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|President of Venezuela|
2 February 1999
|Vice President||Isaías Rodríguez
José Vicente Rangel
|Preceded by||Rafael Caldera|
28 July 1954 |
|Political party||United Socialist Party (2008–present)|
|Fifth Republic Movement (1997–2008)|
|Spouse(s)||Nancy Colmenares (Div.)
Marisabel Rodríguez (Div.)
|Occupation||military officer (to 1992) and politician|
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈuɣo rafaˈel ˈtʃaβes ˈfɾi.as]; born July 28, 1954) is the President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1998. Following his own political ideology of Bolivarianism and purporting "Socialism for the 21st Century", he has attempted to introduce socialist reforms to the country, emphasising the introduction of participatory democracy and further civil rights for women and indigenous groups. Abroad, he has been a vocal critic of capitalism, instead supporting Latin American and Caribbean cooperation, and was instrumental in setting up the pan-regional Union of South American Nations, the Bank of the South, and the regional television network TeleSur. His political influence in South America led Time magazine to include him among their list of the world's 100 most influential people in both 2005 and 2006.
Born into a poor working class family in Sabaneta, Barinas, Chávez became a career military officer, founding the secretive Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 in the early 1980s to work towards overthrowing Venezuela's Punto Fijo system, which he considered corrupt and undemocratic. The movement orchestrated a failed 1992 attempted coup d'état against President Carlos Andrés Pérez, after the Pérez government ordered the violent repression of protests against spending cuts in a crackdown known as El Caracazo (1989), which saw hundreds killed. Released from prison after two years, Chávez worked to build up the movement, and in 1997 it founded the left-wing Fifth Republic Movement political party to participate in the 1998 presidential election, with Chávez as its candidate. Chávez promised to bring prosperity to Venezuela's poor majority, to tackle inequality, and to hold a constituent assembly to develop a new constitution to codify a range of new legal rights. After winning the Presidency, much of the first two years were taken up with this task. Chávez was re-elected in 2000 under the new 1999 Venezuelan Constitution.
In the early years, aside from constitutional reform, Chávez pursued a relatively non-radical "Third Way" course, with his "Bolivarian Revolution" evident more through rhetoric than action. In 2000 Plan Bolívar 2000 saw the use of the military in a range of poverty relief efforts, in November 2001 a package of measures included some land reform, and in early 2002 he created a legal framework for urban land titling. From 2003 to 2005 a system of Bolivarian Missions were developed, of which the best known is the health mission. Since 2005 Chávez has aimed to deepen the Revolution, emphasising participatory democracy through Communal Councils and worker-managed cooperatives, and founding the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in 2007. He has also nationalised a range of large companies, including Venezuela's main telephone company and leading steel company, and following the 2003 economic crisis, he reinstituted exchange controls, with dual exchange rates.
A critic of neoliberalism, globalisation, and United States foreign policy, Chávez is a controversial figure at home and abroad. Detractors criticize Chávez for alleged human rights violations and accuse him of trying to become a political dictator, while supporters point to improvements in constitutional and legal rights, poverty reduction, health care, women's rights, and the treatment of indigenous peoples under his presidency. His opponents have attempted to overthrow him on various occasions, both through elections and through military coups, each time unsuccessfully.
- 1 Life and career
- 1.1 Early life: 1954–1970
- 1.2 Military Academy: 1971-1975
- 1.3 Early military career: 1976-1981
- 1.4 Later military career and the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200: 1982-1991
- 1.5 Coup attempt: 1992
- 1.6 Political rise: 1992–1998
- 1.7 First Presidential Term: 1999–2005
- 1.8 Second Presidential Term: 2006-present
- 2 Political philosophy
- 3 Policy
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Recognition
- 6 References
Life and career
Early life: 1954–1970
Hugo Chávez was born on 28 July 1954 in the home of his paternal grandmother Rosa Inéz Chávez (d.1982), a mud hut located in the rural village of Sabaneta, Barinas. 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, and prior to Hugo's birth they had already had one son, Adán Chávez and following Hugo's birth would go on to have five more, although one of them, Enzo, died aged six months old. The Chávez family were of mixed Amerindian, Afro-Venezuelan, and Spanish descent. They lived in poverty, and as such Hugo and his brother Adán lived not with their parents but with their grandmother Rosa, whom he would later describe as being "a pure human being... pure love, pure kindness." She was a devout Roman Catholic, and Hugo himself was raised into the faith, briefly being an altar boy at a local church, despite his later criticism of the Church hierarchy. Describing his early life with Rosa, he related that he and his brother "were very poor children but very happy", and that "At [Rosa's] side I got to know humility, poverty, pain, sometimes not having anything to eat. I saw the injustices of this world." Attending the Julián Pino Elementary School which was located near to his grandmother's hut, he sold sweets made by her to other students in order to earn a little money for his impoverished family. His various hobbies at this time included drawing, painting, baseball and the study of history, in the latter of which he was particularly interested in the stories of nineteenth-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, named after the Irish revolutionary who had made South America his home. It was here that Hugo befriended Friedrich and Wladimir Ruíz, the two sons of noted Marxist and historian José Esteban Ruíz Guevara, although Chávez has always maintained that at the time he had no real interest in socialist political ideas, claiming that he was simply "a normal boy… I didn't have any political motivation", with his thoughts revolving around his school studies, baseball and girls.
Military Academy: 1971-1975
Aged seventeen, Chávez decided to start studying at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences, a military school in the capital city of Caracas, largely for the reason that he wanted to join a professional baseball team there. His grandmother Rosa however did not want him to join the military, but despite her disapproval he did so, and as soon as he did he learned that he loved the disciplined regime of the college, later remarking that "I felt like a fish in water. As if I had discovered the essence or part of the essence of life, of my true vocation." 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, named after the famous Venezuelan philosopher, 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. As a part of this wider education, Chávez read widely and voraciously, ranging from the works of Marxists like Karl Marx and Mao Zedong to those of right wing figures such as the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and Prussian military strategist Claus Heller. Chávez would remain very positive of the many progressive measures that senior military figures were then implementing, later commenting that "In sharp contrast to the archetypal, muscle-flexing neo-Nazis that comprised the Armed Forces in Argentina and Chile, in Venezuela a new type of soldier returned to the barracks with professional skills, civilian contacts and a fresh social sensitivity."
Living in Caracas, he saw more of the endemic poverty faced by working class Venezuelans in the city, something that echoed the poverty he had experienced growing up in his own rural state, and he would continue to maintain that this experience only made him further committed to achieving social justice. He subsequently also began to get involved in local activities outside of the military school, for instance 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, and researching the life and political thought of nineteenth-century South American revolutionary Simón Bolívar, becoming known as something of an expert on him at the military academy.
It was because of his great interest in Bolívar that in 1974 he was selected to be a Venezuelan representative to travel to Peru in order to take part in the commemorations for the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Ayacucho, the conflict in which Bolívar's lieutenant, Antonio José de Sucre, defeated royalist forces during the Peruvian War of Independence. It was in Peru that Chávez heard the leftist president, the military 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 President Omar Torrijos (1929–1981), another leftist military general who had taken power in Panama by overthrowing the oligarchy-controlled government, 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 only serving the interests of the wealthy elites, something that proved to be a great influence on him in later life. In contrast to military dictators like Torrijos and Velasco however, Chávez became highly critical of Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing military general who had recently seized control in Chile with the aid of the United States government by overthrowing the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende. Meanwhile, Chávez graduated from the military academy in 1975, rated seventh out of sixty-seven graduates.
Early military career: 1976-1981
thumb|right|Chávez at a military ceremony in 1976. Following his graduation, Chávez, now a professional soldier in the Venezuelan army, was stationed at a counterinsurgency unit in his home state of Barinas, where he took on the role of communications officer. However, the Marxist-Leninist insurgency which the army was being sent to put down had already largely been effectively eradicated in that state during the previous decade, and as such the soldiers at the barracks, facing no violent opposition, had much spare time to partake in local social activities. 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 a stash of Marxist literature that was in an abandoned car riddled with bullet holes. Apparently having belonged to insurgents many years before, he went on to read these books, which included titles by such theoreticians as Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, but his favourite was a work entitled The Times of Ezequiel Zamora, written about the nineteenth-century federalist general whom Chávez had so 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 Marxist-Hoxhaist insurgency group, the Red Flag Party. However, after intervening to prevent the beating and torture of a captured insurgent by other army officers, Chávez began to have his doubts about the army, later commenting that "That really affected me and I said to myself, 'Well, what kind of an army is this that tortures these men?'." 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, and he began asking himself "What kind of a democracy is this that enriches a minority and impoverishes a majority?". In doing so, he began to sympathise with the Red Flag Party and their cause. However, he took issue with the Red Flag Party's use of indiscriminate violence and believed that there was insufficient revolutionary fervour in Venezuela to allow them to ever succeed: "I said to myself, 'I am neither in favor of torturing these farmers because they might be guerillas nor the guerillas massacring those soldiers who were innocent guys doing their jobs'."
Meanwhile, around this time, Chávez met and 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). In 1977, after finally deciding to act upon his political ideas, he eventually decided to found a revolutionary movement within the Venezuelan armed forces, in the hope that he could one day introduce a leftist government to the country: the result, which was named 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 who held to similar ideals. 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 didn't have any particular 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, although found that he had a number of political differences with them.
Later military career and the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200: 1982-1991
Five years after his creation of the Venezuelan People's Liberation Army (ELPV), Chávez went on to form a new secretive political group within the military, which was named the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200 (EBR-200), and later redesignated the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200), through which he could spread his nationalistic, centre-leftist Bolivarian movement. Taking primary inspiration from three historical Venezuelan whom Chávez deeply admired, Ezequiel Zamora, Simón Bolívar and Simón Rodríguez, these figures became known as the "three roots of the tree" of the MBR-200. Later describing the group's foundation, Chávez would state that "At that moment, 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." 
In 1981, Chávez, by now a captain, was assigned to take up a position as a teacher at the military academy where he had trained in the previous decade. Here he was in a position to teach new students about his Bolivarian ideals, and to recruit those whom he felt would make good and trustworthy members of his secret underground Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200. He also began organizing sporting and theatrical events for the students at the academy, through this getting further cadets to join his underground group. In this he was relatively successful, for indeed by the time that they had graduated, at least thirty out of 133 cadets had joined it, taking the oaths of secrecy that Chávez himself had developed based upon the oaths of Bolívar and Zamora. Meanwhile, 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 with Chávez, she eventually got involved in his Bolivarian movement and the two eventually fell in love, despite Chávez's marriage. Another figure to get heavily involved with the movement was Francisco Arias Cárdenas, a Venezuelan soldier who was particularly interested in liberation theology, a revolutionary leftist variant of Roman Catholicism. Cárdenas rose to a significant position within the group, although came into ideological conflict with Chávez, who believed that they should begin direct military action in order to overthrow the government (in coalition with the Marxist Red Flag Party), something Cárdenas thought was reckless, believing that "to grow within the armed forces we could not run the risk that the proposals be linked with a Marxist vision of history, of man, of the economy."
However, some senior military officers had become suspicious of Chávez after hearing rumours about his connection to a secretive subversive group operating within the ranks of the military. Although they were unable to legally dismiss him because they could not prove anything, they decided to re-assign him so that he would not be able to gain any more fresh new recruits from the academy for his group. Choosing a remote outpost where he would not have many soldiers whom he could influence with his political idea, he was sent to take command of the barracks at Elorza in Apure State. Here he began getting involved in the local community by organizing social events, and also attempted to get in contact with the indigenous tribal peoples, the Cuiva and Yaruro, who lived in the area. Although deeply distrustful due to their peoples' mistreatment at the hands of Venezuelan army officers in previous decades, Chávez managed to gain their trust by joining the expeditions of an anthropologist to meet with them. As he would later relate, "I learned to love them. At their side I lived terrible experiences and also beautiful ones. The Indians were abused all their lives and I knew it but I really became conscious of it there, when I was a captain in their territory, living at their side." 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.
On one of his scheduled holidays, he decided to travel out on foot in order to learn more about his family history by tracing the route taken by his great-grandfather Pedro Pérez Delgado, better known as Maisanta, who himself was a revolutionary, and who had lived much of his life in Apure State. In doing so, he met an elderly woman who claimed that she had remembered Maisanta from when she was a young girl, and who told Chávez a story of how Maisanta had become a hero to her local community by rescuing an abducted girl. Meanwhile, in his army duties, Chávez had been promoted to the rank of major, and in 1988 a high ranking army officer known as General Rodriguez Ochoa, after visiting the Elorza barracks, took a liking to Chávez and asked him to become his assistant, which would entail relocation to the general’s offices in Caracas. Chávez agreed.
Coup attempt: 1992
In 1989, President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1922–2010) of the Democratic Action party was democratically elected into office after a campaign in which he promised to go against the United States government's Washington Consensus and to oppose the economic cuts in Venezuela imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). When he got into office however, he did neither of these, instead dramatically cutting social spending, putting prominent businessmen in high government posts, and increasing the costs of energy and fuel, leading to widespread public outrage. In an attempt to stop the widespread protests that were taking place throughout Venezuela as a result of his cuts in social spending, Pérez also ordered the violent repression and massacre 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 an even higher death count. Pérez had used both the DISIP political police and the army to orchestrate El Caracazo, but Chávez, who was hospitalised with chicken pox at the time, did not take part in the massacre, something that he would be very grateful for.
Disturbed by the Caracazo, rampant government corruption, the domination of politics by the Venezuelan oligarchy, and what he called "the dictatorship of the IMF" Chávez began making preparations for a military coup d'état. Initially planned for December, Chávez delayed the planned 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 assaulting and overwhelming key military and communications installations throughout the city, including the Miraflores presidential palace, the defense ministry, La Carlota military airport, and the Military Museum. Chávez's ultimate goal was to intercept and take custody of Pérez, who was returning to Miraflores from an overseas trip. Despite years of planning however, the coup attempt soon ran into trouble. Chávez held the loyalty of less than 10% of Venezuela's military forces, and numerous betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances soon left Chávez and a small group of rebels hiding in the Military Museum, without any means of conveying orders to their network of spies and collaborators spread throughout Venezuela. Further, Chávez's allies were unable to broadcast their prerecorded tapes on the national airwaves in which Chávez planned to issue a general call for a mass civilian uprising against Pérez. As the coup unfolded, the coup plotters were unable to capture Pérez, who managed to escape from them. Fourteen soldiers were killed, and fifty soldiers and some eighty civilians injured in the ensuing violence.
Realising that the coup had failed, Chávez soon gave himself up to the government after they threatened to bomb the museum, which he recognised would have caused large numbers of casualties amongst both his own men and those communities adjacent to the building. On the condition that he called upon the remaining active coup members to cease hostilities, he was then allowed to appear on national television, something that he insisted on doing in his military uniform. During this address, he 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 a reflect. New opportunities will arise and the country has to head definitively toward a better future."
Many viewers picked up and noted the fact that Chávez had remarked that he had only failed "por ahora" (for now). He was immediately catapulted into the national spotlight, with many poor Venezuelans seeing him as a figure who had stood up against government corruption and kleptocracy. As Chávez's biographer, Brian Jones, noted, "Chávez's appearence was a bombshell. The gallant young officer in the dashing red beret instantaneously captivated millions of people who had never heard of him and were wondering who'd led the stunning rebellion. Chávez started by invoking the sacred national icon of Simón Bolívar. Then he did something almost inconceivable in a country where seemingly everyone dodged accountability: He took responsibility for a failure", that of the coup.
Chávez was arrested and sent to prison at the San Carlos military stockade, where he remained personally wracked with guilt, feeling responsible for the coup's failure, despite his growing popular support amongst the civilian population. Indeed, pro-Chávez demonstrations that took place outside of San Carlos led to him being transferred to Yare prison soon after. The government meanwhile began a temporary crackdown of media that was in any way supportive of Chávez and the coup, something President Pérez defended in a public statement in which he stated that "You should not forget that just four days ago my life was in danger and our democracy was on the verge of perishing." Pérez himself was impeached a year later for malfeasance and misappropriation of funds for illegal activities.
Political rise: 1992–1998
Fidel Castro and the Venezuelan tour
It was whilst Chávez and the other senior members of the MBR-200 were in prison that Herma Marksman, who had been having an affair with Chávez for some years, began to become distant from him due to his increasing popularity, and their relationship broke up in July 1993. She would subsequently become "a bitter critic of Chávez, whose supporters wondered how much of her anger was stoked by their failed romance." Meanwhile in 1994, Rafael Caldera of the centrist National Convergence Party was democratically elected to the Venezuelan presidency, with Chávez personally telephoning Caldera to congratulate him. Soon after taking power, Caldera freed Chávez and the other imprisoned MBR-200 members as per his pre-election pledge, largely due to the widespread popular support that they had gained. He had however imposed upon them the condition that they would not be allowed to return to the military, where they might be in a position to organise another coup. Meanwhile, after being mobbed by adoring crowds following his release, on the day after he was freed, Palm Sunday, Chávez proceeded to visit Simón Bolívar's tomb before then going on to the poverty-stricken barrios of Catia in western Caracas, where he gave a speech to the assembled locals. Following on from this, he went on a one hundred day tour of the country, promoting his Bolivarian cause of social revolution using the slogan of "The Hope is in the Streets". During this tour, Chávez met with "people from the right, people from the left, people from the extreme right, people from the extreme left, apolitical people, everyone, but who in some way identified with... change." Now living off of the small military pension that he was entitled to 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 subsequently meet another woman named Marisabel Rodríguez, who would go on to become his second wife. He then began living in the home of a friend of his, another MBR-200 member named Nedo Paniz, who was an architect residing in the middle class La Floresta neighbourhood of Caracas.
Deciding to travel around Latin America to see if there would be support for his Bolivarian movement abroad, he went on visits to Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, and finally Cuba, where to his surprise the Marxist President Fidel Castro organised to meet him at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. After spending several days in one another's company, Chávez and Castro became friends, with the former later describing the Cuban President as being like a father to him. Later commenting on the situation, Chávez's biographer Bart Jones would relate that "Chávez’s opponents would use the visit [to Castro] against him for years to come. They cited it as evidence he planned to impose a Cuban-style dictatorship in Venezuela… It was true Chávez admired many aspects of Castro's revolution, including an educational system that gave Cuba a higher literacy rate than the United States and a health system that the World Health Organization cited as a model for Third World countries… But he also seemed to recognize that installing a Castro-style regime in Venezuela was impossible. Venezuelans held a deep antipathy to communism, especially after the bloody guerilla wars of the 1960s."
Returning to Venezuela, Chávez failed to gain mainstream media attention for his political cause, something his supporters believed was partially down to the fact that the mainstream media was owned and controlled by the wealthy oligarchy that Chávez himself was so opposed to. Instead, he gained publicity from small, local-based newspapers and media outlets, travelling around Venezuela in order to do so. As a part of his political condemnation of the ruling class, Chávez became highly critical of President Caldera, whose policies had caused economic inflation, and who had both suspended constitutional guarantees and arrested a variety of Chávez's supporters in order to keep down what they saw as dangerous opposition.
A debate soon developed in the Bolivarian movement as to whether it should try to take power in democratic elections or whether it should instead continue to believe that direct military action was the only effective way of bringing about political change in Venezuela. Chávez was a keen proponent of the latter view, believing that the oligarchy would never allow him and his supporters to win an election, whilst Francisco Arias Cárdenas instead insisted that they should take part in elections. 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 for the presidency in the Venezuelan presidential election, 1998.
1998 General Election
At the start of the election run-up, most polls gave Irene Sáez, a former beauty queen, spokeswoman for the Consolidado bank, and then-mayor of Caracas' richest district, Chacao, the lead. Although she was an independent candidate, she had the backing of one of Venezuela's two primary political parties, Copei. Chávez however was also gaining much support, which came not only from his own MVR party, but also from other leftist parties, including the Patria Para Todos, which had recently split from the increasingly centrist Radical Cause, and the Movement for Socialism, which together fashioned a union of parties supporting Chávez's candidacy that came to be called the Polo Patriotic (Patriotic Pole). 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. 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%.
Indeed, Chávez soon began to become more and more popular with the electorate, despite the fact that much of the oligarchy-owned press continued to heavily criticise him; this got to the extent where Chávez had to publicly deny rumours that he "was in the habit of drinking blood or eating fried babies for breakfast." With his support increasing even further, and Sáez's decreasing as the election date got nearer, both the main two political parties, Copei and Democratic Action, instead put their support behind Henrique Salas Römer, a Yale-educated economist and member of the Venezuelan oligarchy, who was a representative of the Project Venezuela party.
Chávez subsequently won the election in a landslide victory with 56.20% of the vote, having gained 3, 673, 685 voted cast in his favour. Salas Römer came second, with 39.97% of the vote, whilst the other candidates, including Irene Sáez and Alfaro Ucero, only gained tiny proportions of the vote. As Gregory Wilpert noted, "He won the vote with support from nearly all classes of society, but especially from the disenchanted middle class, which had been slowly slipping into poverty for the previous 20 years, and from the country's poor." However, the working class, "just as anywhere else in the world, turned out to vote in a much smaller proportion than the middle and upper class", and that in effect, "Chávez was thus elected largely by the middle class." Following his victory, Chávez gave a speech to the Venezuelan people in which he declared that "The resurrection of Venezuela has begun, and nothing and no one can stop it."
First Presidential Term: 1999–2005
Chávez's inauguration took place on 2 February 1999, in which he altered the usual presidential oath by declaring that "I swear in front of my people that over this moribund constitution I will push forward the democratic transformations that are necessary so that the new republic will have an adequate magna carta for the[se] times." He subsequently set about appointing new figures to a number of government positions, 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. He also appointed some conservative, centrist and centre-right figures to government positions as well, for instance he reappointed Caldera's economy minister Maritza Izaquirre to that same position and also appointed the businessman Roberto Mandini to be president of the state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela. He also made several alterations to his presidential rights, for instance scrapping the presidential limousine and giving away his entire presidential wage of $1,200 a month to a scholarship fund.
He immediately set into motion a program called Plan Bolívar 2000, which he intentionally organised to begin on 27 February 1999, the tenth anniversary of the Caracazo massacre. Plan Bolívar 2000 involved 70,000 army officers going out into the streets of Venezuela where they would repair roads and hospitals, 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 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, Face to Face with the President. He followed this with his own newspaper, The President's Post, founded in July, for which he acted as editor-in-chief. In his television and radio shows, he answered calls from citizens, discussed his latest policies, sung songs and told jokes, and as Bart Jones noted, "There wasn't anything quite like it in Latin America or, for that matter, the world."
"At first, despite his somewhat inflammatory (some would say populist) rhetoric, Chávez's policies were equally moderate as those of his fellow Latin American leftists", such as Brazilian President Luis da Silva. Indeed, Bart Jones characterised his early policies as "socially progressive but fiscally conservative", with Chávez even visiting the New York Stock Exchange in the United States in an attempt to convince American capitalists to invest their money in his country. Within its early years, Chávez's government also introduced measures in an attempt to cut down corruption in Venezuela, and to reform the overcrowded prison system.
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 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, and as Bart Jones commented, "The stakes were high. Chávez believed a constitutional assembly controlled by his supporters was the major breakthrough the country needed to end the traditional parties' stronghold on power. The oligarchy, the traditional parties, and much of the media feared it was the final step to establishing a one-man dictatorship."
Of the 1,171 candidates standing for election to the assembly, over 900 of them were opponents of Chávez, but despite this, his supporters won another overwhelming electoral victory, 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. As Jones noted, "It was a breathtaking move. To its supporters, it could force reforms that had been blocked for years by corrupt politicians and judicial authorities. To its critics, it was an overreach of power and a threat to democracy. The stage was set for a confrontation with the Supreme Court." Indeed, Chávez and his supporters had discussed dissolving both the Supreme Court and the Congress, each of which they believed to be entirely controlled by the oligarchy and the opponents of the Bolivarian movement. The constitutional assembly had the power to perform such an action, and had already fired almost sixty judges whom it identified as being involved in corruption.
The resulting 1999 Venezuelan Constitution was approved by referendum in December 1999, with the support of nearly 80% of the population. The new constitution included increased protections 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 in 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 into a unicameral one (National Assembly). 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.
Opposition, coups, strikes and recall referendums
An opposition movement to Chávez soon sprung up in the country, dominated primarily by the wealthy elite. As Gregory Wilpert noted in his study of the Chávez regime, "It is tempting to believe that Chávez's anti-poverty and anti-corruption program is what incensed the country's old elite to launch an all-out campaign to oust him. However, it was actually his success in completely displacing the old elite from positions of power that provoked their ire. During his first three years on office, Chávez's anti-poverty, anti-corruption, and redistribution policies were actually quite modest. Rather, it was the new constitution, which required the re-legitimation of all branches of government and the resulting complete removal of the old elite from state power that angered them so much." Subsequently, "The old elite then used its control of the country's mass media to turn the middle class against Chávez, creating a campaign that took advantage of the latent racism and classism in Venezuelan culture." One of the most prominent examples of this was through the popularisation of the racist term ese mono ("that monkey") which begun to be applied to Chávez by his opponents in the oligarchy.
Chávez survived the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt which briefly removed him from power until he was brought back by spontaneous popular protests from his supporters. According to Wilpert, "Chávez's reaction to the coup attempt, after his return, was to moderate his tone and play it safe. He put a new economic team in charge that appeared to be more centrist and promised to include the opposition more in policy deliberations... [He also] reinstated the old board of directors and former managers of the state oil company PDVSA, whose replacement had been one of the reasons for the coup."
A few months after the coup, in December 2002, the Chávez presidency faced a two-month management strike at the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) when he initiated management changes. As Wilpert noted, "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. 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.
Following the failure of these two attempts to remove Chávez from power, the opposition finally resorted to legal means in order to try and do so. A 2004 referendum to recall Chávez was defeated. 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".
Second Presidential Term: 2006-present
Chávez won the Organization of American States (OAS) and Carter Center certification of the national election of December 2006 with "more than 60% of the vote", beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales who conceded his loss. After this victory, Chávez promised a more radical turn towards socialism.
In August 2007, Chávez proposed a broad package of measures as part of a constitutional reform. Among other measures, he called for an end to presidential term limits and proposed limiting central bank autonomy, strengthening state expropriation powers and providing for public control over international reserves as part of an overhaul of Venezuela's constitution. In accordance with the 1999 constitution, Chávez proposed the changes to the constitution, which were then approved by the National Assembly. The final test was a December 2007 referendum. The referendum was narrowly defeated, with 51% of the voters rejecting the amendments.
Chávez's current party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), had 5.7 million members as of 2007, making it the largest political group in Venezuela. The International Labor Organization of the United Nations expressed concern over voters being pressured to join the party.
Chávez defines his political position as Bolivarianism, an ideology developed by himself which is heavily influenced by the writings of Simón Bolívar (1783–1830), a nineteenth-century general who led the fight against the imperialist 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. Gregory Wilpert, in his analysis 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."
Although he has always been a leftist, Chávez has becoming increasingly supportive of socialism, particularly since becoming president. He has propagated what he calls "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", such as those found in the Marxist nations of the twentieth century, like the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. As a part of his socialist ideas, he has emphasised the role of participatory democracy, which he has implemented through the foundation of the Venezuelan Communal Councils and Bolivarian Circles which he cites as examples of grassroots and participatory democracy.
Chávez is well acquainted with the various traditions of Latin American socialism, espoused by such figures as Colombian politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, former Chilean president Salvador Allende, former Peruvian president Juan Velasco Alvarado, former Panamanian president Omar Torrijos and the Cuban revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Other indirect influences on Chávez's political philosophy are the writings of American anarchist Noam Chomsky and the Gospel teachings of Jesus.
Chávez's connection to Marxism is a complex one. 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." He is, however, well versed in many Marxist texts, having read the works of many Marxist theoreticians, and has often publicly quoted them. Various international Marxists have 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 Karl Marx and Lenin.
In a June 2010 interview with the Stephen Sackur on the BBC programme HARDtalk, Chávez said that when he had come to office he had been "gullible", and believed that a "Third Way", a sort of "Rhenish capitalism" – capitalism with a human face - was possible. But he then realised that he was wrong – "democracy is impossible in a capitalist system. Capitalism is the realm of injustice and a tyranny of the richest against the poorest. Rousseau said, 'Between the powerful and the weak all freedom is oppressed. Only the rule of law sets you free.' That's why the only way to save the world is through socialism, a democratic socialism." On democracy, Chávez said that democracy wasn't just turning up to vote every five or four years – "it's much more than that, it's a way of life, it's giving power to the people ... it is not the government of the rich over the people, which what's happening in almost all the so-called democratic Western capitalist countries."
Venezuela is a major producer of oil products, which remains the keystone of the Venezuelan economy. Chávez has gained a reputation as a price hawk in OPEC, pushing for stringent enforcement of production quotas and higher target oil prices. According to Cannon, the state income from oil revenue has "increas[ed] from 51% of total income in 2000 to 56% 2006"; oil exports "have grown from 77% in 1997 [...] to 89% in 2006"; and "this dependence on oil is one of the chief problems facing the Chávez government". The economist Mark Weisbrot, in an analysis of the Chávez administration, said: "The current economic expansion began when the government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003. Since then, real (inflationadjusted) GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 percent annually." For the year 2009, the Venezuelan economy shrank by an average of 2.9% due to the global recession. Chávez has stated that the Venezuelan economy will most likely continue shrinking throughout 2010, citing both the IMF and World Bank. Chávez sees the economic crisis as "an opportunity for socialism to spread and take root ..". According to Ian James, citing estimates from the Venezuelan Central Bank, the Venezuelan government "controls" 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".
Since Chávez was elected in 1998, over 100,000 worker-owned cooperatives—representing approximately 1.5 million people—have been 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 integration 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 produce some of their own food, and are 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.
Chávez has also supported the creation of a series of Bolivarian Missions aimed at providing public services to improve economic, cultural, and social conditions. A 2010 OAS report indicated achievements in addressing illiteracy, healthcare and poverty, and economic and social advances.
Barry Cannon writes that "most areas of spending have increased". "[S]pending 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 "has increased from 1.6% of GDP in 2000 to 7.71% in 2006". Spending on housing "receives low public support", increasing only "from 1% in GDP to 1.6% in 2006". Teresa A. Meade, writes that Chávez's popularity "rests squarely on the lower classes who have benefited from these health initiatives and similar policies [...] poverty rates fell from 42 to 34 percent from 2000 to 2006, still leaving over 30 percent in this oil-rich nation below the poverty line".
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) reports that the Venezuelan economy grew on average by 11.85% in the period 2004–2007. According to The Washington Post, citing statistics from the United Nations, poverty in Venezuela stood at 28% in 2008, down from 55.44% in 1998 before Chávez got into office. Economist Mark Weisbrot found that, "During the ... economic expansion, the poverty rate [was] cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent. These poverty rates measure only cash income, and does take into account increased access to health care or education."
As of September 26, 2009, Chávez, along with allies such as Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, has 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."
In the 1999 Venezuelan constitution, 116 of 300 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.
Amnesty International has criticized the Chávez administration for targeting critics following several politically motivated arrests. Freedom House lists Venezuela as being "partly free" in its 2009 Freedom in the World annual report, claiming that women's rights and indigenous rights have improved, but that press freedom has been threatened. 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 observors 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 feels is dominated by the United States; a spokesperson said, "We don't recognize the commission as an impartial institution". He disclaims any power to influence the judiciary. A Venezuelan official said the report distorts and takes statistics out of context, saying that "human rights violations in Venezuela have decreased". Venezuela has 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 describes as its support of the 2002 coup.
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, but notes a "wide range of government policies that have undercut the human rights protections established" by the revised constitution. In particular, the report accuses 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 report also mentioned improvements in women's rights and indigenous rights. 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. The International Labor Organization of the United Nations expressed concern over voters being pressured to join the party.
Venezuelan lawyer and academic Allan R. Brewer-Carías, a professed opponent of Chávez, has made the claim that under his regime the country has "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."
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 allege 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 this "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."
Media and the press
The large majority of mass media in Venezuela is privately owned. As of 2007,[dated info] private corporations controlled 80% of the cable television channels, 100% of the newspaper companies, and 706 out of 709 radio stations.
The Venezuelan government has 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 July 2005 Chávez inaugurated TeleSUR, a Pan-American equivalent of Al Jazeera that seeks to challenge the present domination of Latin American television news by Univision and the United States-based CNN en Español. 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 is to counter what he describes "the dictatorship of Hollywood", the lack of alternative media.
Chávez has a Twitter account with more than 1,100,000 followers as of December 2010. Chávez's Twitter account has been described as a way for people to bypass bureaucracy and contact the president directly. There is a team of 200 people to sort through suggestions and comments sent via Twitter. Chávez has said Twitter is "another mechanism for contact with the public, to evaluate many things and to help many people", and that he sees Twitter as "a weapon that also needs to be used by the revolution". In a Twitter report released in June 2010 Venezuela is third globally for the prevalence of Twitter with 19% of the population using it, nearly 2/3 of all internet users. This is behind Indonesia with 20.8% and Brazil with 20.5%.
In 2010 availability of internet service in Venezuela rose by 43%. The Venezuelan state has instituted Infocenters, community spaces equipped with computers with internet connections which are free to use. As of March 2010 there are 668 such centres, with more planned.
In 2008, Human Rights Watch criticized Chávez for engaging in "often discriminatory policies that have undercut journalists' freedom of expression." Freedom House lists Venezuela's press as being "Not Free" in its 2009 Map of Press Freedom. Reporters Without Borders has 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."
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 failure to renew its terrestrial broadcast license had been 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 cited the loss of their favorite soap operas rather than concerns about limits on freedom of expression.
During the 1980s and 1990s there was a steady increase in crime in Latin America, and Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela and Brazil all had homicide rates above the regional average. The major reasons for high levels of crime in Latin America are high inequality, low incarceration rates and small police forces.
During Chávez' administration, homicide rates have more than doubled, with one NGO finding the rate to have nearly quadrupled; the number of homicides increased from 6,000 in 1999 to 13,000 in 2007. Kidnappings have also become increasingly common. Caracas in 2010 had the world's highest murder rate. Chávez maintains that the nation is no more violent now than it was when he took office.
Citizens now believe that crime is a serious problem and that police were themselves a factor in the increase in crime. Between 2000 and 2007, 6,300 police 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; however legislation on this became bogged down in legislative discussions. 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 can 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. According to the PNB, murder has been reduced by 60%, robberies by nearly 59%, and gender-based violence has diminished by 66% in the pilot areas where the PNB has been active in and around Caracas. However, not all homicides due to encounters with police are reported. According to the publications El Espectador and Le Monde diplomatique, rising crime in rural and urban areas is partly due to increased cross-border activity by Colombian right-wing paramilitary groups like Águilas Negras.
The decree has been criticized because it was negotiated behind closed doors, and did not follow all of Conarepol's recommendations to deal with human rights, and because "politicization of the force could undercut the goal of professionalization".
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Chávez has refocused Venezuelan foreign policy on Latin American economic and social integration by enacting bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements, including his so-called "oil diplomacy". 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 has focused on a variety of multinational institutions to promote his vision of Latin American integration, including Petrocaribe, Petrosur, and TeleSUR. Bilateral trade relationships with other Latin American countries have also played a major role in his policy, with Chávez increasing arms purchases from Brazil, forming oil-for-expertise trade arrangements with Cuba, and creating unique barter arrangements that exchange Venezuelan petroleum for cash-strapped Argentina's meat and dairy products. Additionally, Chávez worked closely with other Latin American leaders following the 1997 Summit of the Americas in many areas—especially energy integration—and championed the OAS decision to adopt the Anti-Corruption Convention. Chávez also participates in the United Nations Friends groups for Haiti, and is pursuing efforts to join and engage the Mercosur trade bloc to expand the hemisphere's trade integration prospects.
Chávez has been married twice. He first wedded Nancy Colmenares, a woman from a poor family originating 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. They separated soon after Chávez's 1992 coup attempt. During his first marriage, Chávez also had an affair with historian Herma Marksman; their relationship lasted nine years. Chávez is divorced from his second wife, journalist Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez. Through that marriage, Chávez had another daughter, Rosinés. Chávez has two grandchildren.
Chávez was raised a Roman Catholic, although he has had a series of disputes with both the Venezuelan Catholic hierarchy and Protestant groups like the New Tribes Mission. He describes himself as Christian who grew up expecting to become a priest. According to him, as a result of this background his socialist policies have been borne with roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Although he has traditionally kept his own faith a private matter, Chávez has over the course of his presidency become increasingly open to discussing his religious views, stating that both his faith and his interpretation of Jesus' personal life and ideology have had a profound impact on his leftist and progressive views:
- He [Jesus] accompanied me in difficult times, in crucial moments. So Jesus Christ is no doubt a historical figure—he was someone who rebelled, an anti-imperialist guy. He confronted the Roman Empire.... Because who might think that Jesus was a capitalist? No. Judas was the capitalist, for taking the coins! Christ was a revolutionary. He confronted the religious hierarchies. He confronted the economic power of the time. He preferred death in the defense of his humanistic ideals, who fostered change.... He is our Jesus Christ.
During his term, Chávez has been awarded the following honorary degrees:
- Honorary Doctorate in Political Science—Granted by Kyung Hee University (South Korea) by Rector Chungwon Choue on 16 October 1999.
- Honorary Doctorate in Jurisprudence—Granted by the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) on 9 March 2001.
- Honorary Doctorate—Granted by the Academy of Diplomacy of the Ministry of External Affairs (Russian Federation) on 15 May 2001.
- Honorary Doctorate in Economics—Granted by the Faculty of Economics and Commerce of Beijing University (People's Republic of China) on 24 May 2001.
Time magazine included him among their list of the world's 100 most influential people in 2005 and 2006. In a 2006 list compiled by the 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.
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