|President of Venezuela|
2 February 1999 – 5 March 2013
|Preceded by||Rafael Caldera|
|Succeeded by||Nicolás Maduro|
26 July 2014
|Born||Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías
28 July 1954
|Died||5 March 2013
|Political party||Fifth Republic Movement
United Socialist Party
|Great Patriotic Pole
|Spouse(s)||Nancy Colmenares (Divorced)
Marisabel Rodríguez (Divorced)
|Alma mater||Military Academy of Venezuela|
|Years of service||1971 – 1992|
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Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈuɣo rafaˈel ˈtʃaβes ˈfɾi.as]; 28 July 1954 – 5 March 2013) was a Venezuelan politician and the President of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013. He was the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when it merged with several other parties to form the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which he led until 2012.
Born into a working-class family in Sabaneta, Barinas, Chávez became a career military officer, and after becoming dissatisfied with the Venezuelan political system, he founded the secretive Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200) in the early 1980s to work towards overthrowing the government. Chávez led the MBR-200 in an unsuccessful coup d'état against the Democratic Action government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992, for which he was imprisoned. Released from prison after two years, he founded a socialist political party, the Fifth Republic Movement, and was elected president of Venezuela in 1998. He was re-elected in 2000. During his second presidential term, he introduced the system of Bolivarian Missions, Communal Councils, and worker-managed cooperatives, as well as a program of land reform, while also nationalizing various key industries. He was re-elected in 2006 with over 60% of the vote. After winning his fourth term as president in the October 2012 presidential election, defeating Henrique Capriles, he was to have been sworn in on 10 January 2013, but the National Assembly of Venezuela agreed to postpone the inauguration to allow him time to recover from medical treatment in Cuba, resulting from a return of the cancer that was originally diagnosed in June 2011. Chávez died in Caracas on 5 March 2013 at the age of 58.
Following Chavismo, his own political ideology of Bolivarianism and Socialism of the 21st Century, he focused on implementing social reforms in the country as a part of a social project known as the Bolivarian Revolution. He implemented the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, participatory democratic councils, the nationalization of several key industries, and increased government funding of health care and education and made significant reductions in poverty with oil revenues. According to the ECLAC, from 1999 to 2012, Venezuela achieved the second highest rate of poverty reduction in the region; with World Bank data showing that the poverty rate dropped from 49.4% to 25.6%. The Bolivarian Missions have entailed the construction of thousands of free medical clinics for the poor, the institution of educational campaigns, and the enactment of housing subsidies.
However, food subsidies and price controls, enacted to ensure access to basic nutrition, resulted in shortages in Venezuela, while large purchases of foreign goods and lower reserves contributed to subsequent shortages of dollars necessary for such large imports. Chávez's presidency also oversaw significant increases in the country's murder rate, as well as corruption within the police force and government. His use of enabling acts and his government's use of propaganda was also controversial.
Internationally, Chávez aligned himself with the Marxist-Leninist governments of Fidel and then Raúl Castro in Cuba and the socialist governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, his presidency was seen as a part of the socialist "pink tide" sweeping Latin America. Along with these governments, Chávez described his policies as anti-imperialist, being a prominent adversary of the United States's foreign policy as well as a vocal critic of US-supported neoliberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. He compared US president George W. Bush to a donkey and the devil. He had described himself as a Marxist. He supported Latin American and Caribbean cooperation and was instrumental in setting up the pan-regional Union of South American Nations, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, the Bank of the South, and the regional television network TeleSur.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Later military career and the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200: 1982–1991
- 3 Political rise: 1992–1998
- 4 Presidency: 1999–2013
- 4.1 First presidential term: 2 February 1999 – 10 January 2001
- 4.2 Second presidential term: 10 January 2001 – 10 January 2007
- 4.3 Third presidential term: 10 January 2007 – 10 January 2013
- 4.4 Fourth presidential term: 10 January 2013 – 5 March 2013
- 5 Political ideology
- 6 Policy overview
- 6.1 Economic and social policy
- 6.2 Crime and punishment
- 6.3 Corruption
- 6.4 Human rights
- 6.5 Media and the press
- 6.6 Foreign policy
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 Personal life
- 9 Illness
- 10 Death
- 11 Honours and awards
- 12 Legacy
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
Hugo Chávez was born on 28 July 1954 in his paternal grandmother Rosa Inéz Chávez's home, a modest three-room house located in the rural village Sabaneta, Barinas State. The Chávez family were of Amerindian, Afro-Venezuelan, and Spanish descent. His parents, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez and Elena Frías de Chávez, were working-lower middle class schoolteachers who lived in the small village of Los Rastrojos.
Hugo was born the second of seven children, including their eldest, Adán Chávez. The couple lived in poverty, leading them to send Hugo and Adán to live with their grandmother Rosa, whom Hugo later described as being "a pure human being... pure love, pure kindness." She was a devout Roman Catholic, and Hugo was an altar boy at a local church. Hugo described his childhood as "poor...very happy", and experienced "humility, poverty, pain, sometimes not having anything to eat", and "the injustices of this world."
Attending the Julián Pino Elementary School, Chávez's hobbies included drawing, painting, baseball and history. He was particularly interested in the 19th-century federalist general Ezequiel Zamora, in whose army his own great-great-grandfather had served. In the mid-1960s, Hugo, his brother and their grandmother moved to the city of Barinas so that the boys could attend what was then the only high school in the rural state, the Daniel O'Leary High School.
Military Academy: 1971–1975
Aged seventeen, Chávez studied at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in Caracas. At the Academy, he was a member of the first class that was following a restructured curriculum known as the Andrés Bello Plan. This plan had been instituted by a group of progressive, nationalistic military officers who believed that change was needed within the military. This new curriculum encouraged students to learn not only military routines and tactics but also a wide variety of other topics, and to do so civilian professors were brought in from other universities to give lectures to the military cadets.
Living in Caracas, he saw more of the endemic poverty faced by working class Venezuelans, something that echoed the poverty he had experienced growing up, and he maintained that this experience only made him further committed to achieving social justice. He also began to get involved in local activities outside of the military school, playing both baseball and softball with the Criollitos de Venezuela team, progressing with them to the Venezuelan National Baseball Championships. Other hobbies that he undertook at the time included writing numerous poems, stories and theatrical pieces, painting and researching the life and political thought of 19th-century South American revolutionary Simón Bolívar. He also became interested in the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara (1928–67) after reading his memoir The Diary of Che Guevara, although he also read books by a wide variety of other figures. In 1974, he was selected to be a representative in the commemorations for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ayacucho in Peru, the conflict in which Simon Bolívar's lieutenant, Antonio José de Sucre, defeated royalist forces during the Peruvian War of Independence. In Peru, Chávez heard the leftist president, General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1910–1977), speak, and inspired by Velasco's ideas that the military should act in the interests of the working classes when the ruling classes were perceived as corrupt, he "drank up the books [Velasco had written], even memorising some speeches almost completely." Befriending the son of Panamanian President Omar Torrijos (1929–1981), another leftist military general, Chávez subsequently visited Panama, where he met with Torrijos, and was impressed with his land reform program that was designed to benefit the peasants. Being heavily influenced by both Torrijos and Velasco, he saw the potential for military generals to seize control of a government when the civilian authorities were perceived as serving the interests of only the wealthy elites. In contrast to military presidents like Torrijos and Velasco however, Chávez became highly critical of Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing general who had recently seized control in Chile with the aid of the American CIA. Chávez later related that "With Torrijos, I became a Torrijist. With Velasco I became a Velasquist. And with Pinochet, I became an anti-Pinochetist." In 1975, Chávez graduated from the military academy, being rated one of the top graduates of the year (eight out of seventy five).
Early military career: 1976–1981
Following his graduation, Chávez was stationed as a communications officer at a counterinsurgency unit in Barinas, although the Marxist-Leninist insurgency which the army was sent to combat had already been eradicated from that state, leaving the unit with much spare time. Chávez himself played in a local baseball team, wrote a column for the local newspaper, organized bingo games and judged at beauty pageants. At one point he found in an abandoned car riddled with bullet holes a stash of Marxist literature that apparently had belonged to insurgents many years before. He went on to read these books, which included titles by such theoreticians as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, but his favourite was a work entitled The Times of Ezequiel Zamora, written about the 19th-century federalist general whom Chávez had admired as a child. These books further convinced Chávez of the need for a leftist government in Venezuela, later remarking that "By the time I was 21 or 22, I made myself a man of the left."
In 1977, Chávez's unit was transferred to Anzoátegui, where they were involved in battling the Red Flag Party, a Marxist-Hoxhaist insurgency group. After intervening to prevent the beating of an alleged insurgent by other soldiers, Chávez began to have his doubts about the army and their methods in using torture. At the same time, he was becoming increasingly critical of the corruption in both the army and in the civilian government, coming to believe that despite the wealth being produced by the country's oil reserves, Venezuela's poor masses were not receiving their share, something he felt to be inherently un-democratic. In doing so, he began to sympathize with the Red Flag Party and their cause, if not their violent methods.
In 1977, he founded a revolutionary movement within the armed forces, in the hope that he could one day introduce a leftist government to Venezuela: the Venezuelan People's Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación del Pueblo de Venezuela, or ELPV), was a secretive cell within the military that consisted of him and a handful of his fellow soldiers. Although they knew that they wanted a middle way between the right wing policies of the government and the far left position of the Red Flag, they did not have any plans of action for the time being. Nevertheless, hoping to gain an alliance with civilian leftist groups in Venezuela, Chávez then set about clandestinely meeting various prominent Marxists, including Alfredo Maneiro (the founder of the Radical Cause) and Douglas Bravo, despite having numerous political differences with them. At this time, Chávez married a working-class woman named Nancy Colmenares, with whom he would go on to have three children: Rosa Virginia (born September 1978), Maria Gabriela (born March 1980) and Hugo Rafael (born October 1983).
Later military career and the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200: 1982–1991
Five years after his creation of the ELPV, Chávez went on to form a new secretive cell within the military, the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200 (EBR-200), later redesignated the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200). Taking inspiration from three Venezuelans whom Chávez deeply admired, Ezequiel Zamora (1817–1860), Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) and Simón Rodríguez (1769–1854), these historical figures became known as the "three roots of the tree" of the MBR-200. Later describing the group's foundation, Chávez would state that "the Bolivarian movement that was being born did not propose political objectives... Its goals were imminently internal. Its efforts were directed in the first place to studying the military history of Venezuela as a source of a military doctrine of our own, which up to then didn't exist." However, he always hoped that the Bolivarian Movement would become politically dominant, and on his political ideas at the time, remarked that "This tree [of Bolívar, Zamora and Rodríguez] has to be a circumference, it has to accept all kinds of ideas, from the right, from the left, from the ideological ruins of those old capitalist and communist systems." Indeed, Irish political analyst Barry Cannon noted that the early Bolivarian ideology was explicitly capitalist, but that it "was a doctrine in construction, a heterogeneous amalgam of thoughts and ideologies, from universal thought, capitalism, Marxism, but rejecting the neoliberal models currently being imposed in Latin America and the discredited models of the old Soviet Bloc."
In 1981, Chávez, by now a captain, was assigned to teach at the military academy where he had formerly trained. Here he introduced new students in his so-called "Bolivarian" ideals, and recruited those whom he felt would make good members of the MBR-200, as well as organizing sporting and theatrical events for the students. In his recruiting attempts he was relatively successful, for by the time they had graduated, at least thirty out of 133 cadets had joined it. In 1984 he met a Venezuelan woman of German ancestry named Herma Marksman who was a recently divorced history teacher. Sharing many interests in common, she eventually got involved in Chávez's movement and the two fell in love, having an affair that would last several years. Another figure to get involved with the movement was Francisco Arias Cárdenas, a soldier particularly interested in liberation theology. Cárdenas rose to a significant position within the group, although he came into ideological conflict with Chávez, who believed that they should begin direct military action in order to overthrow the government, something Cárdenas thought was reckless.
However, some senior military officers became suspicious of Chávez after hearing rumours about the MBR-200. Unable to dismiss him legally without proof, they reassigned him so that he would not be able to gain any more fresh new recruits from the academy. He was sent to take command of the remote barracks at Elorza in Apure State, where he got involved in the local community by organizing social events, and contacted the local indigenous tribal peoples, the Cuiva and Yaruro. Although they were distrustful due to their mistreatment at the hands of the Venezuelan army in previous decades, Chávez gained their trust by joining the expeditions of an anthropologist to meet with them. His experiences with them would later lead him to introduce laws protecting the rights of indigenous tribal peoples when he gained power many years later. While on holiday, he retraced on foot the route taken by his great-grandfather, the revolutionary Pedro Pérez Delgado (known as Maisanta), to understand his family history; on that trip, he met a woman who told Chávez how Maisanta had become a local hero by rescuing an abducted girl. In 1988, after being promoted to the rank of major, the high-ranking General Rodríguez Ochoa took a liking to Chávez and employed him to be his assistant at his office in Caracas.
Operation Zamora coup attempt: 1992
In 1989, Carlos Andrés Pérez (1922–2010), the candidate of the centrist Democratic Action Party, was elected President after promising to oppose the United States government's Washington Consensus and financial policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nevertheless, he opposed neither once he got into office, following instead the neoliberal economic policies supported by the United States and the IMF. He dramatically cut spending, and put prominent men in governmental posts. Pérez's policies angered much of the public. In an attempt to stop the widespread protests and looting that followed his social spending cuts, Pérez ordered the violent repression and massacre of protesters, known as El Caracazo, which "according to official figures ... left a balance of 276 dead, numerous injured, several disappeared and heavy material losses. However, this list was invalidated by the subsequent appearance of mass graves", indicating that the official death count was inadequate. Pérez had used both the DISIP political police and the army to orchestrate El Caracazo. Though members of Chávez's MBR-200 movement had allegedly participated in the crackdown, Chávez did not participate since he was then hospitalized with chicken pox and later condemned the event as "genocide".
Disturbed by the Caracazo, rampant government corruption, the domination of politics by what he viewed as "the Venezuelan oligarchy" through the Punto Fijo Pact, and what he called "the dictatorship of the IMF", Chávez began preparing for a military coup d'état, known as Operation Zamora. Both Fidel Castro and who would be the succeeding President of Venezuela, Rafael Caldera, knew of Chávez's coup plot, with Castro allegedly provided agents to convince President Pérez that there was no threat of a coup while Caldera would then take power after Pérez was removed from the presidency. Initially planned for December, Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup until the early twilight hours of 4 February 1992.
On that date, five army units under Chávez's command moved into urban Caracas with the mission of overwhelming key military and communications installations, including the Miraflores presidential palace, the defense ministry, La Carlota military airport and the Military Museum. Chávez's immediate goal was to intercept and take custody of Pérez, who was returning to Miraflores from an overseas trip. Despite years of planning, the coup quickly encountered trouble. At the time of the coup, Chávez had the loyalty of less than 10% of Venezuela's military forces, and, because of numerous betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances, Chávez and a small group of rebels found themselves hiding in the Military Museum, without any means of conveying orders to their network of spies and collaborators spread throughout Venezuela. Furthermore, Chávez's allies were unable to broadcast their prerecorded tapes on the national airwaves, during which Chávez planned to issue a general call for a mass civilian uprising against the Pérez government. Finally, Chávez's forces were unable to capture Pérez, who managed to escape from them. Fourteen soldiers were killed, and fifty soldiers and some eighty civilians injured during the ensuing violence. Fighting during the coups resulted in the deaths of at least 143 people and perhaps as many as several hundred.
Realising that the coup had failed, Chávez gave himself up to the government. On the condition that he called upon the remaining active coup members to cease hostilities, he was allowed to appear on national television, something that he insisted on doing in his military uniform. During this address, he invoked the name of national hero Simón Bolívar and declared to the Venezuelan people that "Comrades: unfortunately, for now, the objectives we had set for ourselves were not achieved in the capital city. That is, those of us here in Caracas did not seize power. Where you are, you have performed very well, but now is the time for reflection. New opportunities will arise and the country has to head definitively toward a better future." Many viewers noted that Chávez had remarked that he had failed only "por ahora" (for now), and he was immediately catapulted into the national spotlight, with many Venezuelans, particularly those from the poorer sections of society, seeing him as a figure who had stood up against government corruption and kleptocracy.
Chávez was arrested and imprisoned at the San Carlos military stockade, where he remained wracked with guilt, feeling responsible for the coup's failure. Indeed, pro-Chávez demonstrations that took place outside of San Carlos led to his being transferred to Yare prison soon after. The government meanwhile began a temporary crackdown on media supportive of Chávez and the coup. A further attempted coup against the government occurred in November, which was once more defeated, but then led to Pérez himself being impeached a year later for malfeasance and misappropriation of funds for illegal activities.
Political rise: 1992–1998
While Chávez and the other senior members of the MBR-200 were in prison, his relationship with Herma Marksman broke up in July 1993. She would subsequently become a critic of Chávez. In 1994, Rafael Caldera (1916–2009) of the centrist National Convergence Party was elected to the presidency, and soon after taking power, freed Chávez and the other imprisoned MBR-200 members as per his pre-election pledge. Caldera had however imposed upon them the condition that they would not return to the military, where they could potentially organise another coup. After being mobbed by adoring crowds following his release, Chávez went on a 100-day tour of the country, promoting his Bolivarian cause of social revolution. Now living off a small military pension as well as the donations of his supporters, he continued to financially support his three children and their mother despite divorcing Nancy Colmenares around this period. On his tours around the country, he would meet Marisabel Rodríguez, who would give birth to their daughter shortly before becoming his second wife in 1997.
Travelling around Latin America in search of foreign support for his Bolivarian movement, he visited Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, and finally Cuba, where the Communist leader Fidel Castro (1926–) arranged to meet him. After spending several days in one another's company, Chávez and Castro became friends with the former describing the Cuban leader as being like a father to him. Returning to Venezuela, Chávez failed to gain mainstream media attention for his political cause. Instead, he gained publicity from small, local-based newspapers and media outlets. As a part of his condemnation of the ruling class, Chávez became critical of President Caldera, whose neoliberal economic policies had caused inflation and who had both suspended constitutional guarantees and arrested a number of Chávez's supporters. According to the United Nations, by 1997 the per capita income for Venezuelan citizens had fallen to US$2,858 from US$5,192 in 1990, while poverty levels had increased by 17.65% since 1980, and homicide and other crime rates had more than doubled since 1986, particularly in Caracas. Coupled with this drop in the standard of living, widespread dissatisfaction with the representative democratic system in Venezuela had "led to gaps emerging between rulers and ruled which favoured the emergence of a populist leader".
A debate soon developed in the Bolivarian movement as to whether it should try to take power in elections or whether it should instead continue to believe that military action was the only effective way of bringing about political change. Chávez was a keen proponent of the latter view, believing that the oligarchy would never allow him and his supporters to win an election, while Francisco Arias Cárdenas instead insisted that they take part in the representative democratic process. Cárdenas himself proved his point when, after joining the Radical Cause socialist party, he won the December 1995 election to become governor of the oil-rich Zulia State. Subsequently changing his opinion on the issue, Chávez and his supporters in the Bolivarian movement decided to found their own political party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR – Movimiento Quinta República) in July 1997 in order to support Chávez's candidature in the Venezuelan presidential election, 1998.
At the start of the election run-up, most polls gave Irene Sáez, then-mayor of Caracas' richest district, Chacao, the lead. Although an independent candidate, she had the backing of one of Venezuela's two primary political parties, Copei. In opposition to her right-wing and pro-establishment views, 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. This revolutionary rhetoric gained Chávez and the MVR support from a number of other leftist parties, including the Patria Para Todos (Fatherland for All), the Partido Comunist Venezolano (Venezeuelan Communist Party) and the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism), which together fashioned a political union supporting his candidacy called the Polo Patriotic (Patriotic Pole).
Chávez's promises of widespread social and economic reforms won the trust and favor 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%. Much of his support came from his 'strong man' populist image and charismatic appeal. This rise in popularity worried Chávez's opponents, with a part of the media proceeding to attack him with a series of allegations, which included the claim – which he dismissed as ridiculous – that he was a cannibal who ate children. With his support increasing, and Sáez's decreasing, both the main two political parties, Copei and Democratic Action, put their support behind Henrique Salas Römer, a Yale University-educated economist who represented the Project Venezuela party.
Voter turnout in the election is the subject of dispute. The International Republican Institute cites voter turnout at 63.45%, with Chávez winning the election with 56.20% of the vote, a significant rise in turnout that reversed a two-decade trend toward lower participation, according to the institute. Author Brian Nelson also writes that Chávez won the election with 56.20% of the vote, but states that the election had one of the lowest voter turnouts in Venezuelan history. Salas Römer came second, with 39.97%, while the other candidates, including Irene Sáez and Alfaro Ucero, gained only tiny proportions of the vote. Academic analysis of the election showed that Chávez's support had come primarily from the country's poor and the "disenchanted middle class", whose standard of living had decreased rapidly in the previous decade, although at the same time much of the middle and upper class vote had instead gone to Salas Römer. Following the announcement of his victory, Chávez gave a speech in which he declared that "The resurrection of Venezuela has begun, and nothing and no one can stop it."
First presidential term: 2 February 1999 – 10 January 2001
Chávez's presidential inauguration took place on 2 February 1999, and during the usual presidential oath he deviated from the prescribed words to proclaim that "I swear before God and my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times." He subsequently set about appointing new figures to a number of government posts, including promoting various leftist allies to key positions; he for instance gave one of the founders of MBR, Jesús Urdaneta, the position in charge of the secret police; and made one of the 1992 coup leaders, Hernán Grüber Ódreman, governor of the Federal District of Caracas. Chávez also appointed some conservative, centrist and centre-right figures to government positions as well, reappointing Caldera's economy minister Maritza Izaquirre to that same position and also appointing the businessman Roberto Mandini to be president of the state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. His critics referred to this group of government officials as the "Boliburguesía" or "Bolivarian bourgeoisie", and highlighted the fact that it "included few people with experience in public administration." He also made several alterations to his presidential privileges, scrapping the presidential limousine, giving away his entire presidential wage of $1,200 a month to a scholarship fund, and selling off many of the government-owned airplanes, although alternately many of his critics accused him of excessive personal expenses for himself, his family and friends. The involvement of a number of his immediate family members in Venezuelan politics has also led to accusations of nepotism, something Chávez denies. Meanwhile, in June 2000 he separated from his wife Marisabel, and their divorce was finalised in January 2004.
Although he publicly used strong revolutionary rhetoric from the beginning of his presidency, the Chávez government's initial policies were moderate, capitalist and centre-left, having much in common with those of contemporary Latin American leftists like Brazil's president Lula da Silva. Chávez initially believed that capitalism was still a valid economic model for Venezuela, but that it would have to be Rhenish capitalism that would be followed rather than the neoliberalism which had been implemented under former governments with the encouragement of the United States. He followed the economic guidelines recommended by the International Monetary Fund and continued to encourage foreign corporations to invest in Venezuela, even visiting the New York Stock Exchange in the United States in an attempt to convince wealthy investors to do so. To increase his visibility abroad, Chávez spent fifty-two days of his first year as president outside of Venezuela, travelling the world meeting various national leaders, such as American President Bill Clinton, Governor of Texas George W. Bush and Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin.
While he was remaining fiscally conservative, he introduced measures in an attempt to alleviate the poverty of the Venezuelan working class. Chávez immediately set into motion a social welfare program called Plan Bolívar 2000, which he organised to begin on 27 February 1999, the tenth anniversary of the Caracazo massacre. According to the United States Department of State, Chávez wanted to "send the message that the military was not a force of popular repression, but rather a force for development and security". The State Department also commented that this happened "only 23 days after his inauguration" and that he wanted to show his closest supporters "that he had not forgotten them". Chávez said he would set aside $20.8 million for the plan but some state that the program costed $113 million. Plan Bolívar 2000 involved 70,000 soldiers, sailors and members of the air force going out into the streets of Venezuela where they would repair roads and hospitals, remove stagnant water that offered breeding areas for disease-carrying mosquitoes, offer free medical care and vaccinations, and sell food at cheap prices. Chávez himself described the Plan by saying that "Ten years ago we came to massacre the people. Now we are going to fill them with love. Go and comb the land, search out and destroy poverty and death. We are going to fill them with love instead of lead."
In order to explain his latest thoughts and plans to the Venezuelan people, in May 2000, he also launched his own Sunday morning radio show, Aló Presidente (Hello, President), on the state radio network, as well as a Thursday night television show, De Frente con el Presidente (Face to Face with the President). He followed this with his own newspaper, El Correo del Presidente (The President's Post), founded in July, for which he acted as editor-in-chief, but which was later shut amidst accusations of corruption in its management. In his television and radio shows, he answered calls from citizens, discussed his latest policies, sang songs and told jokes, making it unique not only in Latin America but the entire world.
Chávez then called for a public referendum – something virtually unknown in Venezuela at the time – which he hoped would support his plans to form a constitutional assembly, composed of representatives from across Venezuela, as well as from indigenous tribal groups, which would be able to rewrite the nation's constitution. The Center for Political and Social Studies Foundation, a Spanish socialist organisation also helped the government create the constitution. The referendum went ahead on 25 April 1999, and was an overwhelming success for Chávez, with 88% of voters supporting the proposal.
Following this, Chávez called for an election to take place on 25 July, in which the members of the constitutional assembly would be voted into power. Most jurists believed that the new constitutional assembly became the country's "supreme authority" and that all other institutions were subordinate to it. Of the 1,171 candidates standing for election to the assembly, over 900 of them were opponents of Chávez. Despite the large number of opposition candidates, Chavez's supporters won another overwhelming electoral victory creating "a very pro-Chávez Constitutional Assembly", with his supporters taking 125 seats (95% of the total), including all of those belonging to indigenous tribal groups, whereas the opposition were voted into only 6 seats.
On 12 August 1999, the new constitutional assembly voted to give themselves the power to abolish government institutions and to dismiss officials who were perceived as being corrupt or operating only in their own interests. While supporters of the move believed that it could force reforms that had been blocked by corrupt politicians and judicial authorities for years, many opponents of the Chávez regime argued that it gave Chávez and the Bolivarians too much power at the expense of their political opponents, and was therefore dictatorial.
On August 25 Chávez declared a "judicial emergency" and created a commission with nine members given powers to "dismiss the Supreme Court". Eight of fifteen members of the Supreme Court agreed with the decree but Cecilia Sosa, then president of the Supreme Court, resigned saying that "the Supreme Court was now dead" and that "the country's democratic system was in danger". Arguments grew after Sosa's resignation from existing politicians. On August 27, the existing politicians called an emergency session with the newly created Constitutional Assembly and Chávez calling this session "provocative". National Guardsmen then tried to prevent congressmen from entering the parliamentary building in Caracas which resulted in violent protests. After talking with church leaders, those who were opposed to the new measures agreed with Chávez. Chávez then traveled, seeking support from other countries, and returned to find that the Constitutional Assembly was approving articles involving the freedom of press and the right to life (which included abortion), two articles Chávez did not agree with. The Constitutional Assembly also rejected Chávez's suggestion of renaming the country's name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Eventually the Supreme Court was dissolved and new judges were appointed that were supporters of Chávez.
The elected members of the constituent assembly put together a new constitution, and a referendum on the issue of whether to adopt it was held in December 1999; the referendum saw an abstention vote of over 50%, although amongst those voting, 72% approved the new constitution's adoption. The new constitution included increased protection for indigenous peoples and women, and established the rights of the public to education, housing, healthcare and food. It added new environmental protections, and increased requirements for government transparency. It increased the presidential term from five to six years, allowed people to recall presidents by referendum, and added a new presidential two-term limit. It converted the bicameral legislature, a Congress with both a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies, into a unicameral one comprising only a National Assembly. The constitution gave greater powers to the president, not only by extending their term but also by giving them the power to legislate on citizen rights as well as the economic and financial matters that they were formerly unable to do. It also gave the military a role in the government by providing it with the mandated role of ensuring public order and aiding national development, something it had been expressely forbidden from doing under the former constitution. As a part of the new constitution, the country, which was then officially known as the Republic of Venezuela, was renamed the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (República Bolivariana de Venezuela) at Chávez's request, thereby reflecting the government's ideology of Bolivarianism and the influence of Simón Bolívar on the nation as a whole.
Second presidential term: 10 January 2001 – 10 January 2007
Under the new constitution, it was legally required that new elections be held in order to re-legitimize the government and president. This presidential election in July 2000 would be a part of a greater "megaelection", the first time in the country's history that the president, governors, national and regional congressmen, mayors and councilmen would be voted for on the same day. Going into the elections, Chávez had control of all three branches of government. For the position of president, Chávez's closest challenger proved to be his former friend and co-conspirator in the 1992 coup, Francisco Arias Cárdenas, who since becoming governor of Zulia state had turned towards the political centre and begun to denounce Chávez as autocratic. Although some of his supporters feared that he had alienated those in the middle class and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy who had formerly supported him, Chávez was re-elected with 59.76% of the vote (the equivalent of 3,757,000 people), a larger majority than his 1998 electoral victory, again primarily receiving his support from the poorer sectors of Venezuelan society.
That year, Chávez helped to further cement his geopolitical and ideological ties with the Cuban government of Fidel Castro by signing an agreement under which Venezuela would supply Cuba with 53,000 barrels of oil per day at preferential rates, in return receiving 20,000 trained Cuban medics and educators. In the ensuing decade, this would be increased to 90,000 barrels a day (in exchange for 40,000 Cuban medics and teachers), dramatically aiding the Caribbean island's economy and standard of living after its "Special Period" of the 1990s. However, Venezuela's growing alliance with Cuba came at the same time as a deteriorating relationship with the United States: in late 2001, just after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for 11 September attacks against the U.S. by Islamist militants, Chávez showed pictures of Afghan children killed in a bomb attack on his television show. He commented that "They are not to blame for the terrorism of Osama Bin Laden or anyone else", and called on the American government to end "the massacre of the innocents. Terrorism cannot be fought with terrorism." The U.S. government responded negatively to the comments, which were picked up by the media worldwide.
Meanwhile, the 2000 elections had led to Chávez's supporters gaining 101 out of 165 seats in the Venezuelan National Assembly, and so in November 2001 they voted to allow him to pass 49 social and economic decrees. This move antagonized the opposition movement particularly strongly.
At the start of the 21st century, Venezuela was the world's fifth largest exporter of crude oil, with oil accounting for 85.3% of the country's exports, therefore dominating the country's economy. Previous administrations had sought to privatise this industry, with U.S. corporations having a significant level of control, but the Chávez administration wished to curb this foreign control over the country's natural resources by nationalising much of it under the state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA). In 2001, the government introduced a new Hydrocarbons Law through which they sought to gain greater state control over the oil industry: they did this by raising royalty taxes on the oil companies and also by introducing the formation of "mixed companies", whereby the PdVSA could have joint control with private companies over industry. By 2006, all of the 32 operating agreements signed with private corporations during the 1990s had been converted from being primarily or solely corporate-run to being at least 51% controlled by PdVSA.
Opposition and the CD
During Chávez's first term in office, the opposition movement had been "strong but reasonably contained, [with] complaints centering mainly on procedural aspects of the implementation of the constitution".
The first organized protest against the Bolivarian government occurred in January 2001, when the Chávez administration tried to implement educational reforms through the proposed Resolution 259 and Decree 1.011, which would have seen the publication of textbooks with a heavy Bolivarian bias. The protest movement, which was primarily by middle class parents whose children went to privately run schools, marched to central Caracas shouting out the slogan "Don't mess with my children." Although the protesters were denounced by Chávez, who called them "selfish and individualistic," the protest was successful enough for the government to retract the proposed education reforms and instead enter into a consensus-based educational program with the opposition.
Later into 2001, an organization known as the Coordinadora Democrática de Acción Cívica (CD) was founded, under which the Venezuelan opposition political parties, corporate powers, most of the country's media, the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, the Frente Institucional Militar and the Central Workers Union all united to oppose Chávez's regime. The prominent businessman Pedro Carmona (1941–) was chosen as the CD's leader. They received support from various foreign sources.
The CD and other opponents of Chávez's Bolivarian government accused it of trying to turn Venezuela from a democracy into a dictatorship by centralising power amongst its supporters in the Constituent Assembly and granting Chávez increasingly autocratic powers. Many of them pointed to Chávez's personal friendship with Cuba's Fidel Castro and the one-party socialist government in Cuba as a sign of where the Bolivarian government was taking Venezuela. Others did not hold such a strong view but still argued that Chávez was a "free-spending, authoritarian populist" whose policies were detrimental to the country. For instance, Venezuelan lawyer and academic Allan R. Brewer-Carías, a prominent and vocal opponent of Chávez, made the claim that under his regime the country had "suffered a tragic setback regarding democratic standards, suffering a continuous, persistent and deliberate process of demolishing institutions and destroying democracy, which has never before been experienced in the constitutional history of the country." Other academics have argued that the opposite was true, and that "the Chávez government is in fact more democratic than previous ones" because of the increased checks and balances introduced by the 1999 constitution and the introduction of workers' councils.
The pro-Chávez political analyst Gregory Wilpert argued, in his study of the Bolivarian administration, that the opposition movement was dominated primarily by members of the middle and upper classes. He further argued that this wealthy elite was particularly furious at the Bolivarian government because they themselves had lost much of their dominance over Venezuelan politics with the introduction of the 1999 constitution and the relegitimization of all areas of government that it required. He went on to argue that this wealthy elite subsequently used its control of the country's mass media to create an anti-Chávez campaign aimed primarily at the middle classes, stirring up the latent racism and classism that existed in Venezuelan culture. One of the most prominent examples of this was through the popularization of the racist term ese mono ("that monkey"), which began to be applied to Chávez by his opponents, who would also often accuse him of being "vulgar and common". Both Venezuelan and Western opposition media also characterized Chávez's supporters, who were known as the Chávistas, as being "young, poor, politically unsophisticated, antidemocratic masses" who were controlled, funded and armed by the state, and they were regularly referred to as "hordes" in opposition media discourse, which also commonly referred to the Bolivarian Circles as "terror circles". Such descriptions have been refuted by certain academics, such as Cristóbal Valencia Ramírez, who, after studying Chavista groups, have argued that they consist of people from many classes of society and are educated and largely non-violent. Chavista-run organizations have since claimed to have been the target of violent attacks from opposition groups: for instance, the Ezequiel Zamora National Farmers' Coordinator estimated that 50 Chavista leaders involved in the land-reform program had been assassinated during 2002 and 2003.
Coup, strikes and the recall referendum
On 11 April 2002, mass protests took place in Caracas against the Bolivarian government, during which guns were fired, and violence ensued involving both pro- and anti-Chávez supporters, the police, and the army. Twenty people were killed, and over 110 were wounded. A group of high-ranking anti-Chávez military officers, likely supported by figures in the business community, media, and certain political parties,[which?] had been planning to launch a coup against Chávez and used the civil unrest as an opportunity. After the plotters gained significant power, Chávez agreed to be detained and was transferred by army escort to La Orchila, and although he requested to be allowed to leave the country, he refused to officially resign from the presidency at the time. Nonetheless, the wealthy business-leader Pedro Carmona declared himself president of an interim government. Carmona abolished the 1999 constitution and appointed a small governing committee to run the country. Protests in support of Chávez along with insufficient support for Carmona's regime, which many felt was implementing totalitarian measures, led to Carmona's resignation, and Chávez was returned to power on 15 April.
Chávez's reaction to the coup attempt was to moderate his approach, implementing a new economic team that appeared to be more centrist and reinstated the old board of directors and managers of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), whose replacement had been one of the reasons for the coup. At the same time, the Bolivarian government began preparing for potential future uprisings or even a US invasion by increasing the country's military capacity, purchasing 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles and several helicopters from Russia, as well as a number of Super Tucano light attack planes from Brazil. Troop numbers were also increased, with Chávez announcing in 2005 the government's intention to increase the number of military reserves from 50,000 to 2,000,000.
In December 2002, Chávez made political allies heads of PDVSA including Ali Rodriguez, a former Marxist guerrilla who he made president of PDVSA, replaced the company's board of directors with loyalists who had "little or no experience in the oil industry" and fired executives who complained. Chávez then faced a two-month management strike at the PDVSA when he initiated these management changes. Those involved in the strike said that the new management was "inexperienced and did not earn their jobs through the established merit-based promotion system, but were appointed only because they were Chavez allies." However, pro-Chávez political analyst Gregory Wilpert noted that "While the opposition labelled this action a 'general strike', it was actually a combination of management lockout, administrative and professional employee strike, and general sabotage of the oil industry." The Chávez government's response was to fire about 19,000 striking employees for illegally abandoning their posts and then employing retired workers, foreign contractors, and the military to do their jobs instead. The Miami Herald reported from local officials in Venezuela that in the month following the replacement of workers, there were "at least 60 industrial accidents" including oil spills, at least 4,500 barrels of oil spilled, seven fires, the sinking of barges and the death of a worker. Firefighters and loss prevention experts for PDVSA reported that conditions were too hazardous and later joined the strike. Energy Security Analysis Inc (ESAI) claimed that, after the strike, "the oil sector has struggled with inexperienced replacement workers and the burden of funding Chavez' wide ranging populist initiatives" and that there were "[s]tories of crumbling facilities and underused refining capacity". Wilpert explained that this move further damaged the strength of Chávez's opposition by removing the many managers in the oil industry who had been supportive of their cause to overthrow Chávez.
The 1999 constitution had introduced the concept of a recall referendum into Venezuelan politics, so the opposition called for such a referendum to take place. A 2004 referendum to recall Chávez was defeated. 70% of the eligible Venezuelan population turned out to vote, with 59% of voters deciding to keep the president in power. Unlike his original 1998 election victory, this time Chávez's electoral support came almost entirely from the poorer working classes rather than the middle classes, who "had practically abandoned Chávez" after he "had consistently moved towards the left in those five and a half years". According to Cannon, some figures in the opposition movement began calling for the United States military to intervene and invade the country in order to topple Chávez.[dubious ]
"Socialism of the 21st century"
The various attempts at overthrowing the Bolivarian government from power had only served to further radicalize Chávez. In January 2005, he began openly proclaiming the ideology of "Socialism of the 21st Century", something that was distinct from his earlier forms of Bolivarianism, which had been social democratic in nature, merging elements of capitalism and socialism. He used this new term to contrast the democratic socialism, which he wanted to promote in Latin America from the Marxist-Leninist socialism that had been spread by socialist states like the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China during the 20th century, arguing that the latter had not been truly democratic, suffering from a lack of participatory democracy and an excessively authoritarian governmental structure.
In May 2006, Chávez visited Europe in a private capacity, where he announced plans to supply cheap Venezuelan oil to poor working class communities in the continent. The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone welcomed him, describing him as "the best news out of Latin America in many years".
Third presidential term: 10 January 2007 – 10 January 2013
In the presidential election of December 2006, which saw a 74% voter turnout, Chávez was once more elected, this time with 63% of the vote, beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales, who conceded his loss. The election was certified as being free and legitimate by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center. After this victory, Chávez promised an "expansion of the revolution."
United Socialist Party of Venezuela and domestic policy
On 15 December 2006, Chávez publicly announced that those leftist political parties who had continually supported him in the Patriotic Pole would unite into one single, much larger party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV). In the speech which he gave announcing the PSUV's creation, Chávez declared that the old parties must "forget their own structures, party colours and slogans, because they are not the most important thing for the fatherland." According to political analyst Barry Cannon, the purpose of creating the PSUV was to "forge unity amongst the disparate elements [of the Bolivarian movement], providing grassroots input into policy and leadership formation, [and] uniting the grassroots and leadership into one single body." It was hoped that by doing so, it would decrease the problems of clientelism and corruption and also leave the movement less dependent on its leadership: as Chávez himself declared, "In this new party, the bases will elect the leaders. This will allow real leaders to emerge."
Chávez had initially proclaimed that those leftist parties which chose to not dissolve into the PSUV would have to leave the government, however, after several of those parties supporting him refused to do so, he ceased to issue such threats. There was initially much grassroots enthusiasm for the creation of the PSUV, with membership having risen to 5.7 million people by 2007, making it the largest political group in Venezuela. The United Nations' International Labour Organization however expressed concern over some voters' being pressured to join the party.
In 2007, the Bolivarian government set up a constitutional commission in order to review the 1999 constitution and suggest potential amendments to be made to it. Led by the prominent pro-Chávez intellectual Luis Britto García, the commission came to the conclusion that the constitution could include more socially progressive clauses, such as the shortening of the working week, a constitutional recognition of Afro Venezuelans and the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It also suggested measures that would have increased many of the president's powers, for instance increasing the presidential term limit to seven years, allowing the president to run for election indefinitely and centralizing powers in the executive. The government put the suggested changes to a public referendum in December 2007. Abstention rate was high however, with 43.95% of registered voters not turning out, and in the end the proposed changes were rejected by 50.65% of votes. This would prove to the first electoral loss that Chávez had faced in the thirteen electoral contests held since he took power, something analysts argued was due to the top-down nature of the changes, as well as general public dissatisfaction with "the absence of internal debate on its content, as well as dissatisfaction with the running of the social programmes, increasing street crime, and with corruption within the government."
In order to ensure that his Bolivarian Revolution became socially engrained in Venezuela, Chávez discussed his wish to stand for re-election when his term ran out in 2013, and spoke of ruling beyond 2030. Under the 1999 constitution, he could not legally stand for re-election again, and so brought about a referendum on 15 February 2009 to abolish the two-term limit for all public offices, including the presidency. Approximately 70% of the Venezuelan electorate voted, and they approved this alteration to the constitution with over 54% in favor, allowing any elected official the chance to try to run indefinitely.
Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas and the Bank of the South
The Bolivarian government placed a great emphasis on providing financial and medical aid to the rest of Latin America, bolstered by the profits produced by the Venezuela oil industry: indeed, in the first eight months of 2007 alone, Venezuela spent $8.8 billion in doing so, something which was "unprecedented for a Latin American country" in terms of scale. Adding to this, the Chávez administration sought greater political, economic and military alliances with those Latin American countries who had seen leftist, and in particular socialist governments elected in the early 21st century. The widespread success of left-leaning candidates at the time had led to what political analysts have described as a "pink tide" sweeping the region, although there was a great deal of diversity within this leftist trend. Those that became the closest allies of Bolivarian Venezuela were Evo Morales and his Movement for Socialism, which was elected into power in Bolivia in 2005, and Rafael Correa and his PAIS Alliance, who won the election in Ecuador in 2006.
It was alleged that Chavez's government gave money, weapons and support to the FARC, a rebel guerilla movement in Colombia known for extensive kidnappings and control of the drug trade. The suspicion of Venezuelan support was supposedly repeatedly confirmed. In 2005, captured laptops belonging to FARC leaders showed Chavez's involvement and support. The FARC rebels sought Venezuelan assistance in acquiring surface-to-air missiles. These files were confirmed by Interpol as being authentic. Files found in Ecuador showed FARC spent $400,000 to support the presidential campaign of Rafael Correa, an ally of Chavez. The documents allege that Chavez met personally with rebel leaders.
In 2007, the socialist Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front were elected into government in Nicaragua, and his administration immediately entered into deals with the Venezuelan government. On Ortega's first day in power, Chávez announced plans to aid the impoverished Central American country by forgiving the $30 million it owed Venezuela, and agreed to supply them with a further gift of $10 million in aid, as well as providing them with a $20-million loan with little or no interest and designed to benefit the country's poor.
In 2004, Venezuela had been one of the founding states in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA).
As of 26 September 2009, Chávez, along with allies such as Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, had set up a regional bank and development lender called Bank of the South, based in Caracas, an attempt to distance himself from financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Chávez first mentioned the project before winning the Presidential election in 1998. Chávez maintains that unlike other global financial organizations, the Bank of the South will be managed and funded by the countries of the region with the intention of funding social and economic development without any political conditions on that funding. The project is endorsed by Nobel Prize–winning, former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, who said: "One of the advantages of having a Bank of the South is that it would reflect the perspectives of those in the south," and that "It is a good thing to have competition in most markets, including the market for development lending."
As the Arab Spring erupted across North Africa and the Middle East in 2010, Chávez openly criticised those leaders who had been backed by the U.S., such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, but at the same time championed those who had adhered to Arab socialist ideals, such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad, whom he called "a humanist and a brother" in spite of Assad's government's violent crackdown on protesters. Following the outbreak of the Libyan Civil War, in which forces opposed to the socialist government rose up against the regime, Chávez, who had always had good international relations with Libya – describing its ceremonial leader Muammar Gaddafi as "a friend of mine" – offered to act as an intermediary between the government and the rebel-controlled National Transitional Council (NTC); however the latter declined the offer. During the subsequent 2011 military intervention in Libya, in which western forces attacked the Libyan army in support of the NTC, Chávez criticised the "indiscriminate bombing" of the country, accusing the United States of simply trying to "lay its hands on Libya's oil". Upon the killing of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, Chávez proclaimed that "We shall remember Gaddafi our whole lives as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr. They assassinated him. It is another outrage."
Fourth presidential term: 10 January 2013 – 5 March 2013
On 7 October 2012, Chávez won election as president for a fourth time, his third six-year term. He defeated Henrique Capriles with 54% of the votes versus 45% for Capriles, which was a lower victory margin than in his previous presidential wins, in the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election Turnout in the election was an unheard-of 80%, testifying that the election was hotly contested between the two candidates. There was significant support for Chávez amongst the Venezuelan lower class. Chávez's opposition blamed him for unfairly using state funds to spread largesse before the election to bolster Chavez's support among his primary electoral base, the lower class.
The inauguration of Chávez's new term was scheduled for 10 January 2013, but as he was undergoing medical treatment at the time in Cuba, he was not able to return to Venezuela for that date. The National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello proposed to postpone the inauguration and the Supreme Court decided that, being just another term of the sitting president and not the inauguration of a new one, the formality could be bypassed. The Venezuelan Bishops Conference opposed the verdict, stating that the constitution must be respected and the Venezuelan government had not been transparent regarding details about Chávez's health.
Acting executive officials produced orders of government signed by Chávez, which were suspected of forgery by some opposition politicians, who claimed that Chávez was too sick to be in control of his faculties. Guillermo Cochez, recently dismissed from the office of Panamanian ambassador to the Organization of American States, even claimed that Chávez had been brain-dead since 31 December 2012. Near to Chavez's death, two American attachés were expelled from the country for allegedly undermining Venezuelan democracy.
Due to the death of Chávez, Vice President Nicolas Maduro took over the presidential powers and duties for the remainder of Chávez's abbreviated term until presidential elections were held. Venezuela's constitution specifies that the speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, should assume the interim presidency if a president cannot be sworn in.
Chávez propagated what he called "socialism for the 21st century", but according to Gregory Wilpert, "Chávez has not clearly defined twenty-first century socialism, other than to say that it is about establishing liberty, equality, social justice, and solidarity. He has also indicated that it is distinctly different from state socialism", as implemented by the governments of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. As a part of his socialist ideas, he emphasised the role of so-called "participatory democracy", which he claimed increased democratic participation, and was implemented through the foundation of the Venezuelan Communal Councils and Bolivarian Circles which he cited as examples of grassroots and participatory democracy.
Hugo Chávez defined his political position as Bolivarianism, an ideology he developed from that of Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) and others. Bolívar was a 19th-century general who led the fight against the colonialist Spanish authorities and who is widely revered across Latin America today. Along with Bolívar, the other two primary influences upon Bolivarianism are Simón Rodríguez (1769–1854), a philosopher who was Bolívar's tutor and mentor, and Ezequiel Zamora, (1817–1860), the Venezuelan Federalist general. Political analyst and Chávez supporter Gregory Wilpert, in his study of Chávez's politics, noted that "The key ingredients for Chávez's revolutionary Bolivarianism can be summarized as: an emphasis on the importance of education, the creation of civilian-military unity, Latin American integration, social justice, and national sovereignty. In many ways this is not a particularly different set of principles and ideas to those of any other Enlightenment or national liberation thinker." Chávez's ideology originating from Bolívar has also received some criticism because Chávez had occasionally described himself as being influenced by Karl Marx, a critic of Bolívar. Beddow and Thibodeaux noted the complications between Bolívar and Marx, stating that "[d]escribing Bolivar as a socialist warrior in the class struggle, when he was actually member of the aristocratic 'criollos,' is peculiar when considering Karl Marx's own writings on Bolivar, whom he dismissed as a false liberator who merely sought to preserve the power of the old Creole nobility which he belonged".
Chávez's connection to Marxism was a complex one, though he had described himself as a Marxist on some occasions. In May 1996, he gave an interview with Agustín Blanco Muñoz in which he remarked that "I am not a Marxist, but I am not anti-Marxist. I am not communist, but I am not anti-communist." In a 2009 speech to the national assembly, he said: "I am a Marxist to the same degree as the followers of the ideas of Jesus Christ and the liberator of America, Simon Bolivar." He was well versed in many Marxist texts, having read the works of many Marxist theoreticians, and often publicly quoted them. Various international Marxists supported his government, believing it to be a sign of proletariat revolution as predicted in Marxist theory. In 2010, Hugo Chávez proclaimed support for the ideas of Marxist Leon Trotsky, saying "When I called him (former Minister of Labour, José Ramón Rivero)" Chávez explained, "he said to me: 'President I want to tell you something before someone else tells you ... I am a Trotskyist', and I said, 'well, what is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist! I follow Trotsky's line, that of permanent revolution," and then cited Marx and Lenin.
Chávez's early heroes were nationalist military dictators that included former Peruvian president Juan Velasco Alvarado and former Panamanian "Maximum Leader" Omar Torrijos. Chávez was also well acquainted with the various traditions of Latin American socialism, espoused by such figures as Colombian politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán and former Chilean president Salvador Allende. Early in his presidency, Chávez was advised and influenced by the Argentine fascist Norberto Ceresole. Cuban Communist revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro also influenced Chávez, especially with Castro's government assistance with the Bolivarian Missions. Other indirect influences on Chávez's political philosophy are the writings of American linguist Noam Chomsky and the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ. Other inspirations of Chávez's political view are Giuseppe Garibaldi, Antonio Gramsci and Antonio Negri.
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From his election in 1998 until his death in March 2013, Chávez's administration proposed and enacted democratic socialist economic policies. Domestic policies included redistribution of wealth, land reform, and democratization of economic activity via workplace self-management and creation of worker-owned cooperatives. Using increasing oil prices since the early 2000s and funds not seen in Venezuela since the 1980s, Chávez created the Bolivarian Missions, aimed at providing public services to improve economic, cultural, and social conditions. The Missions have entailed the construction of thousands of free medical clinics for the poor, and the enactment of food and housing subsidies. A 2010 OAS report indicated achievements in addressing illiteracy, healthcare and poverty, and economic and social advances. with Venezuelans' quality of life improving according to a UN Index.
During Chávez's presidency, the Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, dropped from nearly .5 in 1998 to .39 in 2011, putting Venezuela behind only Canada in the Western Hemisphere. The poverty rate fell from 48.6 percent in 2002 to 29.5 percent in 2011, according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America. The drop of Venezuela's poverty rate compared to poverty in other South American countries was slightly behind that of Peru, Brazil and Panama. Venezuelans aged 15 and older, 95.2% could also read and write, with Venezuela having one of the highest literacy rates in the region, though some scholars have refuted that literacy improvements during Chavez's presidency resulted from his administration's policies.
Such social works relied on oil products, the keystone of the Venezuelan economy, with Chávez's administration suffering from Dutch disease as a result. Economist and Chávez policy supporter Mark Weisbrot, in a 2009 analysis of the Chávez administration stated that economic expansion during Chávez's tenure "began when the government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003". Chávez gained a reputation as a price hawk in OPEC, pushing for stringent enforcement of production quotas and higher target oil prices. According to Cannon, the state income from oil revenue grew "from 51% of total income in 2000 to 56% 2006"; oil exports increased "from 77% in 1997 [...] to 89% in 2006"; and his administration's dependence on petroleum sales was "one of the chief problems facing the Chávez government". In 2012, the World Bank also explained that Venezuela's economy is "extremely vulnerable" to changes in oil prices since in 2012 "96% of the country's exports and nearly half of its fiscal revenue" relied on oil production, while by 2008, according to Foreign Policy, exports of everything but oil "collapsed". The Chávez administration then used such oil prices for his populist policies and voters. Barry Cannon wrote that "most areas of spending have increased" with "spending on education as a percentage of GDP stood at 5.1% in 2006, as opposed to 3.4% in the last year of the Caldera government." Spending on health also "increased from 1.6% of GDP in 2000 to 7.7% in 2006". Teresa A. Meade wrote that Chávez's popularity strongly depended "on the lower classes who have benefited from these health initiatives and similar policies."
Such practices led to overspending on social programs which then threatened Venezuela's economy. The government's overspending on social programs and strict government polices created difficulties for Venezuela's import reliant businesses. As a result of Chávez's policies, inflation rose and widespread shortages in Venezuela occurred towards the end of his presidency, with such effects growing significantly into the economic policy of the Nicolás Maduro government. According to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the succeeding economic crisis that affected Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro would have still occurred with or without Chávez.
According to Ian James in 2010, citing estimates from the government's Venezuelan Central Bank, the Venezuelan government "controlled" the same percentage of the economy as when Chávez was elected in 1998, with "the private sector still control[ling] two-thirds of Venezuela's economy". However, in January 2013, the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal gave Venezuela's economic freedom a low score of 36.1, twenty points lower than 56.1 in 1999, ranking its freedom very low at 174 of 177 countries on its 2013 Index of Economic Freedom with freedom on a downward trend. Nicholas Kozloff, Chávez's biographer, stated of Chávez's economic policies: "Chávez has not overturned capitalism, he has done much to challenge the more extreme, neo-liberal model of development."
Food and products
In the 1980s and 1990s health and nutrition indexes in Venezuela were generally low, and social inequality in access to nutrition was high. Chávez made it his stated goal to lower inequality in the access to basic nutrition, and to achieve food sovereignty for Venezuela. The main strategy for making food available to all economic classes was a controversial policy of fixing price ceilings for basic staple foods implemented in 2003. Between 1998 and 2006 malnutrition related deaths fell by 50%. In October 2009, the Executive Director of the National Institute of Nutrition (INN) Marilyn Di Luca reported that the average daily caloric intake of the Venezuelan people had reached 2790 calories, and that malnutrition had fallen from 21% in 1998 to 6%. Chávez also expropriated and redistributed 5 million acres of farmland from large landowners.
Price controls initiated by Chávez created shortages of goods since merchants could no longer afford to import necessary goods. Chávez blamed "speculators and hoarders" for these scarcities and strictly enforced his price control policy, denouncing anyone who sold food products for higher prices as "speculators". In 2011, food prices in Caracas were nine times higher than when the price controls were put in place and resulted in shortages of cooking oil, chicken, powdered milk, cheese, sugar and meat. The price controls increased the demand for basic foods while making it difficult for Venezuela to import goods causing increased reliance on domestic production. Economists believe this policy increased shortages. Shortages of food then occurred throughout the rest of Chávez's presidency with food shortage rates between 10% and 20% from 2010 to 2013. One possible reason for shortages is the relationship between inflation and subsidies, where no profitability due to price regulations affect operations. In turn, the lack of dollars made it difficult to purchase more food imports. Chávez's strategy in response to food shortages consisted of attempting to increase domestic production through nationalizing large parts of the food industry, though such nationalizations allegedly did the opposite and caused decreased production instead.
As part of his strategy of food security Chávez started a national chain of supermarkets, the Mercal network, which had 16,600 outlets and 85,000 employees that distributed food at highly discounted prices, and ran 6000 soup kitchens throughout the country. Simultaneously Chávez expropriated many private supermarkets. According to Commerce Minister Richard Canan, "The average [savings] for the basic food bundle (at the Mercal Bicentennial markets) is around 30%. There are some products, for example cheese and meat, which reach a savings of 50 to 60% compared with capitalist markets." The Mercal network was criticized by some commentators as being a part of Chávez's strategy to brand himself as a provider of cheap food, and the shops feature his picture prominently. The Mercal network was also subject to frequent scarcities of basic staples such as meat, milk and sugar – and when scarce products arrived, shoppers had to wait in lines.
After his election in 1998, more than 100,000 state-owned cooperatives – which claimed to represent some 1.5 million people – were formed with the assistance of government start-up credit and technical training; and the creation and maintenance, as of September 2010, of over 30,000 communal councils, examples of localised participatory democracy; which he intended to be integrated into regional umbrella organizations known as "Communes in Construction".
In 2010, Chávez supported the construction of 184 communes, housing thousands of families, with $23 million in government funding. The communes produced some of their own food, and were able to make decisions by popular assembly of what to do with government funds. In September 2010, Chávez announced the location of 876 million bolivars ($203 million) for community projects around the country, specifically communal councils and the newly formed communes. Chávez also criticised the bureaucracy still common in Venezuela saying, when in discussion with his Communes Minister Isis Ochoa, that "All of the projects must be carried out by the commune, not the bureaucracy." The Ministry for Communes, which oversees and funds all communal projects, was initiated in 2009. Despite such promises, the Venezuelan government often failed to construct the number of homes they had proposed. According to Venezuela's El Universal, one of the Chávez administration's outstanding weaknesses is the failure to meet its goals of construction of housing.
In the first few years of Chavez's office, his newly created social programs required large payments in order to make the desired changes. On February 5, 2003, the government created CADIVI, a currency control board charged with handling foreign exchange procedures. Its creation was to control capital flight by placing limits on individuals and only offering them so much of a foreign currency. This limit to foreign currency led to a creation of a currency black market economy since Venezuelan merchants rely on foreign goods that require payments with reliable foreign currencies. As Venezuela printed more money for their social programs, the bolívar continued to devalue for Venezuelan citizens and merchants since the government held the majority of the more reliable currencies.
The implied value or "black market value" is what Venezuelans believe the Bolivar Fuerte is worth compared to the United States dollar. As of January 2014, the official exchange rate is 1 USD to 6.3 VEF while the black market exchange rate is over ten times higher since the actual value of the bolívar is overvalued for Venezuelan businesses. Since merchants can only receive so much necessary foreign currency from the government, they must resort to the black market which in turn raises the merchant's prices on consumers. The high rates in the black market make it difficult for businesses to purchase necessary goods since the government often forces these businesses to make price cuts. This leads to businesses selling their goods and making a low profit, such as Venezuelan McDonald's franchises offering a Big Mac meal for only $1. Since businesses make low profits, this leads to shortages since they are unable to import the goods that Venezuela is reliant on. Venezuela's largest food producing company, Empresas Polar, has stated that they may need to suspend some production for nearly the entire year of 2014 since they owe foreign suppliers $463 million.
Crime and punishment
During the 1980s and 1990s there was a steady increase in crime in Latin America. The countries of Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Brazil all had homicide rates above the regional average. During his terms as president, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans were murdered due to violent crimes occurring in the country.
Under Chávez's administration, crimes were so prevalent that by 2007 the government no longer produced crime data. Homicide rates in Venezuela more than tripled, with one NGO finding the rate to have nearly quadrupled. The majority of the deaths occur in crowded slums in Caracas. The NGO found that the number of homicides in the country increased from 6,000 in 1999 to 19,000 in 2011 21,692 in 2012 and 24,763 in 2013. In 2010 Caracas had the highest murder rate in the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2012 there were 13,080 murders in Venezuela and 14,670 murders in neighboring Colombia.
In September 2010, responding to escalating crime rates in the country, Chávez stated that Venezuela is no more violent now than it was when he first took office. An International Crisis Group report that same year stated that when Chávez took office, there were some factors beyond his control that led to the crime epidemic throughout Venezuela, but that Chávez ignored it as well as corruption in the country; especially among fellow state officials. The report also stated that international organised crime filters between Colombia and Venezuela with the assistance among "the highest spheres of government" in Venezuela, lead to higher rates of kidnapping, drug trafficking, and homicides. Chávez supporters state that the Bolivarian National Police has reduced crime and also said that the states with the highest murder rates were controlled by the opposition. According to the publications El Espectador and Le Monde diplomatique, rising crime in rural and urban areas of Venezuela was partly due to increased cross-border activity by Colombian right-wing paramilitary groups like Águilas Negras.
Gareth A. Jones and Dennis Rodgers stated in their book Youth violence in Latin America: Gangs and Juvenile Justice in Perspective that, "With the change of political regime in 1999 and the initiation of the Bolivarian Revolution, a period of transformation and political conflict began, marked by a further increase in the number and rate of violent deaths" showing that in four years, the murder rate had increased to 44 per 100,000 people. Kidnappings also rose tremendously during Chavez's tenure, with the number of kidnappings over 20 times higher in 2011 than when Chavez was elected. Director James Brabazon, stated "kidnapping crimes had skyrocketed ... after late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez freed thousands of violent prisoners as part of controversial criminal justice system reforms" while kidnappings and murders also increased due to Colombian organized crime activity as well. He further explained that common criminals felt that the Venezuelan government did not care for the problems of the higher and middle classes, which in turn gave them a sense of impunity that created a large business of kidnapping-for-ransom. In leaked government INE data for kidnappings in the year 2009, the number of kidnappings were at an estimated 16,917, contrasting the CICPCs number of only 673, before the Venezuelan government blocked the data. According to the leaked INE report, only 1,332 investigations for kidnappings were opened or about 7% of the total kidnapping cases, with 90.4% of the kidnappings happening away from rural areas, 80% of all being express kidnappings and the most common victim being lower-middle or middle class Venezuelans and middle-aged men. Also in 2009, it was reported that Venezuelan authorities would assign judicial police to Caracas area morgues to speak with families. At that time, they would advise families not to report the murder of their family member to the media in exchange to have the process of recovering the victim's body in an expedited manner.
According to some sources, there is widespread corruption in Venezuela's police force. Many victims are afraid to report crimes to the police because many officers are involved with criminals and may bring even more harm to the victims. In a 2012 report, Human Rights Watch states that the "police commit one of every five crimes" in Venezuela and that thousands of people have been killed by police officers acting with impunity (only 3% of officers have been charged in cases against them). The Metropolitan Police force in Caracas was so corrupt that it was disbanded by 2007 and was even accused of assisting in many of the country's 17,000 kidnappings. Medium says that the Venezuelan police are "seen as brutal and corrupt" and are "more likely to rob you than help".
Between 2000 and 2007, 6,300 Venezuelan policemen were investigated for violations of human rights. Because decentralization of police was blamed for their ineffectiveness, the 1999 constitution required the National Assembly to form a national police force to fight crime. In 2001, the Venezuelan National Assembly gave the government one year to create a national police force. Chávez then attempted to create a centralized national police force, announcing to create one in August 2002. However, the Venezuelan public, academics, NGOs and municipal governments rejected the idea with Alfredo Peña stating that the police would possibly be used to repress anti-Chávez protesters, resulting with the Venezuelan government canceling the creation of a national police force. In 2006, the government established the National Commission for Police Reform (Conarepol), in which a range of civil society representatives, politicians, and academics investigated law enforcement in Venezuela and made recommendations. This included setting up a national police force designed to operate with high standards of professionalism and specific training in human rights. It also included initiatives whereby communal councils could participate in police supervision by being able to request investigations into police behaviour and file recommendations and complaints.
In 2008, Chávez passed a decree designed to implement Conarepol's recommendation on the national police force, and the National Bolivarian Police (PNB), and Experimental Security University began operations in 2009. The decree, however, was criticized because it was negotiated behind closed doors and did not follow Conarepol's recommendations to deal with human rights and because "politicization of the force could undercut the goal of professionalization". According to the Venezuelan government, murder was reduced by 60%, robberies by nearly 59%, and gender-based violence by 66% in the pilot areas where the PNB was active in and around Caracas. However, not all homicides due to encounters with police were reported and human rights groups said that the effort by Chávez's government to fight crime was too "timid".
During Chávez's presidency, there were reports of prisoners having easy access to firearms, drugs, and alcohol. Carlos Nieto—head of Window to Freedom—alleges that heads of gangs acquire military weapons from the state, saying: "They have the types of weapons that can only be obtained by the country's armed forces. ... No one else has these." Use of internet and mobile phones are also a commonplace where criminals can take part in street crime while in prison. One prisoner explained how, "If the guards mess with us, we shoot them" and that he had "seen a man have his head cut off and people play football with it."
Edgardo Lander, a sociologist and professor at the Central University of Venezuela with a PhD in sociology from Harvard University explained that Venezuelan prisons are "practically a school for criminals" since young inmates come out "more sort of trained and hardened than when they went in". He also explained that prisons are controlled by gangs and that "very little has been done" to control them.
In some Venezuelan prisons, inmates partake in gladiatorial matches to settle disputes. In 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States denounced the practice of "The Coliseum" saying "The Commission reiterates to the State the need to take immediate and effective steps to prevent such incidents from happening again" after two inmates died and 54 more were injured after from the practices. However a year later, one "Coliseum" in Uribana left 2 dead and 128 injured. Those injured had to be assisted by a church in the area.
Venezuelan rights groups report that the 34 prisons in Venezuela hold over 50,000 people but are only supposed to hold about one-third of that. In 2012, La Planta, a prison built in 1964 with a capacity of 350 inmates, held almost 2,500 inmates with most of them armed with heavy weapons.
In December 1998, Hugo Chávez declared three goals for the new government; "convening a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, eliminating government corruption, and fighting against social exclusion and poverty". However, during Hugo Chávez's time in power, corruption has become widespread throughout the government due to impunity towards members of the government, bribes and the lack of transparency. In 2004, Hugo Chávez and his allies took over the Supreme Court, filling it with supporters of Chávez and made new measures so the government could dismiss justices from the court. According to the libertarian Cato Institute, the National Electoral Council of Venezuela was under control of Chávez where he tried to "push a constitutional reform that would have allowed him unlimited opportunities for reelection". The Corruption Perceptions Index, produced annually by the Berlin-based NGO, Transparency International (TNI) reports findings of corruption in countries around the world. In recent years, corruption has worsened; it was 158th out of 180 countries in 2008, and 165th out of 176 (tied with Burundi, Chad, and Haiti)). Most Venezuelans believe the government's effort against corruption is ineffective, that corruption has increased, and that government institutions such as the judicial system, parliament, legislature and police are the most corrupt.
In Gallup Poll's 2006 Corruption Index, Venezuela ranked 31st out of 101 countries according to how widespread the population perceive corruption as being in the government and in business. The index lists Venezuela as the second least corrupt nation in Latin America, behind Chile. In August 2006, following assaults on a squatter and a National Assembly member, El Universal says that Chávez called on the latest Minister, Jesse Chacón to quit if he could not do the job, demanding more effort in the fight against corruption, and affirming the need to clean up and reform the local police forces. He questioned the impunity that exists in the country, and challenged authorities, like Chacón, to resign if they could not make progress against crime. He also called for greater protection of squatters settling on landed estates. Some criticism came from Chávez's supporters. Chávez's own political party, Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), had been criticized as being riddled with the same cronyism, political patronage, and corruption that Chávez alleged were characteristic of the old "Fourth Republic" political parties. Venezuela's trade unionists and indigenous communities have participated in peaceful demonstrations intended to impel the government to facilitate labor and land reforms. These communities, while largely expressing their sympathy and support for Chávez, criticize what they see as Chávez's slow progress in protecting their interests against managers and mining concerns, respectively.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), "Chavez's government funded FARC's office in Caracas and gave it access to Venezuela's intelligence services" and said that during the 2002 coup attempt that, "FARC also responded to requests from (Venezuela's intelligence service) to provide training in urban terrorism involving targeted killings and the use of explosives." The IISS continued saying that "the archive offers tantalizing but ultimately unproven suggestions that FARC may have undertaken assassinations of Chavez's political opponents on behalf of the Venezuelan state." Venezuelan diplomats denounced the IISS' findings saying that they had "basic inaccuracies".
In 2007, authorities in Colombia claimed that through laptops they had seized on a raid against Raul Reyes, they found in documents that Hugo Chávez offered payments of as much as $300 million to the FARC "among other financial and political ties that date back years" along with other documents showing "high-level meetings have been held between rebels and Ecuadorean officials" and some documents claiming that FARC had "bought and sold uranium".
1999 Venezuelan Constitution
In the 1999 Venezuelan constitution, 116 of the 350 articles were concerned with human rights; these included increased protections for indigenous peoples and women, and established the rights of the public to education, housing, healthcare, and food. It called for dramatic democratic reforms such as ability to recall politicians from office by popular referendum, increased requirements for government transparency, and numerous other requirements to increase localized, participatory democracy, in favor of centralized administration. It gave citizens the right to timely and impartial information, community access to media, and a right to participate in acts of civil disobedience.
Shortly after Hugo Chávez's election, ratings for freedom in Venezuela dropped according to political and human rights group Freedom House and Venezuela was rated "partly free". In 2004, Amnesty International criticized President Chavez's administration of not handling the 2002 coup in a proper manner, saying that violent incidents "have not been investigated effectively and have gone unpunished" and that "impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators encourages further human rights violations in a particularly volatile political climate". Amnesty International also criticized the Venezuelan National Guard and the Direccion de Inteligencia Seguridad y Prevención (DISIP) stating that they "allegedly used excessive force to control the situation on a number of occasions" during protests involving the 2004 Venezuela recall. It was also noted that many of the protesters detained seemed to not be "brought before a judge within the legal time limit".
In 2008, Human Rights Watch released a report reviewing Chávez's human rights record over his first decade in power. The report praises Chávez's 1999 amendments to the constitution which significantly expanded human rights guarantees, as well as mentioning improvements in women's rights and indigenous rights, but noted a "wide range of government policies that have undercut the human rights protections established" by the revised constitution. In particular, the report accused Chávez and his administration of engaging in discrimination on political grounds, eroding the independence of the judiciary, and of engaging in "policies that have undercut journalists' freedom of expression, workers' freedom of association, and civil society's ability to promote human rights in Venezuela." The Venezuelan government retaliated for the report by expelling members of Human Rights Watch from the country. Subsequently, over a hundred Latin American scholars signed a joint letter with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs criticizing the Human Rights Watch report for its alleged factual inaccuracy, exaggeration, lack of context, illogical arguments, and heavy reliance on opposition newspapers as sources, amongst other things.
In 2010, Amnesty International criticized the Chávez administration for targeting critics following several politically motivated arrests. Freedom House listed Venezuela as being "partly free" in its 2011 Freedom in the World annual report, noting a recent decline in civil liberties.
A 2010 Organization of American States report found concerns with freedom of expression, human rights abuses, authoritarianism, press freedom, threats to democracy, as well as erosion of separation of powers, the economic infrastructure and ability of the president to appoint judges to federal courts. OAS observers were denied access to Venezuela; Chávez rejected the OAS report, pointing out that its authors did not even come to Venezuela. He said Venezuela should boycott the OAS, which he felt is dominated by the United States; a spokesperson said, "We don't recognize the commission as an impartial institution". He disclaimed any power to influence the judiciary. A Venezuelan official said the report distorted and took statistics out of context, and said that "human rights violations in Venezuela have decreased". Venezuela said it will not accept an IACHR/OAS visit as long as Santiago Cantón remains its Executive Secretary, unless the IACHR apologizes for what he[clarification needed] described as its support of the 2002 coup.
Venezuelan Judge Maria Afiuni was arrested in 2009 on charges of corruption, after she ordered the conditional release on bail of banker Eligio Cedeño, who had been held on charges of fraud and other crimes due to alleged illegal currency trading activities. Some human rights officials alleged the arrest was politically motivated; Cedeño "had been in pretrial detention for nearly three years, despite a two-year limit prescribed by Venezuelan law". Cedeño later fled to the U.S. to avoid prosecution. Following Afiuni's arrest, several groups, including the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Episcopal Conference of Venezuela, Human Rights Watch, the Law Society of England and Wales, the U.S. Department of State, and the European Union Parliament accused Chávez of "creating a climate of fear" among Venezuela's legal profession. The European Parliament called it "an attack on the independence of the judiciary by the President of a nation, who should be its first guarantor". A director of Human Rights Watch said, "Once again the Chávez government has demonstrated its fundamental disregard for the principle of judicial independence."
In November 2014, Venezuela appeared before the United Nations Committee Against Torture over cases between 2002 and 2014. Human rights expert of the UN committee, Felice D. Gaer, noted that in "only 12 public officials have been convicted of human rights violations in the last decade when in the same period have been more than 5,000 complaints". The United Nations stated that there were 31,096 complaints of human rights violations received between the years 2011 and 2014. Of the 31,096 complaints, only 3.1% of the cases resulted in only in an indictment by the Venezuelan Public Ministry.
Allegations of Anti-semitism
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (May 2014)|
Chavez's opposition to Zionism and close relations with Iran, have led to accusations of antisemitism During Chavez's presidency, the Venezuelan Jewish community made statements at a World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Jerusalem saying, "Where we live, anti-Semitism is sanctioned. It comes from the president, through the government, and into the media." In a 2006 Christmas speech, Chavez made remarks saying that "[t]he world is for all of us, then, but it so happens that a minority, the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ, the descendants of the same ones that kicked Bolívar out of here and also crucified him in their own way over there in Santa Marta, in Colombia. A minority has taken possession all of the wealth of the world." The Venezuelan Jewish community leadership and several major American Jewish groups defended Chavez from accusations (by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among others) that he had made anti-semitic remarks. They pointed to Chavez's reference to Bolivar as the clearest evidence that his comments were directed at wealthy elites in general, not at any group in particular. In 2009, attacks on a synagogue in Caracas were alleged to be influenced by "vocal denunciations of Israel" by the Venezuelan state media and Hugo Chávez even though Chavez promptly condemned the attacks blaming an "oligarchy". Elias Farache, President of the Venezuelan Israeli Association, rebuked the allegations, stating that they came from unauthorized spokespersons of the Jewish community; he explained that "We do not blame the government, and it does not sound logical for us to be attacked by a government that is liberal, that has above all always been in favor of minorities".  A weeklong CICPC investigation revealed the synagogue attack to be an 'inside job', the motive apparently being robbery rather than anti-semitism. Venezuelan authorities arrested 11 suspects, including a rabbi's bodyguard, who planned the crime, along with seven other policemen and three civilians.  The Venezuelan Israeli Association publicly expressed its appreciation of the Chavez government’s prompt repudiation of the synagogue attack, and its thorough investigation and arrest of its perpetrators. "The national government has shown its commitment to struggle to eradicate feelings that are foreign to the Venezuelan people, and to restore peace and tranquility to our community", said Farache. State media attacks on Henrique Capriles Radonski, a Catholic of Jewish ancestry, were widely criticized as antisemitic. The Wall Street Journal said that Capriles "was vilified in a campaign in Venezuela's state-run media, which insinuated he was, among other things, a homosexual and a Zionist agent". Prior to the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election, when Chavez faced presidential nominee Henrique Capriles Radonski, it was reported to be a choice between Chavez's socialist revolution and "international Zionism which threatens to destroy the planet", according to an article published on the website of Radio Nacional de Venezuela.
Media and the press
Although the freedom of the press was mentioned by two key clauses in the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela, in 2008, Human Rights Watch criticized Chávez for engaging in "often discriminatory policies that have undercut journalists' freedom of expression." Freedom House listed Venezuela's press as being "Not Free" in its 2011 Map of Press Freedom, noting that "[t]he gradual erosion of press freedom in Venezuela continued in 2010." Reporters Without Borders criticized the Chávez administration for "steadily silencing its critics". In the group's 2009 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders noted that "Venezuela is now among the region’s worst press freedom offenders."
The large majority of mass media in Venezuela remained privately owned, but subject to significant state control. The Venezuelan government required that all private television stations dedicate at least 25%[clarification needed] of their airtime to programs created by community groups, non-profits, and other independent producers. In 2007,[dated info] private corporations controlled 80% of the cable television channels, 100% of the newspaper companies, and 706 out of 709 radio stations.
In July 2005 Chávez inaugurated TeleSUR, a Pan-American equivalent of Al Jazeera that sought to challenge the present domination of Latin American television news by Univision and the United States-based CNN en Español. In 2006 Chávez inaugurated a state-funded movie studio called Villa del Cine (English: Cinema City). According to Chávez, the goal of this indigenous film industry was to counter what he described as "the dictatorship of Hollywood", the lack of alternative media.
Chávez had a Twitter account with more than 3,200,000 followers as of August 2012. Chávez's Twitter account has been described as a way for people to bypass bureaucracy and contact the president directly. There was a team of 200 people to sort through suggestions and comments sent via Twitter. Chávez said Twitter was "another mechanism for contact with the public, to evaluate many things and to help many people", and that he saw Twitter as "a weapon that also needs to be used by the revolution". In a Twitter report released in June 2010 Venezuela was third globally for the prevalence of Twitter with 19% of the population using it.
In 2010 availability of Internet service in Venezuela rose by 43%. The Venezuelan state instituted Infocenters, community spaces equipped with computers with internet connections which are free to use. By January 2011 there were 737 infocenters, and the programme was awarded a prize by UNESCO.
In the days before the 11 April 2002 coup, the five main private Venezuelan TV stations gave advertising space to those calling for anti-Chávez demonstrations. In 2006, Chávez announced that the terrestrial broadcast license for RCTV would not be renewed, due to its refusal to pay taxes and fines, and its alleged open support of the 2002 coup attempt against Chávez, and role in helping to instigate the oil strike in 2002–2003. RCTV was transmitted via cable and satellite and was widely viewable in Venezuela until January 2010, when it was excluded by cable companies in response to an order of National Commission of Telecommunications. The refusal to renew its terrestrial broadcast license was condemned by a multitude of international organizations, many of whom have claimed that the closure was politically motivated, and was intended to silence government critics.
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. In a poll conducted by Datanalisis, almost 70 percent of Venezuelans polled opposed the shut-down, but most quoted loss of their favourite soap operas rather than concerns about limits on freedom of expression.
Chávez 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". Chávez stated that Venezuela has "a strong oil card to play on the geopolitical stage ... It is a card that we are going to play with toughness against the toughest country in the world, the United States." Chávez 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 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 participated in the United Nations Friends groups for Haiti, and pursued efforts to join and engage the Mercosur trade bloc to expand the hemisphere's trade integration prospects. During his presidency, he also befriended pariah states such as Belarus and Iran.
In August 2007, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a self-identified member of the entourage of Hugo Chávez, who was about to visit Argentina, arrived in Argentina on a private flight paid for by Argentine and Venezuelan state officials. Wilson was carrying US$800,000, which the police seized on arrival. A few days later Wilson, a Venezuelan-American and a close friend of Chávez's, was a guest at a signing ceremony involving Cristina Kirchner and Chávez at the Casa Rosada. He was later arrested on money laundering and contraband charges. It was alleged that the cash was to have been delivered to the Kirchner's as a clandestine contribution to Cristina's campaign chest from President Chávez. Fernández, as a fellow leftist, was a political ally of Chávez. This was seen as a similar move that Chávez allegedly used to give payments to leftist candidates in presidential races for Bolivia and Mexico in order to back his anti-US allies. The incident led to a scandal and what Bloomberg News called "an international imbroglio", with the U.S. accusing five men of being secret Chávez agents whose mission was to cover up the attempt to deliver the cash.
During Hugo Chávez's presidency, relations between Venezuela and Cuba improved dramatically. Their bilateral relations include developmental aid, joint business ventures, large financial transactions, exchange of energy resources and information technology, and cooperation in the fields of intelligence service and military. In 2003, Venezuela and Cuba made a barter agreement where Cuba would send doctors to Venezuela while Venezuela would send 100,000 barrels of oil per day. From 2008 to 2011, Chávez's government in Venezuela gave Cuba $18 billion in loans, investments and grants.
Hugo Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, respectively, both described themselves on the world stage as opposed to American imperialism. Citing this commonality of opinion, they formed a close alliance embarked on a number of initiatives together. On 6 January 2007, the two announced that they would use some money from a previously announced $2 billion joint fund to invest in other countries that were "attempting to liberate themselves from the imperialist yoke", in Chávez's words. The two presidents declared an "axis of unity" against "US imperialism".
Chávez developed strong ties with the government of Iran, in particular in the area of energy production, economic, and industrial cooperation. He visited Iran on several occasions, the first time in 2001, when he declared that he came to Iran to "prepare the road for peace, justice, stability and progress for the 21st century". Mohammad Khatami also visited Venezuela on three occasions. During his 2005 visit, Chávez awarded him the Orden del Libertador and called him a "tireless fighter for all the right causes in the world". In May 2006, Chávez expressed his favorable view of the production of nuclear energy in Iran announced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and denied that they had plans to develop atomic weapons.
In popular culture
- Syndicated cartoonists from around the world created cartoons, illustrations, and videos of Hugo Chávez's controversial political career and the reactions to his death.
- Hugo Chávez appears as a heroic character in the Latin American postmodern fantasy novel United States of Banana (2011) by Giannina Braschi; Chávez leads left-wing Latin American leaders Evo Morales, Lula, Fidel Castro, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on a quest to liberate the people of Puerto Rico from the United States.
- Oliver Stone directed the 2009 documentary South of the Border, where he "sets out on a road trip across five countries to explore the social and political movements as well as the mainstream media's misperception of South America, while interviewing seven of its elected presidents."
- On January 15, 2014, Mexican novelist Norma Gomez released Swan Song, a political thriller that points to American involvement in the death of Hugo Chávez.
- On 5 March 2014, Oliver Stone and teleSUR release the documentary film Mi Amigo Hugo (My Friend Hugo), a documentary about his political life, one year after his death. The film also is a "spiritual answer" and a tribute from Stone to Chávez.
Chávez married twice. He first wed Nancy Colmenares, a woman from a poor family in Chávez's hometown of Sabaneta. Chávez and Colmenares remained married for 18 years, during which time they had three children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, and Hugo Rafael, the latter of whom suffers from behavioural problems. The couple separated soon after Chávez's 1992 coup attempt. During his first marriage, Chávez had an affair with historian Herma Marksman; their relationship lasted nine years. Chávez's second wife was journalist Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez, whom he separated in 2002 and divorced in 2004. Through that marriage, Chávez had another daughter, Rosinés. Both María and Rosa provided Chávez with grandchildren. Allegations were made that Chávez was a womanizer, and had been throughout both his marriages, but these have remained unproven and are contradicted by statements provided by other figures close to him.
Chávez was a Catholic. He intended at one time to become a priest. He saw his socialist policies as having roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ, (liberation theology) and he publicly used the slogan of "Christ is with the Revolution!" Although he traditionally kept his own faith a private matter, Chávez over the course of his presidency became increasingly open to discussing his religious views, stating that he interpreted Jesus as a Communist. He was, in general, a liberal Catholic, some of whose declarations were disturbing to the religious community of his country. In 2008 he expressed his skepticism of an afterlife, saying that such idea was false. He also would declare his belief in Darwin's theory of evolution, stating that "it is a lie that God created man from the ground." Among other things, he cursed the state of Israel, and he had some disputes with both the Venezuelan Catholic clergy and Protestant groups like the New Tribes Mission, whose evangelical leader he "condemned to hell". In addition, he showed syncretistic practices such as the worship of the Venezuelan goddess María Lionza. In his last years, after he discovered he had cancer, Chávez became more attached to the Catholic Church.
In June 2011, Chávez revealed in a televised address from Havana, Cuba, that he was recovering from an operation to remove an abscessed tumor with cancerous cells. Vice President Elías Jaua declared that the President remained in "full exercise" of power and that there was no need to transfer power due to his absence from the country. On 3 July, the Venezuelan government denied, however, that Chávez's tumour had been completely removed, further stating that he was heading for "complete recovery". On 17 July 2011, television news reported that Chávez had returned to Cuba for further cancer treatments.
Chávez gave a public appearance on 28 July 2011, his 57th birthday, in which he stated that his health troubles had led him to radically reorient his life towards a "more diverse, more reflective and multi-faceted" outlook, and he went on to call on the middle classes and the private sector to get more involved in his Bolivarian Revolution, something he saw as "vital" to its success. Soon after this speech, in August Chávez announced that his government would nationalize Venezuela's gold industry, taking it over from Russian-controlled company Rusoro, while at the same time also moving the country's gold stocks, which were largely stored in western banks, to banks in Venezuela's political allies like Russia, China and Brazil.
On 9 July 2012, Chávez declared himself fully recovered from cancer just three months before the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election, which he won, securing a fourth term as president. In November 2012, Chávez announced plans to travel to Cuba for more medical treatment for cancer.
On 8 December 2012, Chávez announced he would undergo a new operation after doctors in Cuba detected malignant cells; the operation took place on 11 December 2012. Chávez suffered a respiratory infection after undergoing the surgery but it was controlled. It was announced 20 December by the country's vice-president that Chávez had suffered complications following his surgery. It was announced on 3 January 2013 that Chávez had a severe lung infection that had caused respiratory failures following a strict treatment regimen for respiratory insufficiency. However he was reported to have overcome this later that month, and it was reported that he was then undergoing further treatment. On 18 February 2013, Chávez returned to Venezuela after 2 months of cancer treatment in Cuba. On 1 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said that Chávez had been receiving chemotherapy in Venezuela following his surgery in Cuba. On 4 March, it was announced by the Venezuelan government that Chávez's breathing problems had worsened and he was suffering a new, severe respiratory infection.
After his first cancer surgery in June 2011, Chávez indicated that a baseball-sized tumor had been removed from his pelvis, but he never revealed what type of cancer he suffered from then or later when further surgery, chemotherapy and radiation were used.
However, on 27 February 2012, Wikileaks released an internal Stratfor email, dated 6 December 2011, that detailed the earlier cancer as well as putting the blame on his doctors and Chavez's personal habits. It also details the cause for his second trip to Cuba.
"The tumor started as a growth close to the prostate. It spread to the colon, which is what led to a lot of confusion in the [unknown] about the treatment of prostate v. colon cancer in hormonal v. chemotherapy. A reliable source on the medical [team] has explained that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and into the bone marrow up to the spine, ie. very serious." 
"Chavez temporarily stopped the chemo in order to make an appearance at the recent CELAC meeting. The medical team is made up of both Russian and Cuban doctors. Both sides are clashing. The Russian team blamed the Cubans for an improper surgery the first time in trying to remove the tumor. The second surgery over the summer was basically the Russian team trying to clean up the Cuban team's mistakes. The Russians complain that the Cubans don't have the right imagery treatment to properly treat Chavez. The Cuban medical diagnosis is two years. The Russian medical diagnosis, due to improper medical equipment, is less than one year. The source on the medical team complains that Chavez is a very 'bad patient.' He doesn't listen to his doctors, and he ceases treatment when he has to make a public appearance. Now the Russian and the Chinese doctors are going at it because Chavez sought the advice of a Chinese doctor that advocates more natural treatments and the Russians are saying this is "horse shit treatment". Only Chavez can get the most politicized medical team in the world." 
On 5 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on state television that Chávez had died in a military hospital in Caracas at 16:25 VET (20:55 UTC). The Vice President said Chávez died "after battling a tough illness for nearly two years." According to the head of Venezuela's presidential guard, Chávez died from a massive heart attack, and his cancer was very advanced when he died. Gen. Jose Ornella said that near the end of his life Chávez could not speak aloud, but mouthed his last words: "Yo no quiero morir, por favor no me dejen morir" (I don't want to die. Please don't let me die). The funeral was planned to be held in Caracas. Chávez is survived by four children and four grandchildren.
Vice President Maduro and Chávez's supporters had suggested foul play was behind Chávez's illness and death. Maduro speculated that Chávez had been poisoned or infected by enemies, and expressed a belief that the claim could someday be tested scientifically. It was unclear whether Maduro was referring to Chávez' cancer, or his respiratory infection. During the same address, Maduro announced the expulsion of an attaché to the U.S. embassy for what he called "a plot against the government" of Venezuela. Chávez himself had claimed to be "a victim of U.S. assassination attempts." A spokesperson from the U.S. Department of State denied the allegation and called it "absurd". Argentine doctor Eduardo Cazap also dismissed Venezuelan claims of the existence of a cancer-inducing weapon by quoting: "Our body is extremely resistant to all the factors that could affect it. And when you need to produce cancer in an experimental manner you need to use huge amounts of drugs or huge amounts of toxins".
His death triggered a constitutional requirement that a presidential election be called within 30 days. Chavez's Vice President, Maduro, was elected president on April 14, 2013.
Honours and awards
|Award or decoration||Country||Date||Place||Note||Ref|
|Order of José Marti||Cuba||17 November 1999||Havana||Cuban highest order of merit.|||
|Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry||Portugal||8 November 2001||Lisbon|||
|First Class of the Order of the Islamic Republic of Iran||Iran||29 July 2006||Tehran||Highest national medal of Iran.|||
|Order of Augusto César Sandino||Nicaragua||11 January 2007||Managua||Highest honour of the Republic of Nicaragua.|||
|Order of the Friendship of Peoples||Belarus||23 July 2008||Minsk|||
|Order of the Republic of Serbia||Serbia||6 March 2013||Belgrade||Serbian highest order of merit. Awarded posthumously.|||
The United States-based Time magazine included Hugo Chávez among their list of the world's 100 most influential people in 2005 and 2006. In a 2006 list compiled by the leftist British magazine New Statesman, he was voted eleventh in the list of "Heroes of our time". In 2010 the magazine included Chávez in its annual The World's 50 Most Influential Figures. His biographers Marcano and Tyszka believed that within only a few years of his presidency, he "had already earned his place in history as the president most loved and most despised by the Venezuelan people, the president who inspired the greatest zeal and the deepest revulsion at the same time."
During his term, Chávez was awarded the following honorary degrees:
- South Korea: Kyung Hee University Honorary Doctorate in Political Science – Granted by Rector Chungwon Choue on 16 October 1999.
- Dominican Republic: Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo Honorary Doctorate in Jurisprudence, 9 March 2001.
- Brazil: University of Brasília Honorary Doctorate – Granted by Rector Alberto Pérez on 3 April 2001.
- Nicaragua: Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería Honorary Doctorate in Engineering – Granted by Rector Aldo Urbina on May 2001.
- Russia: Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Honorary Doctorate, 15 May 2001.
- China: Beijing University Honorary Doctorate in Economics, 24 May 2001.
- Bolivia: Higher University of San Andrés Honorary Doctorate, 24 January 2006.
- Chile: UARCIS Honorary Doctorate – Granted by Rector Carlos Margotta Trincado on 7 March 2006.
- Syria: University of Damascus Honorary Doctorate – Granted by Rector Wael Moualla on 30 August 2006.
- Libya: University of Tripoli Honorary Doctorate in Economy and Human Sciences, 23 October 2010.
- Latin American Cultural Center "Hugo Chávez", in St. Petersburg, Russia.
- Hugo Chávez International Airport in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti.
- Hugo Chávez neighbourhood, in Managua, Nicaragua.
- Hugo Chávez neighbourhood, in Pehuajó, Argentina.
- Potter complex Hugo Chávez, in Maripa, Venezuela.
- Roads and streets:
- Dominican Republic: Hugo Chávez Street, Moca.
- Dominican Republic: President Hugo Chávez Avenue, Santo Domingo Este.
- Dominican Republic: Commander Hugo Chávez Street, La Vega.
- Lebanon: President Hugo Chávez Square, Majadel.
- State of Palestine: Hugo Chávez Street, al-Bireh.
- Russia: Hugo Chávez Street, Moscow.
Several other cities of the world had expressed their intention of naming one of their streets Hugo Chávez, for example: Minsk (Belarus), Durban (South Africa), Rio Gallegos (Argentina), Maturín (Venezuela) or Louga (Senegal).
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