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  HOME | Who's Who in Venezuela

Chavez Frías, Hugo Rafael

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (born July 28, 1954) is the 53rd and current President of Venezuela. A member of the governing MVR, Chávez is best known for his democratic socialist governance, his promotion of Latin American integration together with anti-imperialism, and his radical critique of both neoliberal globalization and U.S. foreign policy.

Born into a poor family and later earning a record of distinguished military service, Chávez's formal political career began when he founded the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR) in 1994, immediately after his pardoning for an abortive 1992 coup d'état. Chávez was elected in 1998[1] to the presidency on promises of aiding Venezuela's poor majority. Chávez again led the MVR to victory in the controversial[2] 2000 presidential election. Chávez and his backers later won landslide victories[3] in the 2004 recall referendum[4] and the 2005 municipal elections. Chávez's political alliance have won the vast majority of elected municipal, state, and national posts, while filling the supreme court and the CNE with pro-Chávez appointees. Chávez has used these presidential mandates to advance the radical socialist policies at the core of the "Bolivarian Revolution". Domestically, Chávez dramatically increasing the role of the welfare state in Venezuela by supporting numerous massive Bolivarian Missions that combat malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, and other social ills. In his foreign policy, Chávez has acted against both capitalism and the Washington Consensus while promoting alternative models for economic development and multilateral cooperation among the world's poor nations, especially those in Latin America.

The Chávez administration is vigorously opposed by Venezuela's small middle and upper classes, including Fedecámaras, the CTV, and private news media. This opposition has lodged severe criticisms against the Chávez government, including reports of electoral fraud, human rights violations, political repression, and censorship. Their consistent opposition to Chávez's policies resulted in a 2002 coup d'état, general strike/lockout, and the recall referendum. All these ultimately failed to remove Chávez from the presidency. Nevertheless, whether he is examined in the light of a socialist liberator or an authoritarian demagogue, Chávez remains one of the most complex, controversial, and high profile figures in both the history of Latin America and the 21st century.


Early life

Chávez was born in Sabaneta, Barinas on July 28, 1954. The second son of schoolteachers Hugo de los Reyes Chávez and Elena Frías de Chávez, Chávez numbers among the mestizos and mulattos that live in central Venezuela's llanos. Hugo Chávez himself was raised together with six brothers and sisters in a thatched palm hut. At an early age, Chávez was sent to live with his paternal grandmother Rosa Inés Chávez in nearby Sabaneta. There, Chávez progressed in his education while pursuing hobbies such as painting and singing. After school, Chávez peddled his grandmother's caramelized candies.


Chávez extols the anti-imperialist aspects of Bolivarianism, which were first kindled during his college years, in an address to hundreds of thousands of chavistas along Caracas's Avenida Bolívar on May 16, 2004.At age 17, Chávez enrolled at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences. He graduated — 8th in his class — on 5 July 1975 as a second lieutenant with master's degrees in military science and engineering. Chávez did further graduate work in political science at Caracas's Simón Bolívar University, but left there without a degree. Over the course of his college years, Chávez and fellow students developed a strongly left-nationalist doctrine that they termed Bolivarianism. Chávez's version of Bolivarianism, although drawing heavily from Bolivar's ideals, was also strongly influenced by the writings of Marxist historian Federico Brito Figueroa. Chávez was also thoroughly steeped in the South American tradition of socialism and communism, such as that practiced by Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Salvador Allende. These streams of influence would later become strongly manifest in his political philosophy and governance.

Military career
Upon completing his studies, Chávez entered active-duty military service. Chávez's career as a professional soldier would last 17 years, during which time he held a variety of post, command, and staff positions. Chávez would eventually rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Notably, he held a series of positions at the Military Academy of Venezuela, where Chávez first began to be recognized for his fiery lectures with a uniquely radical critique of Venezuelan government and society. Afterward, he rose to fill a number of high level and sensitive positions in Caracas. Through his career, Chávez has been heavily decorated.

Coup of 1992

After an extended period of popular dissatisfaction and economic decline under the reformist and neoliberal Carlos Andrés Pérez administration, Chávez together with a squad of MBR-200 conspirators launched the February 4, 1992 coup d'état. Pérez survived the coup, however, and Chávez was soon forced to call upon his fellow conspirators to cease hostilities.[5] While he did so, Chávez famously quipped that he had only failed por ahora — "for now". Nevertheless, Pérez later lost the presidency to Rafael Caldera. Chávez himself was imprisoned for the coup attempt. While in prison, he developed a carnosity of the eye, which spread to his iris. The clarity of his eyesight was slowly corrupted; despite treatments and operations, Chávez's eyesight was permanently weakened.

Presidential campaign

Chávez has used his famed charisma and rhetorical prowess to invigorate supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution. Here Chávez addresses a fiery lecture to tens of thousands of enthusiastic red-shirted chavistas at the Worker's Day march on January 05, 2005 in downtown Caracas.After serving two years of a prison sentence related to his coup attempt, Chávez was pardoned by Caldera in 1994. Immediately upon his release, Chávez reconstituted the MBR-200 as the Movimiento Quinta República (MVR) — the V representing the Roman numeral five. Later, in 1998, Chávez announced that he would seek the presidency. In working to gain the trust of voters, Chávez drafted an agenda that drew heavily on Bolivarianism. Chávez thus campaigned on an anti-corruption and anti-poverty platform, while pledging to dismantle Puntofijismo, the traditional two-party system of political exclusion and patronage. Chávez also utilized his own considerable charisma and renowned oratory skills on the campaign trail, and he thereby won the trust and favor of a primarily poor and working class following. Chávez won the 1998 presidential election on December 6, 1998 by the largest margin — 56.2% of the vote — won by any candidate in over four decades of Venezuelan democracy.

Presidency
1999—2002
Chávez took the presidential oath of office on February 2, 1999 with a mandate to reverse Venezuela's economic decline and strengthen the role of the state in ensuring distributive social justice. Chávez's first few months in office were dedicated to dismantling puntofijismo. In addition, Chávez immediately freed more government funds for social programs and spending. Yet, as a recession triggered by historic low oil prices and soaring international interest rates rocked Venezuela during 1999, few resources for Chávez's promised massive anti-poverty policies were available from the shrunken federal treasury. As a result, in April 1999 Chávez was forced to set his eyes upon the one Venezuelan institution that was costly for the government but did little for the systematic social development that Chávez desired: the military. Chávez immediately ordered all branches of the military to devise programs that would combat poverty. Chávez also demanded that their programs work to further civic and social development in Venezuela's vast slum and rural areas. This civilian-military program was launched as "Plan Bolivar 2000". The plan was heavily patterned after a similar program enacted by Fidel Castro during the early 1990s, while the Cuban people were still suffering through the depths of the Special Period. Projects under Plan Bolivar 2000's purview included road building, housing construction, and mass vaccination. These program was widely criticized by Chávez's opposition as corrupt and inefficient. On the other hand, Chávez defended them by stating that the program was one of the only means in effecting his social agenda, in the face of a state bureaucracy dominated by a recalcitrant opposition.


Newly elected to the presidency, Hugo Chávez takes the oath of office on February 2, 1999. Former president Rafael Caldera stands in the background.In his economic policy, Chávez immediately terminated previous administrations' practice of extensively privatizing Venezuela's state-owned holdings. Nevertheless, Chávez faced a profound dilemma in that, while he wished to improve living standards through redistribution, increased regulation, and social spending, he did not wish to discourage foreign direct investment (FDI). Chávez attempted to shore up FDI inflows in an attempt to stem a crisis of chronic capital flight and monetary inflation. Chávez also worked to reduce Venezuelan oil extraction in hopes of garnering elevated oil prices and, at least theoretically, elevated total oil revenues and thereby boost Venezuela's severely deflated foreign exchange reserves. He also extensively lobbied other OPEC counries to cut their production rates as well. Stemming from these actions, Chávez was thus known as a “price hawk” in his dealings with the oil industry and OPEC. Chávez also attempted a comprehensive renegotiation of 60-year old royalty payment agreements with oil majors Philips Petroleum and ExxonMobil.

These agreements pay as little as 1% of the tens of billions of dollars in corporate oil revenues to Venezuela. Afterwards, a frustrated Chávez stated his intention to complete the nationalization of Venezuela's oil resources.

Nevertheless, by mid-1999, Chávez was thoroughly incensed by his administration's setbacks in enacting the much promised anti-poverty initiatives; the National Assembly's opposition members were forestalling his allies' legislation. Chávez thus moved to bypass such opposition by approving two fresh national elections for July 1999 — just months after Chávez's assuming the presidency. The first was a nationwide referendum to determine whether a national constitutional assembly should be created. The assembly would be tasked with framing a new Venezuelan constitution that would hew more closely to Chávez's own political ideology. A second election was held that would elect delegates to this constitutional assembly. Chávez's widespread popularity allowed the constitutional referendum to pass with a 71.78% 'yes' vote; in the second election, members of Chávez's MVR and select allied parties formed the Polo Patriotico ("Patriotic Axis"). Chávez's Polo Patriotico went on to win 95% (120 out of 131 seats) of the seats in the voter-approved Venezuelan Constitutional Assembly.

However, in August 1999, the Constitutional Assembly first set up a special "judicial emergency committee" with the power to remove judges without consultation with other branches of government — over 190 judges were eventually suspended on charges of corruption. In the same month, the assembly declared a "legislative emergency," resulting in a seven-member committee that was tasked with conducting the legislative functions ordinarily carried out by the National Assembly — legislative opposition to Chávez's policies was thus instantly disabled. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Assembly prohibited National Assembly from holding meetings of any sort.


President Hugo Chávez holds aloft a miniature copy of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution at the 2005 World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre, BrazilThe Constitutional Assembly itself drafted the new 1999 Venezuelan Constitution. With 350 articles, the document was, as drafted, one of the world's lengthiest constitutions. It first changed the country's official name from “Venezuela” to the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela". It also increased the presidential term of office from four to six years and introduced a presidential two-term limit. The document also introduced provisions for national presidential recall referenda — that is, Venezuelan voters now were to be given the right to remove their president from office before the expiration of the presidential term. Such referenda were to be activated upon provision of petitions with a valid number of signatures. The presidency was also dramatically strengthened, with the power to dissolve the National Assembly upon decree. The new constitution also converted the formerly bicameral National Assembly into a unicameral legislature, and stripped it of many of its former powers. Provision was also made for a new position, the Public Defender, which was to be an office with the authority to check the activities of the presidency, the National Assembly, and the constitution — Chávez styled such a defender as the guardian of the so-called “moral branch” of the new Venezuelan government, thus putatively tasked with defending public and moral interests. Lastly, the Venezuelan judiciary was reformed. Judges would, under the new constitution, be installed after passing public examinations and not, as in the old manner, be appointed by the National Assembly.

This new constitution was presented to the national electorate in December 1999 and approved with a CNE-audited 71.78% "yes" vote. Elections for the new unicameral National Assembly were held on July 30, 2000. During this same election, Chávez himself stood for reelection. Chávez's coalition garnered a commanding two-thirds majority of seats in the National Assembly while Chávez was reelected with 60% of the votes. The Carter Center monitored the 2000 presidential election; their report on that election stated that, due the a lack of transparancy, lack of CNE partiality, and political pressure from the Chávez government that resulted in unconstitutionally early elections, it was unable to validate the official CNE results.

Over a span of a mere 60 days, the Constitutional Assembly thus framed a document that enshrined as constitutional law most of the structural changes Chávez desired. Chávez stated such changes were necessary in order to successfully and comprehensively enact his planned social justice programs. Sweeping changes in Venezuelan governmental structure were to be made; Chávez's plan was, stemming from his 1998 campaign pledges, thus to dramatically open up Venezuelan political discourse to independent and third parties by radically altering the national political context. In the process, Chávez sought to fatally paralyze his AD and COPEI opposition. All Chávez's aims were, in one move, dramatically furthered.

Later, on December 3, 2000, local elections and a referendum were held. The referendum, backed by Chávez, proposed a law that would force Venezuela's labor unions to hold state-monitored elections. The referendum was widely condemned by international labor organizations — including the ILO — as undue government interference in internal union matters; these organizations threatened to apply sanctions on Venezuela.[10] After the May and July 2000 elections, Chávez backed the passage of the "Enabling Act" by the National Assembly. This act allowed Chávez to rule by decree for one year. In November 2001, shortly before the Enabling Act was set to expire, Chávez enacted a set of 49 decrees. These included the Hydrocarbons Law and the Land Law, which are detailed below. The national business federation Fedecámaras opposed the new laws and called for a general business strike on December 10, 2001.

Coup of 2002

On April 9, 2002, CTV leader Carlos Ortega Carvajal called for a two-day general strike. Fedecámaras joined the strike and called on all of its affiliated member businesses to shut down for 48 hours. Approximately 500,000 people took to the streets on April 11, 2002 and marched towards the headquarters of Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA in defense of its newly fired management. The organizers decided to redirect the march to Miraflores, the presidential palace, where a pro-Chávez demonstration was taking place. Chávez, alarmed by these developments, took over all Venezuelan airwaves, asking for all protesters to return to their homes. The private TV stations defied Chávez by showing both his address and the protest simultaneously, via a split-screen presentation. Chávez then ordered defiant private outlets to be taken off the air in a forced blackout. This lasted until several stations began rerouting their cable TV signals so as to continue covering the anti-Chávez protests. Despite Chávez's calls for calm, gunfire and violence erupted between the two groups of demonstrators. Clashes also flared between the Caracas's metropolitan police (at that time they were controlled by anti-Chávez figures), and the Venezuelan national guard (controlled by Chávez). More than 100 casualties and 17 deaths resulted.

Then, unexpectedly, Lucas Rincón Romero, commander-in-chief of the Venezuelan armed forces, announced in an abrupt broadcast to a stunned nationwide audience that Chávez had tendered his resignation from the presidency. To this day, the events surrounding both the killings and the coup are hotly disputed. For example, General Manuel Rosendo, at the time chief of the National Unified Army Command (CUFAN), reported that he and others presented the newly deposed Chávez two options: first, Chávez could either be exiled; second, Chávez could choose to remain in Venezuela on condition that he stand trial for the April 11 killings. Chávez reportedly responded that he together with his family wished to be exiled to Cuba, on condition that Rosendo personally guarantee the safety of Chávez's relatives and that Chávez would depart via Maiquetía's Simon Bolivar International Airport.

On the other hand, Chávez himself has stated that he had negotiated an agreement to resign only after he realized that many top military leaders opposed his policies. Chávez agreed in principle to resign only on the condition that his resignation would follow constitutional order: it must be tendered before the National Assembly, and Chávez's own vice-president would succeed him. Chávez stated that he was given assurances by the rebel generals that they would comply with these conditions. Based on these assurances, he stated that he instructed Rincón to announce his resignation publicly. Chávez has also stated that shortly after Rincón's announcement, the assurances were abruptly rescinded and that he was then formally taken into custody.

After the resignation announcement, Chávez was escorted under military guard to Fort Tiuna, were he met with representatives of the Catholic Church. Chávez was also met by army officers, who by then had determined that he was indeed not to be sent to Cuba. Instead, Chávez would be taken to the La Orchila military base, which is off of Venezuela's coast, until rebel leaders could deliberate upon Chávez's fate. Meanwhile, the rebel military leaders appointed Fedecámaras president Pedro Carmona as Venezuela's interim president.

Carmona's first decree reversed all of Chávez's major social and economic policies that comprised his "Bolivarian Revolution", including loosening Chávez's credit controls and ending his oil price quotas by raising production back to pre-Chávez levels. Carmona also dissolved both the National Assembly and the Venezuelan judiciary, while reverting the nation's name back to República de Venezuela. These events generated pro-Chávez uprisings and looting across Caracas. Responding to these disturbances, Venezuelan army soldiers loyal to Chávez called for massive popular support for a counter-coup. These soldiers later stormed and retook the presidential palace, liberating Chávez from his captivity. The shortest-lived government in Venezuelan history thus was toppled, and Chávez resumed his presidency on the night of Saturday April 13, 2002. Following this episode, Rincón was reappointed by Chávez as commander-in-chief and later as Interior Minister in 2003.[12].

2002—2004
For two months following December 2, 2002, the Chávez administration was faced with a strike aimed at forcing the president from office by cutting off the state from all-important oil revenue. The strike was led by a coalition of labor unions, industrial magnates, and oil workers. As a consequence, Venezuela ceased exporting its daily former average of 2,800,000 barrels (450,000 m³) of oil and its derivatives. Hydrocarbon shortages soon erupted throughout Venezuela, with long lines forming at petrol filling stations. Gasoline imports were soon required. Chávez soon replaced the upper management of the Venezuelan national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), and dismissed 18,000 PDVSA employees. Chávez justified this by charging that they were guilty of mismanagement and corruption, while opposition supporters of the fired workers stated that the actions were politically motivated. A disputed court ruling declared the dismissal of these workers illegal and ordered the immediate return of the entire group to their former posts. Nevertheless, Chávez, PDVSA's CEO Alí Rodríguez, and Minister of Mines Rafael Ramirez have repeatedly expressed that the ruling will not be enforced.

The majority of those who participated in the strike were white-collar employees — including management — who opposed Chávez' attempt to gain control of the oil industry from longstanding vested interests. Tens of thousands of the country's highest paid, most privileged engineers, technicians, managers, field and office workers that worked for PDVSA participated in these protests, risking their paychecks and their livelihood in order to protest the Chávez government. Many of these workers were dismissed and officially blacklisted by the government so that they would not be employed at any government or government-supporting firms. Most of them were unable to find oil-related jobs in Venezuela and now work abroad. The Chávez government, along with many PDVSA workers who refused to be part of the strike, and the unemployed who participated in getting PDVSA back online, have repeatedly alleged that important equipment was sabotaged and that the white-collar workers who participated in the strike/lockout destroyed many of the computer passwords and sabotaged much of the software.

On January 15, 2004, Chávez presented to the National Assembly his version of the State of the Union address. Since opposition parliamentarians did not attend, he spoke only to members of his own party and sympathetic diplomatic representatives. During the speech, Chávez stated that he had generated the PDVSA crisis in order to destroy the existing organization.

Recall vote of 2004

After opposition leaders submitted to the CNE a valid petition with 2,436,830 signatures that requested a presidential recall referendum, Chávez and his allies launched a massive grassroots effort to mobilize supporters and encourage rejection of the recall with a "no" vote. The recall vote was held on August 15, 2004. A record numbers of voters turned out to defeat the recall attempt with a 59.25% "no" vote. A jubilant Chávez pledged to redouble his efforts against both poverty and imperialism, while promising to foster dialogue with his opponents.

2004—2005
In the aftermath of his referendum victory, President Chávez's primary objectives of fundamental social and economic transformation and redistribution accelerated dramatically. Chávez himself placed the development and implementation of the Bolivarian Missions once again at the forefront of his political agendum. Sharp increases in global oil prices gave Chávez access to billions of dollars in extra foreign exchange reserves. Economic growth picked up markedly, reaching double-digit growth in 2004 and a projected 8% growth rate for 2005.


The Chávez government also passed a series of harsh media regulations that criminalized broadcasted libel, with legislation enabling prison sentences of up to 40 months for serious defamation. When asked in his October 2005 BBC interview if he would move to use the 40 month sentence if a media figure insulted him, he remarked that I don't care if they [the private media] call me names ... After all, if the dogs are barking, it is because we are working. And in his proposed land redistribution programs, Chávez finally made concrete strides. In a nation that once boasted an 80% government-defined poverty rate, where 2% of the populace owns 60% of the land, and where before Chávez a vanishingly low proportion of the $30 billion annual oil revenues are used for social programs.

Chávez considerably built Venezuela's foreign relations in 2004 and 2005. Chávez has deeply engaged Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, China's Hu Jintao, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad particularly well in both new bilateral and multilateral agreements, including humanitarian aid and construction projects.

Over 2004 and 2005, the Venezuelan military under Chávez has also began in earnest to reduce weaponry sourcing and military ties with the U.S. Chávez's Venezuela is thus increasingly purchasing arms from alternative sources such as Brazil, Russia, and Spain. Frictions over these sales have escalated, and in response Chávez ended cooperation between the two militaries. He also asked all active duty U.S. soldiers to leave Venezuela. Additionally, in 2005 Chávez announced the creation of a large "military reserve" — the Mission Miranda that encompasses a militia of 1.5 million citizens — as a defensive measure against foreign intervention or outright invasion.

Domestic policy

Under Chávez's presidency, significant social and economic transformation has swept through Venezuela. Chávez's policies most clearly defy neoliberal principles by expressly bolstering a heavily state-supported anti-poverty, educational, and health initiatives. Chávez's policies are designed to mostly benefit Venezuela's poor majority.

Oil profits — approximately $25 billion in 2004 — have subsequently allowed the Chávez administration to inject massive amounts of capital into various new social programs; these take the guise of the Bolivarian "Missions". Between them, these programs have constructed and modernized thousands of public medical and dental clinics, launched massive literacy and education initiatives, subsidized food, gasoline, and other consumer goods, and established numerous worker-managed manufacturing and industrial cooperatives. Opposition forces allege that these programs are corrupt and inefficient, while a number of international organizations — including the UN[21], UNICEF[22], and the WHO[23] — have praised the programs as positive models for bringing about social development.

Economic policy

Venezuela is a major producer of oil products, and oil is the vital 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. He has also attempted to broaden Venezuela's customer base, striking joint exploration deals with other developing countries, including Argentina, Brazil, China, and India. Record oil prices have meant more funding for the social programs, but has left the economy increasingly dependent on both the Chávez government and the oil sector; the private sector's role has correspondingly diminished. Despite the high government income, official unemployment figures has remained above 11%. Associated social problems are present, such as the large informal economy and record high crime levels.

Chávez has redirected the focus of PDVSA, Venezuela's state-owned oil company, by bringing it more closely under the direction of the Energy Ministry. He has also attempted to repatriate more oil funds to Venezuela by raising royalty percentages on joint extraction contracts that are payable to Venezuela. Chávez has also explored the liquidation of some or all of the assets belonging to PDVSA's U.S.-based subsidiary, CITGO. The oil ministry has been successful in restructuring CITGO's profit structure[26], resulting in large increases in dividends and income taxes from PDVSA. In 2005 CITGO announced the largest dividend payment to PDVSA in over a decade — $400 million. Yet despite massive efforts to increase production, daily oil production is still well short of the levels attained under the previous administration of president Rafael Caldera.

Labor

Monthly unemployment figures measured throughout Hugo Chávez's tenure, between February 1999 and September 2005. Particularly notable is the spike following the opposition strike/lockout between December 2002 and February 2003. Data from the INEChávez has had a combative relationship with the nation's largest trade union confederation, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), which is historically aligned with the Acción Democrática] party. During the December 2000 local elections, Chávez placed a referendum measure on the ballot that would mandate and enforce state-monitored elections within unions. The referendum measure, which was condemned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) as undue interference in internal union matters, passed by a large margin on a very low electoral turnout. In the ensuing CTV elections, Carlos Ortega declared his victory and remained in office as CTV president, while Chavista (pro-Chávez) candidates declared fraud. In response, the Unión Nacional de los Trabajadores (UNT — National Union of Workers) is a new pro-Chávez union federation which has been growing in its membership during Chávez's presidency; it seeks to ultimately supplant the CTV. Several Chavista unions have withdrawn from the CTV because of their strident anti-Chávez activism, and have instead affiliated with the UNT. In 2003, Chávez chose to send UNT, rather than CTV, representatives to an annual ILO meeting.

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

Land reform

On 30 January 2005 at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Chávez declared his support for democratic socialism as integral to Bolivarianism. Thus Chávez proclaimed that "a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything."[27] He later reiterated this in a February 26 speech at the 4th Summit on the Social Debt held in Caracas. To charges from business leaders that Chávez is eroding private property rights, and from the Roman Catholic cardinal that he was becoming a dictator, he said that Venezuelans must choose between "capitalism, which is the road to hell, or socialism, for those who want to build the kingdom of God here on earth."

Foreign policy

Chávez has made Latin American integration the keystone of his administration's foreign policy. Examples include multilateral engagements such as Mercosur, PetroCaribe, Petrosur, and Telesur — most of these were first advanced by Chávez. Chávez has also signed oil-for-expertise agreements with Cuba and approved of an oil pipeline built through neighboring Colombia. Chávez has also eagerly promoted multinational barter arrangements, such as an arrangement exchanging oil for cash-strapped Argentina's meat and dairy products.

In contrast, under Chávez, Venezuela-U.S. relations have declined. Chávez's own searing indictments of George W. Bush's foreign policy regarding Iraq, Haiti, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and other areas. On 20 February 2005, Chávez reported that the U.S. had plans to have him assassinated; he stated that any such attempt would result in an immediate cessation of U.S.-bound Venezuelan oil shipments. Chávez has also denounced the U.S.-backed ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004; he followed this by referring to U.S. President George W. Bush a pendejo (differing translations have been proposed [28]); in a later speech, he made personal remarks regarding Condoleezza Rice. Chávez also accuses the United States government of planning an invasion, codenamed "Plan Balboa". Chávez's own warm friendship with Cuban president Fidel Castro, in addition to Venezuela's now significant and expanding economic, social, and aid relationships with Cuba, have undermined the U.S. policy objective seeking to isolate the island. Notably, Chavez championed the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). ALBA furthers Cuba-Venezuela economic and social integration and promotes a socially-oriented trade block, which Chávez states is superior to the logic of deregulated corporate profit maximization promoted by the U.S.-backed FTAA.Longstanding military, intelligence, and counter-narcotics ties between the U.S. and Venezuelan were severed on Chávez's initiative. The U.S. government has called Chávez a "negative force" in the region, and has worked to isolate Chávez both diplomatically and economically.

During Venezuela's presidency of OPEC in 2000, Chávez made a ten-day tour of OPEC countries, in the process becoming the first head of state to meet Saddam Hussein, since the Gulf War. Despite OPEC duties, the visit was controversial at home and in the U.S. Chávez did respect the ban on international flights to and from Iraq (he drove from Iran, his previous stop). Ever since, President Chávez has consolidated diplomatic relations with Iran, including defending its right to civilian nuclear power. Pat Robertson's August 2005 on-air request that Chávez be assassinated drew sharp rebuke from Chávez himself, who accused him of “international terrorism”. After September 2005's Hurricane Katrina battered the U.S., Chávez was the first head of state to offer aid — tons of food and water, mobile hospital units and generators, medical specialists, 66,000 barrels of steeply discounted heating oil, and a million barrels of extra petroleum — to his "North American brothers".

Cabinet

According to the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, Chávez is completely at leisure to alter his cabinet as he sees fit. Chávez also may establish or eliminate federal ministries by mere presidential decree. Changes in Chávez's cabinet are frequent; thus authoritative lists are difficult to maintain. Several important members of Chávez's inner government circle are not official members of the cabinet, nor even members of Chávez executive branch. Instead, they are members of the newly created citizen's branch (poder ciudadano).

Human rights violations

Human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have levied heavy criticism against Chávez's policies and governance. Scores of deaths and hundreds of injuries inflicted during opposition demonstrations have resulted in little investigative action taken on the part of Chávez. Ill treatment of detainees, torture, and censorship are other severe criticisms against Chávez's government levelled by such organizations. Meanwhile, relatives of victims who were killed in the April 11, 2002 clashes have filed a case against Chávez and others at the International Criminal Court, stating that Chávez is legally complicit in crimes against humanity. A ruling has yet to be reached.

Media

Even before the April 2002 coup, owners, managers, and commentators working for the five major private mainstream television networks and most major mainstream newspapers have stated their opposition to Chávez's polcies. These media accuse the Chávez administration of having intimidating their journalists using specially dispatched gangs. Chávez has in turn alleges that the owners of these networks have primary allegiance not to Venezuela but to U.S. interests and to the advancement of neoliberalism via corporate propaganda. Chávez has described the four largest private television networks as "the four whores of the Apocalypse", has stated that the late Catholic Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Velasco is "in hell", and that his opponents resemble a "truckful of squealing pigs".

Chávez currently hosts the live talk show Aló, Presidente!. Of variable format, the show broadcasts on VTV (Venezuelan State Television) each Sunday at 11:00 AM. The show features Chávez addressing topics of the day, taking phone calls from the audience, and touring locations where government social welfare programs are active. In addition, Chávez inaugurated in late July 2005 Telesur, a proposed pan-American homologue of Al-Jazeera that seeks to challenge the present domination of Latin American television news by U.S.-based CNN en Español and Univisión. Chávez's media policies have contributed to the elevated U.S.-Venezuela tensions.

Criticisms

Hugo Chávez is a passionately disputed personality, both in Venezuela and abroad. His most steadfast domestic opponents state that Chávez is a dangerous militarist and authoritarian revolutionary who poses a fundamental threat to Venezuelan democracy. The opposition also reports that both poverty and unemployment figures under Chávez have not seen dramatic improvements (some report that the figures have actually worsened), and that official corruption under his government is as rampant as ever.[36] Opposition figures point to the many public hospitals that lack even basic medicines and hygenic supplies. They also point to the over 25% drop in Venezuela's per-capita GDP under Chávez. Others cite his demogoguery and personality cult as pathways to achieving power and adulation. More specifically, the opposition has reported that the Chávez government has engaged in extensive electoral fraud throughout its duration, especially during the 2000 and 2004 elections. The opposition also reports that some 98% of arrestees are anti-Chávez. More sympathetic critcisms arise from reports that Chávez is not fulfilling his major campaign pledges with respect to labor and land reform. broad, Western mainstream news media have reported that Chávez is a confrontational ideologue who harbors, funds, and trains terrorists and insurgents.

Personal life

Hugo Chávez and his three daughters — Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, and Rosa Inés.Hugo Chávez has been married twice. He first wedded Nancy Colmenares, a woman of humble family originating from Sabaneta in Chávez's own native Barinas state; together, they had three children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, and Hugo Rafael. At the same time, Chávez had an affair with the historian Herma Marksman, which lasted around ten years. Chávez is currently separated from his second wife, the journalist Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez. He had his fourth child, Rosa Inés, through that marriage.

Chávez is of Roman Catholic extraction, and is currently a practicing Christian. Nevertheless, he has engaged in a series of extremely bitter disputes with both the Venezuelan Catholic clergy and Protestant church hierarchies. Although he has traditionally kept his faith private, Chávez has been increasingly discussing that both his faith and his interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth's personal life and ideology has had a profound impact on his leftist and progressive views:

[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! Christ was a revolutionary. He confronted the religous hierarchies. He confronted the economic power of the time. He preferred death in the defense of his humanistic ideals, who fostered change ... our Jesus Christ.[43]


 

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