relocate to the town of Barinas to attend high school at the Daniel Florencio O'Leary School.[8]

At age seventeen, Chávez enrolled at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences. After graduating in 1975 as a sub-lieutenant with a degree in Military Arts and Science, Chávez entered military service for several months. He was then allowed to pursue graduate studies in political science at Caracas' Simón Bolívar University, but left without a degree.[8]

Over the course of his college years, Chávez and fellow students developed a left-wing nationalist doctrine that they termed "Bolivarianism," inspired by the Pan-American philosophy of 19th century Venezuelan revolutionary Simón Bolívar, the influence of former Peruvian President Juan Velasco and the thought of various socialist and communist leaders including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.[9] [10] Chávez engaged in sporting events and cultural activities during these years as well. He played both baseball and softball with the Criollitos de Venezuela, progressing with them to the Venezuelan National Baseball Championships in 1969. Chávez also wrote numerous poems, stories and theatrical pieces.[8]

Upon completing his studies, Chávez initially entered active-duty military service as a member of a counter insurgency battalion stationed in Barinas. Chávez's military career lasted 17 years, during which time he held a variety of posts including command and staff positions, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Chávez also held a series of teaching and staffing positions at the Academy of Military Sciences, where he was first acknowledged by his peers for his fiery lecturing style and radical critique of Venezuelan government and society.[11] In 1983, Chávez established the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200). Afterwards, he rose to a number of high-level positions in Caracas and was decorated several times.[8]

Coup attempt of 1992

See main article: 1992 Venezuelan coup d'état attempts. After an extended period of popular dissatisfaction and economic decline[12] under the administration of President Carlos Andrés Pérez and the violent repression known as El Caracazo,[13] Chávez made extensive preparations for a military coup d'état.[14] Initially planned for December, Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup until the early twilight hours of February 4, 1992. On that date, five army units under Chávez's command barreled into urban Caracas with the mission of assaulting and overwhelming key military and communications installations throughout the city, including the Miraflores presidential palace, the defense ministry, La Carlota military airport, and the Military Museum. Chávez's ultimate goal was to intercept and take custody of Pérez, who was returning to Miraflores from an overseas trip.

Chávez held the loyalty of less than 10% of Venezuela's military forces;[15] . Numerous betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances soon left Chávez and a small group of rebels hiding in the Military Museum, without any means of conveying orders to their network of spies and collaborators spread throughout Venezuela.[16] Further, Chávez's allies were unable to broadcast their prerecorded tapes on the national airwaves in which Chávez planned to issue a general call for a mass civilian uprising against Pérez. As the coup unfolded, the coup plotters were unable to capture Pérez: fourteen soldiers were killed, and 50 soldiers and some 80 civilians injured in the ensuing violence.[17]

Chávez, alarmed, soon gave himself up to the government. He was then allowed to appear on national television to call for all remaining rebel detachments in Venezuela to cease hostilities. When he did so, Chávez quipped on national television that he had only failed "por ahora" (for now).[18] Chávez was catapulted into the national spotlight, with many poor Venezuelans seeing him as a figure who had stood up against government corruption and kleptocracy.[19] [20] Chávez was sent to Yare prison; meanwhile, Pérez, the coup's intended target, was impeached a year later. While in prison, Chávez developed a carnosity of the eye, which spread to his iris. The clarity of his eyesight was slowly corrupted; despite treatments and operations, Chávez's eyesight was permanently damaged.[21]

Political rise (1992 - 1999)

See also: Venezuelan presidential election, 1998. After a two-year imprisonment, Chávez was pardoned by President Rafael Caldera in 1994. Upon his release, Chávez reconstituted the MBR-200 as the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR—Movimiento Quinta República, with the V representing the Roman numeral five). Later, in 1998, Chávez began to campaign for the presidency. In working to earn the trust of voters, Chávez drafted an agenda that drew heavily on his ideology of Bolivarianism. Chávez and his followers described their aim as "laying the foundations of a new republic" to replace the existing one, which they cast as "party-dominated"; the current constitution, they argued, was no more than the 'legal-political embodiment of puntofijismo,' the country's traditional two-party patronage system.[22]

Chávez utilized his flamboyant public speaking style, which was noted for its abundance of colloquialisms and ribald manner—on the campaign trail to win the trust and favour of a primarily poor and working class following. By May 1998, Chávez's support had risen to 30% in polls, and by August he was registering 39%. Chávez went on to win the 1998 presidential election on December 6, 1998 with 56% of the votes.[14] [23]

Presidency (1999–present)

See main article: Presidency of Hugo Chávez. Chávez was sworn in as president on February 2, 1999. Among his first acts was the launching of Plan Bolivar 2000, which included road building, housing construction, and mass vaccination.[24] Chávez also halted planned privatizations of, among others, the national social security system, aluminum industry holdings, and the oil sector.[25] Chávez also overhauled the formerly lax tax collection and auditing system—especially regarding major corporations and landholders.

Hugo Chávez's Election Results
1999 referendum
Enact the new constitution?
OptionVotes%
Yes:3,301,47572%
No:1,298,10528%
Abstention:6,041,74356%
Responding to the stalling of his legislation in the National Assembly, Chávez scheduled two national elections for July 1999, including a referendum for and elections to fill a new constitutional assembly. The Constitutional Assembly was created when the referendum passed with a 72% "yes" vote, while the pro-Chávez Polo Patriotico ("Patriotic Pole") won 95% (120 of the total 131) of its seats. In August 1999, the Constitutional Assembly's "Judicial Emergency Committee" declared a "legislative emergency" whereby a seven-member committee conducted the National Assembly's functions; meanwhile, the National Assembly was prohibited from holding meetings.[26] The Constitutional Assembly drafted the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, which included an increase in the presidential term from five to six years, a new presidential two-term limit, a new provision for presidential recall elections, renaming of the country to República Bolivariana de Venezuela, expanded presidential powers, conversion of the bicameral National Assembly into a unicameral legislature, merit-based appointments of judges, and creation of the Public Defender, an office authorized to regulate the activities of the presidency and the National Assembly.[27]

In December 1999, the new constitution was approved. On December 15, after weeks of heavy rain, statewide mudslides claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 people. Critics claim Chávez was distracted by the referendum and that the government ignored a civil defense report, calling for emergency measures, issued the day the floods struck.[28] The government rejected these claims.[28] Chávez personally led the relief effort afterwards.[29]

2000–2001: Reelection

See also: Venezuelan presidential election, 2000.

General elections were held on July 30, 2000. Chávez's coalition garnered two-thirds of seats in the National Assembly while Chávez was reelected with 60% of the votes. The Carter Center monitored the election; their report stated that, due to lack of transparency, Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE; "National Electoral Council") partiality, and political pressure from the Chávez government that resulted in early elections, it was unable to validate the official CNE results.[30] However, they concluded that the presidential election legitimately expressed the will of the people.[31]

Later, on December 3, 2000, local elections and a referendum were held. The referendum, backed by Chávez, proposed a law that would force Venezuela's labor unions to hold state-monitored elections. The referendum was widely condemned by international labor organisations—including the International Labour Organization—as undue government interference in internal union matters; these organisations threatened to apply sanctions on Venezuela.[32]

After the May and July 2000 elections, Chávez backed the passage of the "Enabling Act" by the National Assembly. This act allowed Chávez to rule by decree for one year. In November 2001, shortly before the Enabling Act was set to expire, Chávez enacted a set of 49 decrees. These included the Hydrocarbons Law and the Land Law. Fedecámaras, a national business federation, and the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), a federation of labor unions, opposed the approval of the new laws and called for a general business strike on December 10, 2001[33] in the hope that the President would reconsider his legislative action and, instead, open a debate about those laws.[34] The strike failed to significantly impact Chávez's decision or policies.[35]

By the end of the first three years of his presidency, Chávez had initiated a land transfer program and had introduced several reforms aimed at improving the social welfare of the population. These reforms entailed the lowering of infant mortality rates; the implementation of a free, government-funded health care system; and free education up to the university level. By December 2001, inflation fell to 12.3%, the lowest since 1986, while economic growth was steady at four percent.[36] Chávez's administration also reported an increase in primary school enrollment of one million students.[36]

2002: Coup and strike/lockout

See also: 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt. On April 9, 2002, CTV leader Carlos Ortega called for a two-day general strike. Hundreds of thousands[37] took to the streets on April 11, 2002 and marched towards the headquarters of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), in defense of its recently fired management. The organisers decided to illegally[38] redirect the march to Miraflores presidential palace, where a pro-Chávez demonstration was taking place. Gunfire and violence erupted between two groups of demonstrators, Caracas' Metropolitan Police (under the control of the oppositionist mayor), and the Venezuelan National Guard (under Chávez's command), and snipers were reported from the areas where both opposition and Chávez supporters were concentrated. Various civilians were shot and died in the incident.

Then, unexpectedly, Lucas Rincón, commander-in-chief of the Venezuelan armed forces, announced in a broadcast to a nationwide audience that Chávez had tendered his resignation from the presidency. While Chávez was brought to a military base and held there, military leaders appointed the president of the Fedecámaras, Pedro Carmona, as Venezuela's interim president. Carmona's first decree reversed the major social and economic policies that comprised Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution", and dissolved both the National Assembly and the Venezuelan judiciary, while reverting the nation's name back to República de Venezuela. The US government quickly gave diplomatic recognition to the coup plotters. Carmona's decrees were followed by pro-Chávez uprisings and looting across Caracas. Responding to these disturbances, Venezuelan soldiers loyal to Chávez called for massive popular support for a counter-coup. These soldiers later stormed and retook the presidential palace, and retrieved Chávez from captivity. The shortest-lived government in Venezuelan history was thus toppled, and Chávez resumed his presidency on the night of Saturday, April 13, 2002. Following this episode, Rincón was reappointed by Chávez as Commander of the Army, and later as Interior Minister in 2003.[39]

After Chávez resumed his presidency in April 2002, he claimed that a plane with US registration numbers had visited and been berthed at Venezuela's Orchila Island airbase, where Chávez had been held captive. On May 14, 2002, Chávez alleged that he had definitive proof of US military involvement in April's coup. He claimed that during the coup, Venezuelan radar images had indicated the presence of US naval vessels and aircraft in Venezuelan waters and airspace. The Guardian published a claim by former US intelligence officer Wayne Madsen alleging US Navy involvement.[40] US Senator Christopher Dodd, D-CT, requested an investigation of concerns that Washington appeared to condone the removal of Mr Chávez,[41] [42] which subsequently stated that "US officials acted appropriately and did nothing to encourage an April coup against Venezuela's president" nor did they provide any naval logistical support.[43] [44] According to Democracy Now!, CIA documents indicate that the Bush administration knew about a plot weeks before the April 2002 military coup. They cite a document dated April 6, 2002, which says: "dissident military factions... are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month." According to William Brownfield, ambassador to Venezuela, the US embassy in Venezuela warned Chávez about a coup plot in April 2002.[45] The United States Department of State and the investigation by the Office of the Inspector General found no evidence that "US assistance programs in Venezuela, including those funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), were inconsistent with US law or policy" or "... directly contributed, or was intended to contribute, to [the coup d'état]."[46] [43] Payments by the NED had been stepped up in the weeks preceding the coup. According to The Observer, the coup was approved by the government of the United States, acting through senior officials, including Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams, who had long histories in the US-backed "dirty wars" in Central America in the 1980s, and top coup plotters, including Pedro Carmona himself, began visits to the White House months before the coup and with the man President George Bush tasked to be his key policy-maker for Latin America, Otto Reich.[47]

Just after the coup, Chávez still claimed that the US was seeking his overthrow. On October 6, 2002, he stated that he had foiled a new coup plot, and on October 20, 2002, he stated that he had barely escaped an assassination attempt while returning from a trip to Europe. During that period, the US Ambassador to Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, warned the Chávez administration of two potential assassination plots.[45]

A few months after the coup, on December 2, 2002, the Chávez presidency faced a two-month strike organized by the resistant PDVSA management who sought to force Chávez out of office by completely removing his access to the all-important government oil revenue. The strike/lockout, led by a coalition of labor unions, industrial magnates, and oil workers, sought to halt the activities of the PDVSA. As a result, Venezuela ceased exporting its former daily average of 2,800,000 barrels (450,000 m³) of oil and oil derivatives. Hydrocarbon shortages soon erupted throughout Venezuela, and long lines formed at petrol-filling stations. Gasoline imports were soon required. Chávez responded by firing PDVSA's anti-government upper-echelon management and dismissing 18,000 PDVSA employees. He justified this by alleging their complicity in gross mismanagement and corruption in their handling of oil revenues, while opposition supporters of the fired workers contended that his actions were politically motivated.

In May 9, 2004, a group of 126 Colombians were captured during a raid of two farms near Caracas. The Colombians were outfitted in Venezuelan military uniforms and testified that they had been promised legal employment in Venezuela, but were instead hired for military action against Venezuelan regulars. The farm was owned by a Cuban anti-Fidel Castro exile and a leader in the unsuccessful 2002 coup. Chávez soon levelled accusations of the attempted formation of a foreign-funded paramilitary force who intended to violently overthrow his rule.[48] These events furthered the extreme and violent polarisation of Venezuelan society between pro- and anti-Chávez camps. Chávez's allegations of a putative 2004 coup attempt continue to stir controversy.[48] In October 2005, 27 of the accused Colombians were found guilty, while the rest were released and deported.[49] In September 2007, these 27 were pardoned and sent back to Colombia as well.[50]

2003–2004: Recall vote

See also: Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004. In early and mid-2003, Súmate, an opposition-aligned volunteer civilian voter rights organization, began collecting the millions of signatures needed to activate the presidential recall provided for in Chávez's 1999 Constitution. The provision in the Constitution allowing for a presidential recall requires the signatures of 20% of the electorate in order to effect a recall. In August 2003, around 3.2 million signatures were presented, but these were rejected by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on the grounds that many had been collected before the mid-point of Chávez's presidential term.[51] Finally, after opposition leaders submitted to the CNE a valid petition with 2,436,830 signatures that requested a presidential recall referendum, the CNE announced a recall referendum on June 8, 2004. Chávez and his political allies responded by mobilising supporters to encourage rejection of the recall with a "no" vote.

The recall vote itself was held on August 15, 2004. A record number of voters turned out to defeat the recall attempt with a 59% "no" vote.[52] [53] The election was overseen by the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, and was certified by them as fair and open.[54] European Union observers did not attend, saying the government had placed too many restrictions on their participation.[55]

While the international observers, and a reluctant Bush administration, endorsed the results, a few critics, including economists Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard and Roberto Rigobon of MIT, alleged that certain procedures in the election may have allowed the government to cheat. [56] The Carter Center admitted Taylor had "found a mistake in one of the models of his analysis which lowered the predicted number of tied machines, but which still found the actual result to lie within statistical possibility."[57]

The opposition also cited an exit poll which implied the actual results were the opposite of those reported. It should be noted that five other opposition polls showed a Chávez victory.[58]

After his victory, a jubilant Chávez pledged to redouble his efforts against poverty and imperialism, while promising to foster dialogue with his opponents. His government subsequently charged the founders of Súmate with treason and conspiracy for receiving foreign funds, earmarked for voter education, from the United States Department of State through the National Endowment for Democracy, triggering commentary from human rights organizations and the US government.[59] [60] [61] The trial has been postponed several times. A program called "Mission Identity", to fast-track voter registration of immigrants to Venezuela has been put in place.[62]

2004–2006: Expansion of programme

After winning the referendum, Chávez dramatically accelerated his primary objectives of fundamental social and economic transformation and redistribution. Chávez himself again placed the development and implementation of the "Bolivarian Missions" at the forefront of his political agenda. Sharp increases in global oil prices gave Chávez access to billions of dollars in extra foreign exchange reserves. Economic growth picked up markedly, reaching double-digit growth in 2004 and a 9.3% growth rate for 2005.

Many new policy initiatives were advanced by Chávez after 2004. In late March 2005, the government passed a series of media regulations that criminalized broadcasted libel and slander directed against public officials; prison sentences of up to 40 months for serious instances of character defamation launched against Chávez and other officials were enacted. When asked if he would ever actually move to use the 40-month sentence if a media figure insulted him, Chávez remarked that "I don't care if they [the private media] call me names... As Don Quixote said, 'If the dogs are barking, it is because we are working.'"[63] Chávez also worked to expand his land redistribution and social welfare programs by authorizing and funding a multitude of new "Bolivarian Missions", including "Mission Vuelta al Campo"; the second and third phases of "Mission Barrio Adentro", both first initiated in June 2005 with the stated aim of constructing, funding, and refurbishing secondary (integrated diagnostic center) and tertiary (hospital) public health care facilities nationwide; and "Mission Miranda", which established a national citizen's militia. Meanwhile, Venezuela's doctors went on strike, protesting the siphoning of public funds from their existing institutions to these new Bolivarian ones, run by Cuban doctors.

President Chávez is also Vice President of the International Parliament for Safety and Peace.[64]

Chávez focused considerably on Venezuela's foreign relations via new bilateral and multilateral agreements, including humanitarian aid and construction projects. Chávez has engaged, with varying degrees of success, numerous other foreign leaders, including Argentina's Néstor Kirchner, China's Hu Jintao, Cuba's Fidel Castro, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Russia's Vladimir Putin. On March 4, 2005, Chávez publicly declared that the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was "dead". He stated that the neoliberal model of development had utterly failed in improving the lives of Latin Americans, and that an alternative, anti-capitalist model would be conceived in order to increase trade and relations between Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. Chávez also stated his desire that a left-wing, Latin American analogue of NATO be established. In accordance with his foreign policy trends, Chávez has visited several countries around the world.

Over the course of 2004 and 2005, the Venezuelan military under Chávez also began in earnest to reduce weaponry sourcing and military ties with the US. Chávez's Venezuela is thus increasingly purchasing arms from alternative sources, such as Brazil, Russia, China and Spain. Friction over these sales escalated, and in response Chávez ended cooperation between the militaries of the two countries. He also asked all active-duty US soldiers to leave Venezuela. In 2005, he announced the creation of a large "military reserve"—the Mission Miranda program, which encompasses a militia of 2 million citizens—as a defensive measure against foreign intervention or outright invasion. In October 2005, he banished the Christian missionary organization "New Tribes Mission" from the country, accusing it of "imperialist infiltration" and harboring connections with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[65] At the same time, he granted inalienable titles to over 6,800 square kilometers of land traditionally inhabited by Amazonian indigenous peoples to their respective resident natives, though this land could not be bought or sold as Western-style title deeds can. Chávez cited these changes as evidence that his revolution was also a revolution for the defense of indigenous rights, such as those promoted by Chávez's "Mission Guaicaipuro".

During this period, Chávez placed greater emphasis on alternative economic development and international trade models, much of it in the form of extremely ambitious hemisphere-wide international aid agreements. For example, on August 20, 2005, during the first graduation of international scholarship students from Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine, Chávez announced that he would jointly establish with Cuba a second such medical school that would provide tuition-free medical training—an ex gratia project valued at between $20 and 30 billion—to more than 100,000 physicians who would pledge to work in the poorest communities of the Southern Hemisphere. He announced that the project would run for the next decade, and that the new school would include at least 30,000 new places for poor students from both Latin America and the Caribbean.[66]

Chávez has also taken ample opportunity on the international stage to juxtapose such projects with the manifest results and workings of neoliberal globalization. Most notably, during his speech at the 2005 UN World Summit, he denounced development models that are organised around neoliberal guidelines such as liberalisation of capital flows, removal of trade barriers, and privatisation as the reason for the developing world's impoverishment. He warned of an imminent global energy famine brought about by hydrocarbon depletion (based on Hubbert peak theory), stating that "we are facing an unprecedented energy crisis... Oil is starting to become exhausted."[67] On November 7, 2005, he referenced the stalling of the FTAA, stating at the Fourth Summit of the Americas, held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, that "the great loser today was George W. Bush. The man went away wounded. You could see defeat on his face." Chávez took the same opportunity to state that the taste of "the honey of victory" was apparent with regards to the promotion of his own trade alternative, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA—Alternativa Bolivariana para América), which Venezuela and Cuba inaugurated on December 14, 2004.

In 2005, Chávez demanded the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, accused of conspiring to bomb Cubana Flight 455. A Texas judge blocked the extradition on the grounds that he could be tortured in Venezuela; the Venezuelan embassy blamed the US Department of Homeland Security for refusing to contest such accusations during the trial.[68] Chávez also requested the extradition of former Venezuelan officers and members of Militares democraticos, Lt. German Rodolfo Varela and Lt. Jose Antonio Colina, who are wanted for bombing the Spanish and Colombian embassies after Chávez made a speech criticizing both governments.[69] [70]

The BBC says that Chávez "has made no secret of the fact that he is in favour of amending the constitution so that he can run again for president in 2012."[71] In June 2006, Chávez announced Venezuela's bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council; Washington officials encouraged Latin American and Caribbean nations to vote instead for Guatemala.[72] Analysts quoted by Forbes Magazine said that Chávez would offer to supply 20% of China's crude oil needs if Beijing backed Venezuela's bid to join the UN Security Council.[73] In Chile, the press was concerned that Venezuelan grants for flood aid might affect the government's decision about which country to support for admission to the UN Security Council.[74] However, Venezuela was never able to obtain more votes than Guatemala in the 41 separate UN votes in October 2006.[75] Because of this deadlock in voting, Panama was selected as a consensus candidate and subsequently won the election for Latin America's seat on the Security Council.

Moreover, Chávez accused the US government of trying to turn Colombia into Venezuela's adversary, after US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested that Colombia and other countries would be concerned over Venezuela's recent military purchases. "The US empire doesn't lose a chance to attack us and try to create discord between us," Chávez said. "That's one of the empire's strategies: Try to keep us divided." The Colombian government did not take sides during the incident.[76]

According to Datos Information Resources, family income among the poorest stratum grew more than 150% between 2003 and 2006.

President Chávez initiated a program to provide cheaper heating fuel for low-income families in several areas of the US. The program was expanded in September 2006 to include four of New York City's five boroughs, earmarking 25 million gallons of fuel for low-income New York residents at 40% off the wholesale market price. That quantity provides enough fuel to heat 70,000 apartments, covering 200,000 New Yorkers, for the entire winter. Chávez offered heating oil to poor, remote villages in Alaska, but many reportedly refused the offer despite economic hardship.[77] Some have questioned the motives of this generosity. Conservative legislative leaders in Maine have asked that state's governor to refuse the subsidized oil,[78] and New York Daily News criticized his offer by calling him an "oil pimp".[79] In 2007, Chavez signed a deal with Mayor of London Ken Livingstone for a similar program.

On September 20, 2006, Chávez delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly condemning US President George Bush.[80] In the speech Chávez referred to Bush as "the devil", adding that Bush, who had given a speech to the assembly a day earlier, had come to the General Assembly to "share his nostrums to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world."[81] Although it was widely condemned by US politicians and media, the speech was received with "wild applause" in the Assembly.[82] [83]

Chávez again won the OAS and Carter Center certification of the national election on December 3, 2006 with 63% of the vote,[84] beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales who conceded his loss on December 4, 2006.[85] After his victory, Chávez promised a more radical turn towards socialism.[86]

January 2007–present

On January 8, 2007 President Chávez installed a new cabinet, replacing most of the ministers. Jorge Rodríguez was designated the new Vice President, replacing José Vicente Rangel. Chávez announced that he will send to the National Assembly a new enabling act, asking for the authority to re-nationalize the biggest phone company of the country (Cantv), and other companies from the electrical sector, all previously public companies which were privatized by past administrations. He also asked to eliminate the autonomy of the Central Bank.[87]

On January 31, 2007 the Venezuelan National Assembly approved an enabling act granting Chávez the power to rule by decree in certain areas for 18 months. He plans to continue his "Bolivarian Revolution", enacting economic and social changes. He has said he wants to nationalize key sectors of the economy.[88] Chávez, who is beginning a fresh six-year term, says the legislation will be the start of a new era of "maximum revolution" during which he will consolidate Venezuela's transformation into a socialist society. A few critics, however, are calling it a radical lurch toward authoritarianism by a leader with unchecked power.[89]

On February 8, 2007 the Venezuelan government signed an agreement to buy an 82.14% stake in Electricidad de Caracas from AES Corporation. Paul Hanrahan, president and CEO of AES said the deal has been a fair process that respected the rights of investors.In February 2007, the Venezuelan government bought a 28.5% stake of the shares of CANTV from Verizon Communications.

On April 30, 2007 Chávez announced that Venezuela would be formally pulling out of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, having paid off its debts five years ahead of schedule and so saving US $8 million. The debt was US $3 billion in 1999.[90] Chávez then announced the creation of a regional bank, the Bank of the South, and said that the IMF and the World Bank were in crisis.[91]

The next day he announced intentions to re-take control of oil projects in the Orinoco Belt, which he said are "the world's largest crude reserve."[92] These reserves, which can be exploited with modern technologies, may place Venezuela ahead of Saudi Arabia in terms of oil reserves.[93]

In May 2007, the Chavez government refused to renew the license of the nation's most popular television station, alleging the company participated in the 2002 coup d'état. This led to many, prolonged protests in Caracas. Also, tens of thousands have marched through Caracas to support President Chávez's decision.

Latin American Summit incident

In November 2007 at the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago de Chile, Chávez and Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero were engaged in a heated exchange. Chávez, irritated by Zapatero's suggestion that Latin America needed to attract more foreign capital, referred to Spain's former prime minister, José María Aznar, as a fascist. Zapatero asked Chávez to use proper decorum. Although his microphone had by that point been turned off as his time was up, Zapatero was within earshot and engaged with Chávez who continued to interrupt the prime minister, attempting to make a point. King Juan Carlos I of Spain then leaned forward and pointed his finger at Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, telling him, "¿Por qué no te callas?" (Why don't you shut up?).[94] Chávez later said he did not hear Juan Carlos.[95] President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, next to speak, ceded a minute of his time to Chávez to allow him to finish his point. Ortega then proceeded to add emphasis to Chávez's points by suggesting that Spain had used intervention in his country's elections. Ortega also referred to the monopoly of the Spanish energy company Union Fenosa on the impoverished counties' privatized power utility.[96] The king, followed by an aide, stood up and walked out of the event — an unprecedented diplomatic incident, especially because the king had never before shown any sign of irritability.

Constitutional referendum

On August 15, 2007, Chavez called for an end to presidential term limits. He also proposed limiting central bank autonomy, strengthening state expropriation powers and providing for public control over international reserves as part of an overhaul of Venezuela's constitution. In accordance with the 1999 constitution, Chavez proposed the changes to the constitution, which were then approved by the National Assembly. The final test was a December 2, 2007 referendum.

On November 1, 2007, a massive protest was staged in Caracas, led by many Venezuelan students, calling on the National Electoral Council in Caracas to postpone the referendum on the proposed constitutional reforms. Chavistas holding a demonstration in support of the reforms clashed with the protesters and the scene turned violent, prompting police action. Since then, the global community has criticized Chavez for excessive police action. The President denounced the opposition protest as resorting to "fascist violence" on November 9, 2007.

On November 26, 2007 the Venezuelan government broadcast and circulated an alleged confidential memo from the US embassy to the CIA. The memo allegedly contains an update on US clandestine operations against the Chavez government. Although Independent analysts find it to be "quite suspect." [97] Two days before the constitutional referendum, Chávez threatened to cut off oil shipments to the US if it criticized the voting results.[98]

The referendum was defeated on December 2, 2007, with 51% of the voters rejecting the amendments proposed by Chávez.[99] Chávez stated that he would step down at the end of his second term in 2013.[100] In November 2008, he proposed another constitutional amendment removing term limits, so that he could remain in office until as late as 2021. This time, the resolution passed with 54% voting in favor after 94% of the votes have been counted.

Policies

Domestic policy

See also: Bolivarian Missions. Chávez's domestic policy relies heavily on the "Bolivarian Missions," a series of campaigns aimed at radically altering the economic and cultural landscape of Venezuela. Most of those were launched in 2003 and 2004:

Mission Robinson : Launched July 2003, Mission Robinson was billed as a campaign aimed at providing free reading, writing and arithmetic lessons to the more than 1.5 million Venezuelan adults who were illiterate before the 1999 election.
  • Mission Guaicaipuro : Initiated October 12, 2003, Mission Guaicaipuro sought to protect the livelihood, religion, land, culture, and rights of Venezuela's indigenous peoples.
  • Mission Sucre : Launched late 2003, Mission Sucre had the stated intent of providing free higher education to the two million adult Venezuelans who had not completed their elementary-level education.
  • Mission Ribas : Announced in November 2003, Mission Ribas bore the promise of providing remedial education and diplomas for Venezuela's five million high school dropouts.
  • On the first anniversary of Mission Robinson's establishment, Chávez stated in Caracas's Teresa Carreño theater to an audience of 50,000 formerly illiterate Venezuelans, "in a year, we have graduated 1,250,000 Venezuelans." Nevertheless, there were also significant setbacks.

    The "Bolivarian Missions" have entailed the launching of government anti-poverty initiatives,[101] the construction of thousands of free medical clinics for the poor,[102] the institution of educational campaigns that have reportedly made more than one million adult Venezuelans literate,[103] and the enactment of food[104] and housing subsidies.[105] The infant mortality rate fell by 18.2% between 1998 and 2006.[106] [107] The government earmarked 44.6% of the 2007 budget for social investment, with 1999-2007 averaging 12.8% of GDP.[108] The Gini coefficient has fallen from 48.7 in 1998 to 42 in 2007 (claims that the Gini has risen were based on data from two different (non-comparable) statistical series).[109] During the Chávez Presidency, poverty and extreme poverty have gone down strongly: poverty fell from 59.4% in 1999 to 30.2% in 2006 and extreme poverty went down from 21.7% to 9.9% in the same period. Even critics like Instituto Real Elcano from Spain acknowledge these achievements although they cast doubts on the sustainability of these policies.[110]

    The Missions have overseen widespread experimentation in what Chávez supporters term citizen- and worker-managed governance,[111] [112] as well as the granting of thousands of free land titles, reportedly to formerly landless poor and indigenous communities.[113] Several allegedly unused estates and factories have been expropriated to provide this land.

    In March 2006 the Communal Council Law was approved, whereby communities that decide to organize themselves into a council can be given official state recognition and access to federal funds and loans for community projects. This skips the local and state governments that are perceived as corrupt.[114]

    The Chavez government also passed a number of laws protecting the rights of the indigenous people of Venezuela, including laws that recognize indigenous rights over the land they traditionally occupied, their rights to prior consultation concerning the exploitation of their natural resources, their rights to manage their own education system based on intercultural and bilingual principles, and a law providing that three native representatives shall sit in the National Assembly, as well as representation in municipal and regional assemblies in regions with a native population.[115]

    In September 2007, speaking at the inauguration of the school year, Chavez announced a new curricular programme to be adopted by both public and private schools, which would "promote values of cooperation and solidarity". While promising he would make education his top priority and increase funding, he spoke of his vision of the future of education, based around "learning to create, to live together, to value and to reflect."[116]

    Labor policy

    Chávez has had a combative relationship with the nation's largest trade union confederation, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), which is historically aligned with the Acción Democrática (AD) party. During the December 2000 local elections, Chávez placed a referendum measure on the ballot that would mandate state-monitored elections within unions. The measure, which was condemned by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) as undue interference in internal union matters, passed by a large margin on a very low electoral turnout. In the ensuing CTV elections, Carlos Ortega declared his victory and remained in office as CTV president, while chavista (pro-Chávez) candidates declared fraud.

    The Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT - "National Union of Workers"), a new pro-Chávez union federation, formed in response and has been growing in membership; it seeks to ultimately supplant the CTV. Several chavista unions have withdrawn from the CTV because of their strident anti-Chávez activism, and have instead affiliated with the UNT. In 2003, Chávez chose to send UNT, rather than CTV, representatives to an annual ILO meeting.

    Further augmenting state involvement in Venezuela's economy, Chávez nationalized Venepal, a formerly closed paper and cardboard manufacturing firm, on January 19, 2005. Workers had occupied the factory floor and restarted production, but following a failed deal with management and amidst management threats to liquidate the firm's equipment, Chávez ordered the nationalization, extended a line of credit to the workers, and ordered that the Venezuelan educational missions purchase more paper products from the company.

    Under Chávez, Venezuela has also instituted worker-run "co-management" initiatives in which workers' councils play a key role in the management of a plant or factory. In experimental co-managed enterprises, such as the state-owned Alcasa factory, workers develop budgets and elect both managers and departmental delegates who work together with company executives on technical issues related to production.[117]

    Economic policy

    See also: Economy of Venezuela.

    Venezuela is a major producer of oil products, which remains the keystone of the Venezuelan economy. Chávez has gained a reputation as a price hawk in OPEC, pushing for stringent enforcement of production quotas and higher target oil prices. At a June 2006 meeting, Venezuela was the only OPEC country calling for lowered production to drive oil prices higher.

    Chávez has attempted to broaden Venezuela's customer base, striking joint exploration deals with other developing countries, including Argentina, Brazil, China and Russia. Record oil prices have meant more funding for social programs, but have left the economy increasingly dependent on both the Chávez government and the oil sector; the private sector's role has correspondingly diminished. Chávez has redirected the focus of PDVSA by bringing it more closely under the direction of the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. He has also attempted to repatriate more oil funds to Venezuela by raising royalty percentages on joint extraction contracts that are payable to Venezuela. Chávez has also explored the liquidation of some or all of the assets belonging to PDVSA's US-based subsidiary, Citgo. Citgo, whose profitability made many Venezuelans skeptical, has been paying record dividends to the government of Venezuela.[118] Chávez said that "Venezuela had not received a penny from this enterprise for 20 years".[119] According to Finance minister Nelson Merentes, the Venezuelan 2006 budget would get more income from taxation than from the oil industry, unlike formerly.[120] A key non-oil related poverty reduction policy has been the application of the concept of the microcredit pioneered by Nobel peace prize laureate Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank.[121]

    During Chávez's presidency from 1999 to 2004, per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 1–2%,[122] but with the help of rising oil prices, the end of the oil strike, and strong consumption growth, recent economic activity under Chávez has been robust. GDP growth rates were 18% in 2004,[123] 9% in 2005,[124] and 9.6% in the first half of 2006, with the private sector growing at a 10.3% clip.[125] From 2004 to the first half of 2006, non-petroleum sectors of the economy showed growth rates greater than 10%.[126] Datos reports real income grew by 137% between 2003 and Q1 2006.[127] Official poverty figures dropped by 10%.[128] [129] Some economists argue that this subsidized growth could stop if oil prices decline,[62] but the government argues its budget uses US$29 a barrel and 60 billion dollars in reserves as a cushion for a sudden drop.[130]

    Some social scientists and economists claim that the government's reported poverty figures have not fallen in proportion to the country's vast oil revenues in the last two years.[123] The president of Datos said that, although his surveys showed rising incomes because of subsidies and grants, the number of people in the worst living conditions has grown. "The poor of Venezuela are living much better lately and have increased their purchasing power... [but] without being able to improve their housing, education level, and social mobility," he said. "Rather than help [the poor] become stakeholders in the economic system, what [the government has] done is distribute as much oil wealth as possible in missions and social programs."[131]

    According to government figures, unemployment has dropped by 7.7% since the start of Chávez's presidency.[132] [133] It dropped to 10% in February 2006, from the 20% high in 2003 during a two-month strike and business lockout that shut down the country's oil industry. According to the government, an unemployed person is a citizen above the age of 15 who has been seeking employment for more than one week.[134] But, according to The Boston Globe, critics say that the government defines "informal workers, such as street vendors, as employed, and exclud[es] adults who are studying in missions from unemployment numbers." Critics also point to figures released by the president of the Venezuelan National Statistics Institute, Elías Eljuri, which showed that poverty had risen by more than 10% under Chávez (to 53% in 2004). Chávez called for a new measure of poverty, a "social well-being index". Under this new definition, poverty registers at 40%.[131] Eljuri denies changing the statistic and claims it is entirely income excluding social programs.[135] The World Bank calculated a 10% drop in poverty.[136] [137]

    A January 10, 2006 BBC article reported that since 2003, Chavez has been setting price controls on food, and that these price controls have caused shortages and hoarding.[138] A January 22, 2008 article from Associated Press stated, "Venezuelan troops are cracking down on the smuggling of food... the National Guard has seized about 750 tons of food... Hugo Chavez ordered the military to keep people from smuggling scarce items like milk... He's also threatened to seize farms and milk plants..."[139] On February 28, 2009 Chavez ordered the military to temporarily seize control of all the rice processing plants in the country and force them to produce at full capacity, which he alleged they had been avoiding in response to the price caps.[140] The country's largest food processor, Empresas Polar, said that the regulated price of (plain) rice was well below the cost of production, and as a result 90% of its rice output was flavoured rice not subject to price controls. It also said that its plant was operating at 50% capacity due to raw material shortages; the government however claimed to have found 2 months' worth of raw rice in storage at the plant.[141] On March 4, 2009, the BBC reported that Chavez had set minimum production quotas for 12 basic foods that were subject to price controls, including white rice, cooking oil, coffee, sugar, powdered milk, cheese, and tomato sauce. Business leaders and food producers claimed that the government was forcing them to produce this food at a loss. [142]

    A January 3, 2007 article in the International Herald Tribune reported that Chavez's price controls were causing shortages of materials used in the construction industry. [143] According to an April 4, 2008 article from CBS News, Chavez ordered the nationalization of the cement industry, in response to the fact that the industry was exporting its products in order to receive prices above those which it was allowed to obtain within the country.[144]

    In December 2006, the Venezuelan Ministries of Finance and Light Industries and Commerce instituted a 15% tax on imported toilet paper, which it described as being a "luxury." [145]

    According to the Banco Central de Venezuela, inflation dropped from 29.9% in 1998 to 14.4% in 2005.[146] [124] During 2005, imported goods were cheaper than commodities made in Venezuela; variability in the price of goods was linked to import performance and exchange stability.[124] In the second quarter of 2006, gross fixed investment was the highest ever recorded by the Banco Central de Venezuela since it started tracking the statistic in 1997.[125] However, the BBC reported on February 15, 2007 that Venezuela's inflation rate rose to a two-year high in January, with consumer prices rising 18.4% in 12 months.[147]

    While the Venezuelan Government enjoys a windfall of oil profits, the business environment is risky and discourages investment, according to El Universal. As measured by prices on local stock exchanges, investors are willing to pay on average 16.3 years worth of earnings to invest in Colombian companies, 15.9 in Chile, 11.1 in Mexico, and 10.7 in Brazil, but only 5.8 in Venezuela. The World Economic Forum ranked Venezuela as 82 out of 102 countries on a measure of how favorable investment is for institutions. In Venezuela, an investor needs an average of 119 days and must complete 14 different proceedings to organize a business, while the average in OECD countries is 30 days and six proceedings.[148]

    Public spending in Venezuela has reached unprecedented highs, as measured by local currency Central Bank debt, which could increase inflation.[149]

    Chávez announced Venezuela's withdrawal from the IMF and World Bank after paying back all his country's debts to both institutions; he charged them with being an imperial tool that aims to exploit poor countries, news sources reported. But as of March 2008, Venezuela is still a member of both institutions.[150] [151] In June 2007, the Bank for International Settlements forecast an economic growth of 7% and a 18.9% inflation rate for Venezuela.In January 2008, Hugo Chávez stated that Latin American countries needed to begin their withdrawal of money from United States-based banks. His statement went on to say,"We should start to bring our reserves here," Chávez said. "Why does that money have to be in the north? You can't put all your eggs in one basket." and "imperialism is entering into a crisis that can affect all of us" and said Latin America "will save itself alone."[152]

    Venezuela Economic Indicators(2003-2007)[153]
    indicatorHistorical averages (%)(2003-2007)
    Real GDP growth7.6
    Real domestic demand growth14.4
    Inflation20.1
    Current-account balance (% of GDP)13.7
    FDI inflows (% of GDP)1.1
    Foreign trade[154]
    Major exports% of totalMajor imports% of total
    Oil& gas90.4Raw materials&intermediate goods44.5
    Other9.6Consumer goods24.5
    Capital goods31.0
    Foreign trade[155]
    Leading markets 2006% of totalLeading suppliers% of total
    United States53.5United States44.5
    Netherlands Antilles8.8Colombia9.6
    China3.7Brazil7.9

    Foreign policy

    See main article: Foreign policy of Hugo Chávez.

    Hugo Chávez has refocused Venezuelan foreign policy on Latin American economic and social integration by enacting bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements, including his so-called "oil diplomacy".[156] [157] Chávez stated that Venezuela has "a strong oil card to play on the geopolitical stage..." He said, "It is a card that we are going to play with toughness against the toughest country in the world, the United States."[158] Chávez has focused on a variety of multinational institutions to promote his vision of Latin American integration, including Petrocaribe, Petrosur, and TeleSUR. Bilateral trade relationships with other Latin American countries have also played a major role in his policy, with Chávez increasing arms purchases from Brazil, forming oil-for-expertise trade arrangements with Cuba, and creating unique barter arrangements that exchange Venezuelan petroleum for cash-strapped Argentina's meat and dairy products. Additionally, Chávez worked closely with other Latin American leaders following the 1997 Summit of the Americas in many areas - especially energy integration - and championed the OAS decision to adopt the Anti-Corruption Convention. Chávez also participates in the United Nations Friends groups for Haiti, and is pursuing efforts to join and engage the Mercosur trade bloc to expand the hemisphere's trade integration prospects.

    Abroad, Chávez regularly portrays his movement's objectives as being diametrically opposed to "neocolonialism" and neoliberalism. Chávez has, for example, denounced US foreign policy regarding areas such as Iraq, Haiti, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Chávez's warm and public friendship with Cuban President Fidel Castro has markedly compromised the US policy of isolating Cuba diplomatically and economically.[159] Long-standing ties between the US and Venezuelan militaries were also severed by Chávez. Moreover, his stance as an OPEC price hawk has made him unpopular in the United States. In 2000, Chávez made a ten-day tour of OPEC countries in a bid to promote his policies, becoming the first head of state to meet Saddam Hussein since the Persian Gulf War.

    Rhetoric between Chávez and Bush was consistently hostile throughout the 43rd U.S. president's administration. In a speech, Chavez made personal remarks regarding Condoleezza Rice, referring to her as a "complete illiterate" when it comes to comprehending Latin America.[160] On September 20, 2006 Chávez called Bush "the devil".[161]

    Nonetheless, after Hurricane Katrina battered the United States’ Gulf Coast in late 2005, the Chávez administration was the first foreign government to offer aid to the devastated regions. The Bush administration rejected the proffered aid.[162] Later during the winter of 2005, various officials in the Northeastern United States signed an agreement with Venezuela to provide discounted heating oil to low income families.

    Chávez's socialist ideology and the tensions between the governments of Venezuela and the U.S. have had little impact on economic relations between the two countries. In 2006, the US remained Venezuela's largest trading partner for both oil exports and general imports; bilateral trade expanded 36% during that year[163]

    There have also been heated disputes between Chávez and other Latin American leaders, including one with former Mexican President Vicente Fox over what Chávez alleged was Fox's support of US trade interests. The dispute resulted in a strained diplomatic relationship between the two countries.[164]

    Another diplomatic row with Colombia, referred to as the Rodrigo Granda affair, occurred in 2004, after the kidnap of Rodrigo Granda, a high ranking member of the FARC.

    In 2001, a dissension with Peru occurred over suspicions that Chávez's administration was protecting and hiding Vladimiro Montesinos,[165] a former Peruvian intelligence director under the Alberto Fujimori administration, wanted for corruption. Montesinos was extradited back to Peru where he was incarcerated awaiting trial. Between January and March 2006, Chávez commented on the candidates of the 2006 Peruvian Presidential election, openly backing Ollanta Humala while referring to Alan García as a "thief" and a "crook".[166] [167] His support in fact backfired when Alan García used it to attack Ollanta Humala; García won the election.[168] The Peruvian government admonished Chávez for interfering in Peru's affairs. Garcia and Chávez have reconciled their differences, ending the feud, and relations between Peru and Venezuela were restored.

    On July 27, 2006 Hugo Chávez and Russian president Vladimir Putin announced an agreement in Moscow which enabled the import of military equipment from Russia to Venezuela.[169] On August 3, 2006 Chávez ordered the Venezuelan chargé d'affaires to Israel to return from Tel Aviv to Venezuela, protesting the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Israel responded by recalling its Israeli ambassador to Venezuela.[170] [171] [172] Chávez responded with statements comparing Israel to Hitler and describing their actions as a "new Holocaust", and blamed the United States for their involvement.

    On February 21, 2008 Hugo Chávez said that Venezuela will not recognize an independent Kosovo, warning that the eastern European nation's separation from Serbia could spark war in the region and that it could end in a disaster.[173] He compared the situation with separatists in the state of Zulia and Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Chávez called Kosovo a region of Serbia and stated that Venezuela shares the position regarding this issue with Russia, China, Spain and many other countries.[174] On March 24 he accused the United States of trying to weaken Russia by supporting independence for Kosovo despite opposition by Serbia and Russia.[175]

    In 2008, new EU rules on illegal immigrants allowing detention for up to 18 months before deportation triggered outrage across Latin America, and Chávez threatened to cut off oil exports to Europe.[176] In 2009, after initial rhetorical hostility,[177] Chávez made overtures to the new Barack Obama administration in the U.S., saying, "Any day is propitious for talking with President Barack Obama."[178]

    Despite Chavez's active foreign policy, a 2007 Pew Research poll showed that majorities in Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Chile, and a slim plurality in Argentina had little or no confidence in Chavez's handling of world affairs, along with 45% in Venezuela itself. [179] In 2008 confidence in Chavez as a world leader declined to 26% in Argentina, 12% in Brazil, and 6% in Mexico. [180]

    Chávez and the media

    See main article: Media representation of Hugo Chávez. Even before the April 2002 coup, many owners, managers, and commentators working for the five major private mainstream television networks and largest mainstream newspapers had stated their opposition to Chávez's policies.[181] These media outlets have accused the Chávez administration of intimidating their journalists using specially dispatched gangs.[181] Chávez in turn alleges that the owners of these networks have primary allegiance not to Venezuela but to the United States, and that they seek the advancement of neoliberalism via corporate propaganda.

    According to Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University, "[The Venezuelan] media is chronically obsessed with Chávez, and critical in a way that would be completely alien for most US observers." After the media-backed 2002 coup attempt, Venezuela passed 'social responsibility' legislation regulating the media but has largely declined to enforce it.[182]

    Throughout his presidency, Chávez has hosted the live talk show known as Aló Presidente ("Hello, President!").[183] The show broadcasts in varying formats on state owned Venezolana de Televisión (VTV - Venezuelan State Television) each Sunday at 11:00 AM. The show features Chávez addressing topics of the day, taking phone calls and live questions from both the studio and broadcast audience, and touring locations where government social welfare programs are active. Additionally, on July 25, 2005, Chávez inaugurated TeleSUR, a proposed pan-American homologue of Al Jazeera that seeks to challenge the present domination of Latin American television news by Univision and the United States-based CNN en Español. Chávez's media policies have contributed to elevated tensions between the United States and Venezuela.[184]

    In 2006, President Chávez announced that the terrestrial broadcast license for RCTV—Venezuela's second largest TV channel—would not be renewed.[185] The channel's terrestrial broadcasts ended on May 28, 2007 and were replaced with a state network.[186] RCTV is accused of supporting the coup against Chávez in April 2002, and the oil strike in 2002-2003. Also, it has been accused by the government of violating the Law on the Social Responsibility of Radio and Television.[187] The director of the station, Marcel Granier, denies taking part in the coup.[188] RCTV is still broadcasting via cable and satellite and is widely viewable in Venezuela.[189] This action has been condemned by a multitude of international organizations.[190] [191] [192] [188] However, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) questioned whether, in the event a television station openly supported and collaborated with coup leaders, the station in question would not be subject to even more serious consequences in the United States or any other Western nation.[193] In a poll conducted by Datanalisis, almost 70 percent of Venezuelans polled opposed the shut-down, but most cited the loss of their favorite soap operas rather than concerns about limits on freedom of expression.[186]

    Bolivarianism and Chavismo

    See main article: Bolivarianism and Bolivarian Circles. Chávez's version of Bolivarianism, although drawing heavily from Simón Bolívar's ideals, was also influenced by the writings of Marxist historian Federico Brito Figueroa. Chávez was well acquainted with the various traditions of Latin American socialism espoused by Jorge Eliécer Gaitán and Salvador Allende and from a young age by the Cuban revolutionary doctrine of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Other key influences on Chávez's political philosophy include Ezequiel Zamora and Simón Rodríguez. Other indirect influences on Chávez's political philosophy are the writings of Noam Chomsky and the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible (Chávez describes Jesus as the world's first socialist.) Although Chávez himself refers to his ideology as Bolivarianismo ("Bolivarianism"), Chávez's supporters and opponents in Venezuela refer to themselves as being either for or against "chavismo". Thus, Chávez supporters refer to themselves not as "Bolivarians" or "Bolivarianists", but rather as "chavistas".

    Later in his life, Chávez would acknowledge the role that democratic socialism (a form of socialism that emphasizes grassroots democratic participation) plays in Bolivarianism.[194] Because his Bolivarianism relies on popular support, Chávez has organized the "Bolivarian Circles", which he cites as examples of grassroots and participatory democracy. The circles are forums for a few hundred local residents who decide how to spend the government allowance for social development. They usually decide for neighborhood beautification, mass mobilization, lending support to small businesses, and providing basic social services.

    Criticism

    See main article: Criticism of Hugo Chávez. With respect to domestic policies, some among the American media claim corruption and crime are rampant under Chavez,[195] [196] that infrastructure and public hospitals are failing,[123] that he has not fulfilled his major campaign pledges with respect to labor and land reform,[197] [198] [199] the government bureaucracy is in decay and in chaos,[200] that he has concentrated power of judicial and legislative branches in his hands,[201] placing democracy in peril,[202] and that contrary to widespread public perception, Chavez has failed to raise the poor economically and socially "beyond what is normal in the midst of an oil boom." [203]

    After the 2004 recall referendum, opponents insisted the Chávez government had engaged in "gigantic fraud"; however, international observers and exit polls confirmed the official result.[204] The United States government claims that his cooperation in their war on terror is negligible or purposely indifferent with regards to the FARC and ELN,[205] who are engaged in a conflict with the US-backed Colombian government; nonetheless, the US government says there is no evidence of a direct link between violent groups opposed to its policies and Chávez.[206]

    Several public figures have even gone so far as to call for the assassination of Chávez, most notably US Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson.[207] Other such requests have been expressed by Venezuelan actor Orlando Urdaneta[45] and former president of Venezuela Carlos Andrés Pérez.[208] The US Ambassador to Venezuela between 2001 and 2004, Charles Shapiro, also reported to the Chávez administration two potential assassination plots.[45]

    Personal life

    See main article: Early life of Hugo Chávez. Hugo Chávez has been married twice. He first wedded Nancy Colmenares, a woman from a poor family originating in Chávez's own hometown of Sabaneta. Chávez and Colmenares remained married for eighteen years, during which time they had three children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, and Hugo Rafael. They separated soon after Chávez's 1992 coup attempt. During his first marriage, Chávez also had an affair with young historian Herma Marksman; their relationship lasted nine years.[14] [209] Chávez is divorced from his second wife, journalist Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez. Through that marriage, Chávez had another daughter, Rosinés. Chávez has two grandchildren, Gabriela[210] and Manuel.

    Chávez was raised a Roman Catholic, although he has had a series of disputes with both the Venezuelan Catholic hierarchy and Protestant groups like the New Tribes Mission.[65] [211] Originally he kept his own faith a private matter, but over the course of his presidency, Chávez has become increasingly open to discussing his religious views, stating that both his faith and his interpretation of Jesus' personal life and ideology have had a profound impact on his left-wing and progressivist views.[21] He often invokes God and asks for prayer in speeches, as he did when he asked Venezuelans to pray for Fidel Castro's health.[212] He describes himself as Christian who grew up expecting to become a priest. According to him, as a result of this background his socialist policies have been borne with roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ.[213]

    External links

    Multimedia
    Articles and Interviews


    Notes and References

    1. Web site: What is Bolivarian Socialism? And When?. Furshong. Gabriel. 4 September 2005. Venezuelanalisys. 2009-02-20.
    2. [Steve Ellner|Ellner, Steve]
    3. Web site: Sign of hope in US-Venezuela ties. BBC News. 2006-12-15. 2006-12-19.
    4. Web site: Ofensiva diplomática de Correa. Al Día. 2006-12-28. 2006-12-28.
    5. Web site: Chávez resumes cooperation agenda in South America. El Universal. 2006-12-08. 2006-12-19.
    6. Web site: Tim. Padgett. Hugo Chavez: The Radical with Deep Pockets. Time. 2005-04-10. 2006-12-31.
    7. News: Hugo Chavez: Leading the Left-Wing Charge. 2006-05-08. 2006-07-26. Padgett. Tim.
    8. Government of Venezuela, Gobierno En Línea (2005). "Presidente Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías", Gobierno En Línea. Accessed June 15, 2006.
    9. http://archive.nacla.org/Summaries/V33I6P17-1.htm Hugo Chávez Venezuela's Redeemer
    10. Web site: Jorge. Martin. “What is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist!” - Chavez is sworn in as president of Venezuela. 2007-01-12. 2007-11-22.
    11. Gott, Richard. (The Guardian, August 25, 2005). "Two fingers to America". Retrieved October 18, 2005.
    12. Schuyler, George W. (2001), "Health and Neoliberalism: Venezuela and Cuba", The Policy Studies Organization.
    13. http://www.worldlii.org/int/cases/IACHR/1999/12.html Inter-American Court of Human Rights Del Caracazo Case Judgment of November 11, 1999
    14. Guillermoprieto. Alma. 2005. Don't Cry for Me, Venezuela. New York Review of Books. October 6.
    15. Gott (2005), p.64.
    16. Gott (2005), p.63.
    17. Gott (2005), p.69.
    18. Gott (2005), p. 67. Chávez spoke thus: "Comrades: unfortunately, for the moment, the objectives that we had set for ourselves have not been achieved in the capital. That's to say that those of us here in Caracas have not been able to seize power. Where you are, you have performed well, but now is the time for a rethink; new possibilities will arise again, and the country will be able to move definitively towards a better future."
    19. Gott (2005), p.67.
    20. O'Keefe, Derrick. (Z Communications, March 9, 2005). "Building a Democratic, Humanist Socialism: The Political Challenge of the 21st Century". Retrieved November 11, 2005.
    21. Chávez, Hugo. [Untitled Speech]. Latino Pastoral Action Center. Bronx, New York City. September 17, 2005. Downloadable Audio. Retrieved November 5, 2005.
    22. Chavez's constitutional reform; A Hard Look at the Rationale & Proposals, Latin America Weekly Report, January 12, 1999, Venezuela; Politics; WR-99-02; Pg. 18
    23. Web site: Trinkunas. Harold. Jennifer McCoy. Observation of the 1998 Venezuelan Elections: A Report of the Council of Freely Elected Heads of Government. 1999. February. Carter Center. p. 49. PDF. 2006-12-30.
    24. Web site: Harnecker. M. 2003. The Military and the Revolution: Harnecker interviews Chávez. Z Communications. January 26, 2006. .
    25. Web site: Ellner. S. 2005. Venezuela’s “Demonstration Effect”: Defying Globalization’s Logic. North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). January 26, 2006. .
    26. Web site: McGirk. T. 1999. Hugo Chávez Frías. Time. January 25, 2006. .
    27. Web site: 2000. Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela. 2006-12-30. Embassy of Venezuela in the US.
    28. Web site: BBC News. 1999. Venezuela disaster 'worst this century'. BBC. June 7, 2006]. .
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