Hugo was born the second of seven children, including their eldest, Adán Chávez. The couple lived in poverty, leading them to send Hugo and Adán to live with their grandmother Rosa, whom Hugo later described as being "a pure human being... pure love, pure kindness." She was a devout Roman Catholic, and Hugo was an altar boy at a local church. Hugo described his childhood as "poor...very happy", and experienced "humility, poverty, pain, sometimes not having anything to eat", and "the injustices of this world."
Attending the Julián Pino Elementary School, Chávez's hobbies included drawing, painting, baseball and history. He was particularly interested in the 19th-century federalist general Ezequiel Zamora, in whose army his own great-great-grandfather had served. In the mid-1960s, Hugo, his brother and their grandmother moved to the city of Barinas so that the boys could attend what was then the only high school in the rural state, the Daniel O'Leary High School.
Aged seventeen, Chávez studied at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in Caracas. At the Academy, he was a member of the first class that was following a restructured curriculum known as the Andrés Bello Plan. This plan had been instituted by a group of progressive, nationalistic military officers who believed that change was needed within the military. This new curriculum encouraged students to learn not only military routines and tactics but also a wide variety of other topics, and to do so civilian professors were brought in from other universities to give lectures to the military cadets. Living in Caracas, he saw more of the endemic poverty faced by working class Venezuelans, something that echoed the poverty he had experienced growing up, and he maintained that this experience only made him further committed to achieving social justice. He also began to get involved in local activities outside of the military school, playing both baseball and softball with the Criollitos de Venezuela team, progressing with them to the Venezuelan National Baseball Championships. Other hobbies that he undertook at the time included writing numerous poems, stories and theatrical pieces, painting and researching the life and political thought of 19th-century South American revolutionary Simón Bolívar. He also became interested in the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara (1928–67) after reading his memoir The Diary of Che Guevara, although he also read books by a wide variety of other figures.
In 1974, he was selected to be a representative in the commemorations for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ayacucho in Peru, the conflict in which Simon Bolívar's lieutenant, Antonio José de Sucre, defeated royalist forces during the Peruvian War of Independence. In Peru, Chávez heard the leftist president, General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1910–1977), speak, and inspired by Velasco's ideas that the military should act in the interests of the working classes when the ruling classes were perceived as corrupt, he "drank up the books [Velasco had written], even memorising some speeches almost completely." Befriending the son of Panamanian President Omar Torrijos (1929–1981), another leftist military general, Chávez subsequently visited Panama, where he met with Torrijos, and was impressed with his land reform program that was designed to benefit the peasants. Being heavily influenced by both Torrijos and Velasco, he saw the potential for military generals to seize control of a government when the civilian authorities were perceived as serving the interests of only the wealthy elites. In contrast to military presidents like Torrijos and Velasco however, Chávez became highly critical of Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing general who had recently seized control in Chile with the aid of the American CIA. Chávez later related that "With Torrijos, I became a Torrijist. With Velasco I became a Velasquist. And with Pinochet, I became an anti-Pinochetist." In 1975, Chávez graduated from the military academy, being rated one of the top graduates of the year (eight out of seventy five).
Following his graduation, Chávez was stationed as a communications officer at a counterinsurgency unit in Barinas, although the Marxist-Leninist insurgency which the army was sent to combat had already been eradicated from that state, leaving the unit with much spare time. Chávez himself played in a local baseball team, wrote a column for the local newspaper, organized bingo games and judged at beauty pageants. At one point he found in an abandoned car riddled with bullet holes a stash of Marxist literature that apparently had belonged to insurgents many years before. He went on to read these books, which included titles by such theoreticians as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, but his favourite was a work entitled The Times of Ezequiel Zamora, written about the 19th-century federalist general whom Chávez had admired as a child. These books further convinced Chávez of the need for a leftist government in Venezuela, later remarking that "By the time I was 21 or 22, I made myself a man of the left."
(I think that from the time I left the academy I was oriented toward a revolutionary movement... The Hugo Chávez who entered there was a kid from the hills, a Ilanero with aspirations of playing professional baseball. Four years later, a second-lieutenant came out who had taken the revolutionary path. Someone who didn’t have obligations to anyone, who didn't belong to any movement, who was not enrolled in any party, but who knew very well where I was headed.
In 1977, he founded a revolutionary movement within the armed forces, in the hope that he could one day introduce a leftist government to Venezuela: the Venezuelan People's Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación del Pueblo de Venezuela, or ELPV), was a secretive cell within the military that consisted of him and a handful of his fellow soldiers. Although they knew that they wanted a middle way between the right wing policies of the government and the far left position of the Red Flag, they did not have any plans of action for the time being. Nevertheless, hoping to gain an alliance with civilian leftist groups in Venezuela, Chávez then set about clandestinely meeting various prominent Marxists, including Alfredo Maneiro (the founder of the Radical Cause) and Douglas Bravo, despite having numerous political differences with them. At this time, Chávez married a working-class woman named Nancy Colmenares, with whom he would go on to have three children: Rosa Virginia (born September 1978), Maria Gabriela (born March 1980) and Hugo Rafael (born October 1983)..
Later military career and the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200: 1982–1991Five years after his creation of the ELPV, Chávez went on to form a new secretive cell within the military, the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200 (EBR-200), later redesignated the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200). Taking inspiration from three Venezuelans whom Chávez deeply admired, Ezequiel Zamora (1817–1860), Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) and Simón Rodríguez (1769–1854), these historical figures became known as the "three roots of the tree" of the MBR-200. Later describing the group's foundation, Chávez would state that "the Bolivarian movement that was being born did not propose political objectives... Its goals were imminently internal. Its efforts were directed in the first place to studying the military history of Venezuela as a source of a military doctrine of our own, which up to then didn't exist." However, he always hoped that the Bolivarian Movement would become politically dominant, and on his political ideas at the time, remarked that "This tree [of Bolívar, Zamora and Rodríguez] has to be a circumference, it has to accept all kinds of ideas, from the right, from the left, from the ideological ruins of those old capitalist and communist systems." Indeed, Irish political analyst Barry Cannon noted that the early Bolivarian ideology was explicitly capitalist, but that it "was a doctrine in construction, a heterogeneous amalgam of thoughts and ideologies, from universal thought, capitalism, Marxism, but rejecting the neoliberal models currently being imposed in Latin America and the discredited socialist and communist models of the old Soviet Bloc."
In 1981, Chávez, by now a captain, was assigned to teach at the military academy where he had formerly trained. Here he introduced new students in his so-called "Bolivarian" ideals, and recruited those whom he felt would make good members of the MBR-200, as well as organizing sporting and theatrical events for the students. In his recruiting attempts he was relatively successful, for by the time they had graduated, at least thirty out of 133 cadets had joined it. In 1984 he met a Venezuelan woman of German ancestry named Herma Marksman who was a recently divorced history teacher. Sharing many interests in common, she eventually got involved in Chávez's movement and the two fell in love, having an affair that would last several years. Another figure to get involved with the movement was Francisco Arias Cárdenas, a soldier particularly interested in liberation theology. Cárdenas rose to a significant position within the group, although he came into ideological conflict with Chávez, who believed that they should begin direct military action in order to overthrow the government, something Cárdenas thought was reckless.
However, some senior military officers became suspicious of Chávez after hearing rumours about the MBR-200. Unable to dismiss him legally without proof, they re-assigned him so that he would not be able to gain any more fresh new recruits from the academy. He was sent to take command of the remote barracks at Elorza in Apure State, where he got involved in the local community by organizing social events, and contacted the local indigenous tribal peoples, the Cuiva and Yaruro. Although they were distrustful due to their mistreatment at the hands of the Venezuelan army in previous decades, Chávez gained their trust by joining the expeditions of an anthropologist to meet with them. His experiences with them would later lead him to introduce laws protecting the rights of indigenous tribal peoples when he gained power many years later. While on holiday, he retraced on foot the route taken by his great-grandfather, the revolutionary Pedro Pérez Delgado (known as Maisanta), to understand his family history; on that trip, he met a woman who told Chávez how Maisanta had become a local hero by rescuing an abducted girl. In 1988, after being promoted to the rank of major, the high-ranking General Rodríguez Ochoa took a liking to Chávez and employed him to be his assistant at his office in Caracas.
Operation Zamora: 1992In 1989, Carlos Andrés Pérez (1922–2010), the candidate of the centrist Democratic Action Party, was elected President after promising to oppose the United States government's Washington Consensus and financial policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nevertheless, he opposed neither once he got into office, following instead the neoliberal economic policies supported by the United States and the IMF. He dramatically cut spending, and put prominent men in governmental posts. Pérez's policies angered much of the public. In an attempt to stop the widespread protests and looting that followed his social spending cuts, Pérez ordered the violent repression and massacre of protesters, known as El Caracazo, which "according to official figures ... left a balance of 276 dead, numerous injured, several disappeared and heavy material losses. However, this list was invalidated by the subsequent appearance of mass graves", indicating that the official death count was inadequate. Pérez had used both the DISIP political police and the army to orchestrate El Caracazo. Chávez did not participate in the repression because he was then hospitalized with chicken pox, and later condemned the event as "genocide".
Disturbed by the Caracazo, rampant government corruption, the domination of politics by the Venezuelan oligarchy through the Punto Fijo Pact, and what he called "the dictatorship of the IMF", Chávez began preparing for a military coup d'état, known as Operation Zamora. Initially planned for December, Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup until the early twilight hours of 4 February 1992. On that date, five army units under Chávez's command moved into urban Caracas with the mission of overwhelming key military and communications installations, including the Miraflores presidential palace, the defense ministry, La Carlota military airport and the Military Museum. Chávez's immediate goal was to intercept and take custody of Pérez, who was returning to Miraflores from an overseas trip. Despite years of planning, the coup quickly encountered trouble. At the time of the coup, Chávez had the loyalty of less than 10% of Venezuela's military forces, and, because of numerous betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances, Chávez and a small group of rebels found themselves hiding in the Military Museum, without any means of conveying orders to their network of spies and collaborators spread throughout Venezuela. Furthermore, Chávez's allies were unable to broadcast their prerecorded tapes on the national airwaves, during which Chávez planned to issue a general call for a mass civilian uprising against the Pérez government. Finally, Chávez's forces were unable to capture Pérez, who managed to escape from them. Fourteen soldiers were killed, and fifty soldiers and some eighty civilians injured during the ensuing violence.
Realising that the coup had failed, Chávez gave himself up to the government. On the condition that he called upon the remaining active coup members to cease hostilities, he was allowed to appear on national television, something that he insisted on doing in his military uniform. During this address, he invoked the name of national hero Simón Bolívar and declared to the Venezuelan people that "Comrades: unfortunately, for now, the objectives we had set for ourselves were not achieved in the capital city. That is, those of us here in Caracas did not seize power. Where you are, you have performed very well, but now is the time for reflection. New opportunities will arise and the country has to head definitively toward a better future." Many viewers noted that Chávez had remarked that he had failed only "por ahora" (for now), and he was immediately catapulted into the national spotlight, with many Venezuelans, particularly those from the poorer sections of society, seeing him as a figure who had stood up against government corruption and kleptocracy.
Chávez was arrested and imprisoned at the San Carlos military stockade, where he remained wracked with guilt, feeling responsible for the coup's failure. Indeed, pro-Chávez demonstrations that took place outside of San Carlos led to his being transferred to Yare prison soon after. The government meanwhile began a temporary crackdown on media supportive of Chávez and the coup. A further attempted coup against the government occurred in November, which was once more defeated, but then led to Pérez himself being impeached a year later for malfeasance and misappropriation of funds for illegal activities.
Political rise: 1992–1998While Chávez and the other senior members of the MBR-200 were in prison, his relationship with Herma Marksman broke up in July 1993. She would subsequently become a critic of Chávez. In 1994, Rafael Caldera (1916–2009) of the centrist National Convergence Party was elected to the presidency, and soon after taking power, freed Chávez and the other imprisoned MBR-200 members as per his pre-election pledge. Caldera had however imposed upon them the condition that they would not return to the military, where they could potentially organise another coup. After being mobbed by adoring crowds following his release, Chávez went on a 100-day tour of the country, promoting his Bolivarian cause of social revolution. Now living off a small military pension as well as the donations of his supporters, he continued to financially support his three children and their mother despite divorcing Nancy Colmenares around this period. On his tours around the country, he would meet Marisabel Rodríguez, who would give birth to their daughter shortly before becoming his second wife in 1997.
Travelling around Latin America in search of foreign support for his Bolivarian movement, he visited Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, and finally Cuba, where the Communist leader Fidel Castro (1926–) arranged to meet him. After spending several days in one another's company, Chávez and Castro became friends with the former describing the Cuban leader as being like a father to him. Returning to Venezuela, Chávez failed to gain mainstream media attention for his political cause. Instead, he gained publicity from small, local-based newspapers and media outlets. As a part of his condemnation of the ruling class, Chávez became critical of President Caldera, whose neoliberal economic policies had caused inflation and who had both suspended constitutional guarantees and arrested a number of Chávez's supporters. According to the United Nations, by 1997 the per capita income for Venezuelan citizens had fallen to US$ 2,858 from US$ 5,192 in 1990, while poverty levels had increased by 17.65% since 1980, and homicide and other crime rates had more than doubled since 1986, particularly in Caracas. Coupled with this drop in the standard of living, widespread dissatisfaction with the representative democratic system in Venezuela had "led to gaps emerging between rulers and ruled which favoured the emergence of a populist leader".
A debate soon developed in the Bolivarian movement as to whether it should try to take power in elections or whether it should instead continue to believe that military action was the only effective way of bringing about political change. Chávez was a keen proponent of the latter view, believing that the oligarchy would never allow him and his supporters to win an election, while Francisco Arias Cárdenas instead insisted that they take part in the representative democratic process. Cárdenas himself proved his point when, after joining the Radical Cause socialist party, he won the December 1995 election to become governor of the oil-rich Zulia State. Subsequently changing his opinion on the issue, Chávez and his supporters in the Bolivarian movement decided to found their own political party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR – Movimiento Quinta República) in July 1997 in order to support Chávez's candidature in the Venezuelan presidential election, 1998.
1998 electionAt the start of the election run-up, most polls gave Irene Sáez, then-mayor of Caracas' richest district, Chacao, the lead. Although an independent candidate, she had the backing of one of Venezuela's two primary political parties, Copei. In opposition to her right-wing and pro-establishment views, Chávez and his followers described their aim as "laying the foundations of a new republic" to replace the existing one, which they cast as "party-dominated"; the current constitution, they argued, was no more than the "legal-political embodiment of puntofijismo", the country's traditional two-party patronage system. This revolutionary rhetoric gained Chávez and the MVR support from a number of other leftist parties, including the Patria Para Todos (Motherland for All), the Partido Comunist Venezolano (Venezeuelan Communist Party) and the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism), which together fashioned a political union supporting his candidacy called the Polo Patriotic (Patriotic Pole).
Chávez's promises of widespread social and economic reforms won the trust and favor of a primarily poor and working class following. By May 1998, Chávez's support had risen to 30% in polls, and by August he was registering 39%. Much of his support came from his 'strong man' populist image and charismatic appeal. This rise in popularity worried Chávez's opponents, with a part of the media proceeding to attack him with a series of allegations, which included the claim – which he dismissed as ridiculous – that he was a cannibal who ate children. With his support increasing, and Sáez's decreasing, both the main two political parties, Copei and Democratic Action, put their support behind Henrique Salas Römer, a Yale University-educated economist who represented the Project Venezuela party.
Chávez won the election with 56.20% of the vote. Salas Römer came second, with 39.97%, while the other candidates, including Irene Sáez and Alfaro Ucero, gained only tiny proportions of the vote. Academic analysis of the election showed that Chávez's support had come primarily from the country's poor and the "disenchanted middle class", whose standard of living had decreased rapidly in the previous decade, although at the same time much of the middle and upper class vote had instead gone to Salas Römer. Following the announcement of his victory, Chávez gave a speech in which he declared that "The resurrection of Venezuela has begun, and nothing and no one can stop it".
First presidential term: 2 February 1999 – 10 January 2001Chávez's presidential inauguration took place on February 2, 1999, and during the usual presidential oath he deviated from the prescribed words to proclaim that "I swear before my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times." He subsequently set about appointing new figures to a number of government posts, including promoting various leftist allies to key positions; he for instance gave one of the founders of MBR, Jesús Urdaneta, the position in charge of the secret police; and made one of the 1992 coup leaders, Hernán Grüber Ódreman, governor of the Federal District of Caracas. Chávez also appointed some conservative, centrist and centre-right figures to government positions as well, reappointing Caldera's economy minister Maritza Izaquirre to that same position and also appointing the businessman Roberto Mandini to be president of the state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. His critics referred to this group of government officials as the "Boliburguesía" or "Bolivarian bourgeoisie", and highlighted the fact that it "included few people with experience in public administration." He also made several alterations to his presidential privileges, scrapping the presidential limousine, giving away his entire presidential wage of $1,200 a month to a scholarship fund, and selling off many of the government-owned airplanes, although alternately many of his critics accused him of excessive personal expenses for himself, his family and friends. The involvement of a number of his immediate family members in Venezuelan politics has also led to accusations of nepotism, something Chávez denies. Meanwhile, in June 2000 he separated from his wife Marisabel, and their divorce was finalised in January 2004.
Lula da Silva. Chávez initially believed that capitalism was still a valid economic model for Venezuela, but that it would have to be Rhenish capitalism that would be followed rather than the neoliberalism which had been implemented under former governments with the encouragement of the United States. He followed the economic guidelines recommended by the International Monetary Fund and continued to encourage foreign corporations to invest in Venezuela, even visiting the New York Stock Exchange in the United States in an attempt to convince wealthy investors to do so. To increase his visibility abroad, Chávez spent fifty-two days of his first year as president outside of Venezuela, travelling the world meeting various national leaders, such as American President Bill Clinton, Governor of Texas George W. Bush and Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin.
While he was remaining fiscally conservative, he introduced measures in an attempt to alleviate the poverty of the Venezuelan working class. Chávez immediately set into motion a social welfare program called Plan Bolívar 2000, which he organised to begin on 27 February 1999, the tenth anniversary of the Caracazo massacre. Costing $113,000,000, 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, De Frente con el Presidente (Face to Face with the President). He followed this with his own newspaper, El Correo del Presidente (The President's Post), founded in July, for which he acted as editor-in-chief, but which was later shut amidst accusations of corruption in its management. In his television and radio shows, he answered calls from citizens, discussed his latest policies, sung songs and told jokes, making it unique not only in Latin America but the entire world.
Constitutional reformChávez 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.
The elected members of the constituent assembly put together a new constitution, and a referendum on the issue of whether to adopt it was held in December 1999; the referendum saw an abstention vote of over 50%, although amongst those voting, 72% approved the new constitution's adoption. The new constitution included increased 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 the presidential term from five to six years, allowed people to recall presidents by referendum, and added a new presidential two-term limit. It converted the bicameral legislature, a Congress with both a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies, into a unicameral one comprising only a National Assembly. The constitution gave greater powers to the president, not only by extending their term but also by giving them the power to legislate on citizen rights as well as the economic and financial matters that they were formerly unable to do. It also gave the military a role in the government by providing it with the mandated role of ensuring public order and aiding national development, something it had been expressely forbidden from doing under the former constitution. As a part of the new constitution, the country, which was then officially known as the Republic of Venezuela, was renamed the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (República Bolivariana de Venezuela) at Chávez's request, thereby reflecting the government's ideology of Bolivarianism and the influence of Simón Bolívar on the nation as a whole.
Second presidential term: 10 January 2001 – 10 January 2007Under the new constitution, it was legally required that new elections be held in order to re-legitimize the government and president. This presidential election in July 2000 would be a part of a greater "megaelection", the first time in the country's history that the president, governors, national and regional congressmen, mayors and councilmen would be voted for on the same day. For the position of president, Chávez's closest challenger proved to be his former friend and co-conspirator in the 1992 coup, Francisco Arias Cárdenas, who since becoming governor of Zulia state had turned towards the political centre and begun to denounce Chávez as autocratic. Although some of his supporters feared that he had alienated those in the middle class and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy who had formerly supported him, Chávez was re-elected with 59.76% of the vote (the equivalent of 3,757,000 people), a larger majority than his 1998 electoral victory, again primarily receiving his support from the poorer sectors of Venezuelan society.
That year, Chávez helped to further cement his geopolitical and ideological ties with the Cuban government of Fidel Castro by signing an agreement under which Venezuela would supply Cuba with 53,000 barrels of oil per day at preferential rates, in return receiving 20,000 trained Cuban medics and educators. In the ensuing decade, this would be increased to 90,000 barrels a day (in exchange for 40,000 Cuban medics and teachers), dramatically aiding the Caribbean island's economy and standard of living after its "Special Period" of the 1990s. However, Venezuela's growing alliance with Cuba came at the same time as a deteriorating relationship with the United States: in late 2001, just after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for the 11 September attacks against the U.S. by Islamist militants, Chávez showed pictures of Afghan children killed in a bomb attack on his television show. He commented that "They are not to blame for the terrorism of Osama Bin Laden or anyone else", and called on the American government to end "the massacre of the innocents. Terrorism cannot be fought with terrorism." The U.S. government responded negatively to the comments, which were picked up by the media worldwide.
At the start of the 21st century, Venezuela was the world's fifth largest exporter of crude oil, with oil accounting for 85.3% of the country's exports, therefore dominating the country's economy.Previous administrations had sought to privatise this industry, with U.S. corporations having a significant level of control, but the Chávez administration wished to curb this foreign control over the country's natural resources by nationalising much of it under the state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA). In 2001, the government introduced a new Hydrocarbons Law through which they sought to gain greater state control over the oil industry: they did this by raising royalty taxes on the oil companies and also by introducing the formation of "mixed companies", whereby the PdVSA could have joint control with private companies over industry. By 2006, all of the 32 operating agreements signed with private corporations during the 1990s had been converted from being primarily or solely corporate-run to being at least 51% controlled by PdVSA.
Opposition and the CDDuring Chávez's first term in office, the opposition movement had been "strong but reasonably contained, [with] complaints centring mainly on procedural aspects of the implementation of the constitution".However, the first organized protest against the Bolivarian government occurred in January 2001, when the Chávez administration tried to implement educational reforms through the proposed Resolution 259 and Decree 1.011, which would have seen the publication of textbooks with a heavy Bolivarian bias. The protest movement, which was primarily by middle class parents whose children went to privately run schools, marched to central Caracas shouting out the slogan "Don't mess with my children." Although the protesters were denounced by Chávez, who called them "selfish and individualistic," the protest was successful enough for the government to retract the proposed education reforms and instead enter into a consensus-based educational program with the opposition. That year, an organization known as the Coordinadora Democrática de Acción Cívica (CD) was founded, under which the Venezuelan opposition political parties, corporate powers, most of the country's media, the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, the Frente Institucional Militar and the Central Workers Union all united to oppose Chávez's regime. The prominent businessman Pedro Carmona (1941–) was chosen as the CD's leader.They received support from various foreign sources.
one-party socialist government in Cuba as a sign of where the Bolivarian government was taking Venezuela. Others did not hold such a strong view but still argued that Chávez was a "free-spending, authoritarian populist" whose policies were detrimental to the country. For instance, Venezuelan lawyer and academic Allan R. Brewer-Carías, a prominent and vocal opponent of Chávez, made the claim that under his regime the country had "suffered a tragic setback regarding democratic standards, suffering a continuous, persistent and deliberate process of demolishing institutions and destroying democracy, which has never before been experienced in the constitutional history of the country." Other academics have argued that the opposite was true, and that "the Chávez government is in fact more democratic than previous ones" because of the increased checks and balances introduced by the 1999 constitution and the introduction of workers' councils.
The pro-Chávez political analyst Gregory Wilpert argued, in his study of the Bolivarian administration, that the opposition movement was dominated primarily by members of the middle and upper classes. He further argued that this wealthy elite was particularly furious at the Bolivarian government because they themselves had lost much of their dominance over Venezuelan politics with the introduction of the 1999 constitution and the relegitimization of all areas of government that it required. He went on to argue that this wealthy elite subsequently used its control of the country's mass media to create an anti-Chávez campaign aimed primarily at the middle classes, stirring up the latent racism and classism that existed in Venezuelan culture. One of the most prominent examples of this was through the popularization of the racist term ese mono ("that monkey"), which began to be applied to Chávez by his opponents, who would also often accuse him of being "vulgar and common". Both Venezuelan and Western opposition media also characterized Chávez's supporters, who were known as the Chávistas, as being "young, poor, politically unsophisticated, antidemocratic masses" who were controlled, funded and armed by the state, and they were regularly referred to as "hordes" in opposition media discourse, which also commonly referred to the Bolivarian Circles as "terror circles". Such descriptions have been refuted by certain academics, such as Cristóbal Valencia Ramírez, who, after studying Chavista groups, have argued that they consist of people from many classes of society and are educated and largely non-violent. Chavista-run organizations have since claimed to have been the target of violent attacks from opposition groups: for instance, the Ezequiel Zamora National Farmers' Coordinator estimated that 50 Chavista leaders involved in the land-reform program had been assassinated during 2002 and 2003.
Coup, strikes and the recall referendumLa Orchila, and although he requested to be allowed to leave the country, he refused to officially resign from the presidency at the time. Nonetheless, the wealthy business-leader Pedro Carmona declared himself president of an interim government. Carmona abolished the 1999 constitution and appointed a small governing committee to run the country. Protests in support of Chávez along with insufficient support for Carmona's regime, which many felt was implementing totalitarian measures, led to Carmona's resignation, and Chávez was returned to power on 14 April.
Chávez's reaction to the coup attempt was to moderate his approach, implementing a new economic team that appeared to be more centrist and reinstated the old board of directors and managers of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), whose replacement had been one of the reasons for the coup. At the same time, the Bolivarian government began preparing for potential future uprisings or even a US invasion by increasing the country's military capacity, purchasing 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles and several helicopters from Russia, as well as a number of Super Tucano light attack planes from Brazil. Troop numbers were also increased, with Chávez announcing in 2005 the government's intention to increase the number of military reserves from 50,000 to 2,000,000.
In December 2002, the Chávez presidency faced a two-month management strike at the 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 to do so. The 1999 constitution had introduced the concept of a recall referendum into Venezuelan politics, so the opposition called for such a referendum to take place. A 2004 referendum to recall Chávez was defeated. 70% of the eligible Venezuelan population turned out to vote, with 59% of voters deciding to keep the president in power. Unlike his original 1998 election victory, this time Chávez's electoral support came almost entirely from the poorer working classes rather than the middle classes, who "had practically abandoned Chávez" after he "had consistently moved towards the left in those five and a half years". Meanwhile, some figures in the opposition movement began calling for the United States military to intervene and invade the country in order to topple Chávez.
"Socialism of the 21st century"The various attempts at overthrowing the Bolivarian government from power had only served to further radicalize Chávez. In January 2005, he began openly proclaiming the ideology of "Socialism of the 21st Century", something that was distinct from his earlier forms of Bolivarianism, which had been social democratic in nature, merging elements of capitalism and socialism. He used this new term to contrast the democratic socialism, which he wanted to promote in Latin America from the Marxist-Leninist socialism that had been spread by socialist states like the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China during the 20th century, arguing that the latter had not been truly democratic, suffering from a lack of participatory democracy and an excessively authoritarian governmental structure.
In May 2006, Chávez visited Europe in a private capacity, where he announced plans to supply cheap Venezuelan oil to poor working class communities in the continent. The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone welcomed him, describing him as "the best news out of Latin America in many years".
Third presidential term: 10 January 2007 – 10 January 2013In the presidential election of December 2006, which saw a 74% voter turnout, Chávez was once more elected, this time with 63% of the vote, beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales, who conceded his loss. The election was certified as being free and legitimate by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center. After this victory, Chávez promised an "expansion of the revolution."
United Socialist Party of Venezuela and domestic policyOn 15 December 2006, Chávez publicly announced that those leftist political parties who had continually supported him in the Patriotic Pole would unite into one single, much larger party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV). In the speech which he gave announcing the PSUV's creation, Chávez declared that the old parties must "forget their own structures, party colours and slogans, because they are not the most important thing for the fatherland." According to political analyst Barry Cannon, the purpose of creating the PSUV was to "forge unity amongst the disparate elements [of the Bolivarian movement], providing grassroots input into policy and leadership formation, [and] uniting the grassroots and leadership into one single body." It was hoped that by doing so, it would decrease the problems of clientelism and corruption and also leave the movement less dependent on its leadership: as Chávez himself declared, "In this new party, the bases will elect the leaders. This will allow real leaders to emerge."
International Labour Organization however expressed concern over some voters' being pressured to join the party.
In 2007, the Bolivarian government set up a constitutional commission in order to review the 1999 constitution and suggest potential amendments to be made to it. Led by the prominent pro-Chávez intellectual Luis Britto García, the commission came to the conclusion that the constitution could include more socially progressive clauses, such as the shortening of the working week, a constitutional recognition of Afro Venezuelans and the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It also suggested measures that would have increased many of the president's powers, for instance increasing the presidential term limit to seven years, allowing the president to run for election indefinitely and centralizing powers in the executive. The government put the suggested changes to a public referendum in December 2007.Abstention rate was high however, with 43.95% of registered voters not turning out, and in the end the proposed changes were rejected by 50.65% of votes. This would prove to the first electoral loss that Chávez had faced in the thirteen electoral contests held since he took power, something analysts argued was due to the top-down nature of the changes, as well as general public dissatisfaction with "the absence of internal debate on its content, as well as dissatisfaction with the running of the social programmes, increasing street crime, and with corruption within the government."
In order to ensure that his Bolivarian Revolution became socially engrained in Venezuela, Chávez discussed his wish to stand for re-election when his term ran out in 2013, and spoke of ruling beyond 2030. Under the 1999 constitution, he could not legally stand for re-election again, and so brought about a referendum on 15 February 2009 to abolish the two-term limit for all public offices, including the presidency.Approximately 70% of the Venezuelan electorate voted, and they approved this alteration to the constitution with over 54% in favor, allowing any elected official the chance to try to run indefinitely.
Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas and the Bank of the Southpink tide" sweeping the region, although there was a great deal of diversity within this leftist trend. Those that became the closest allies of Bolivarian Venezuela were Evo Morales and his Movement for Socialism, which was elected into power in Bolivia in 2005, and Rafael Correa and his PAIS Alliance, who won the election in Ecuador in 2006.
Mainstream media backed by the U.S. government alleged that Chavez's government gave money, weapons and support to the FARC, a rebel guerilla movement in Colombia known for extensive kidnappings and control of the drug trade. The suspicion of Venezuelan support was supposedly repeatedly confirmed. In 2005, captured laptops belonging to FARC leaders showed Chavez's involvement and support. The FARC rebels sought Venezuelan assistance in acquiring surface-to-air missiles. These files were confirmed by Interpol as being authentic. Files found in Equador showed FARC spent $400 000 to support the presidential campaign of Rafael Correa, an ally of Chavez. The documents allege that Chavez met personally with rebel leaders.
In 2007, the socialist Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front were elected into government in Nicaragua, and his administration immediately entered into deals with the Venezuelan government. On Ortega's first day in power, Chávez announced plans to aid the impoverished Central American country by forgiving the $30 million it owed Venezuela, and agreed to supply them with a further gift of $10 million in aid, as well as providing them with a $20-million loan with little or no interest and designed to benefit the country's poor.
In 2004, Venezuela had been one of the founding states in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA).
As of 26 September 2009, Chávez, along with allies such as Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, had set up a regional bank and development lender called Bank of the South, based in Caracas, an attempt to distance himself from financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Chávez first mentioned the project before winning the Presidential election in 1998. Chávez maintains that unlike other global financial organizations, the Bank of the South will be managed and funded by the countries of the region with the intention of funding social and economic development without any political conditions on that funding. The project is endorsed by Nobel Prize winning, former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, who said: "One of the advantages of having a Bank of the South is that it would reflect the perspectives of those in the south," and that "It is a good thing to have competition in most markets, including the market for development lending."
As the Arab Spring erupted across North Africa and the Middle East in 2010, Chávez openly criticised those leaders who had been backed by the U.S., such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, but at the same time championed those who had adhered to Arab socialist ideals, such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad, whom he called "a humanist and a brother" in spite of Assad's government's violent crackdown on protesters.Following the outbreak of the Libyan civil war, in which forces opposed to the socialist government rose up against the regime, Chávez, who had always had good international relations with Libya – describing its ceremonial leader Muammar Gaddafi as "a friend of mine" – offered to act as an intermediary between the government and the rebel-controlled National Transitional Council (NTC); however the latter declined the offer. During the subsequent 2011 military intervention in Libya, in which western forces attacked the Libyan army in support of the NTC, Chávez criticised the "indiscriminate bombing" of the country, accusing the United States of simply trying to "lay its hands on Libya's oil". Upon the killing of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, Chávez proclaimed that "We shall remember Gaddafi our whole lives as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr. They assassinated him. It is another outrage."
Fourth presidential term: 10 January 2013 – 5 March 2013On 7 October 2012, Chávez won election as president for a fourth time, and for the third time he won a six years term. He defeated Henrique Capriles with 54% of the votes versus 45% for Capriles, which was a lower victory margin than in his previous presidential wins, in the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election Turnout in the election was an unheard-of 80%, testifying that the election was hotly contested between the two candidates. There was significant support for Chávez amongst the Venezuelan lower class. Chávez's opposition blamed him for unfairly using state funds to spread largesse before the election to bolster Chavez's support among his primary electoral base, the lower class.
The inauguration of Chávez's new term was scheduled for 10 January 2013, but as he was undergoing medical treatment at the time in Cuba, he was not able to return to Venezuela for that date. The National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello proposed to postpone the inauguration and the Supreme Court decided that, being just another term of the sitting president and not the inauguration of a new one, the formality could be bypassed. The Venezuelan Bishops Conference opposed the verdict, stating that the constitution must be respected and the Venezuelan government had not been transparent regarding details about Chávez's health.
Acting executive officials produced orders of government signed by Chávez, which were suspected of forgery by some opposition politicians, who claimed that Chávez was too sick to be in control of his faculties. Guillermo Cochez, recently dismissed from the office of Panamanian ambassador to the Organization of American States, even claimed that Chávez had been brain-dead since 31 December 2012. Near to Chavez's death, two American attachés were expelled from the country for allegedly undermining Venezuelan democracy.
Due to the death of Chávez, Vice President Nicolas Maduro took over the presidential powers and duties for the remainder of Chávez's abbreviated term until presidential elections were held. Venezuela’s constitution specifies that the speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, should assume the interim presidency if a president cannot be sworn in.
Political ideologyBolivarianism, an ideology he developed from that of Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) and others. Bolívar was a 19th-century general who led the fight against the 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. Political analyst Gregory Wilpert, in his study of Chávez's politics, noted that "The key ingredients for Chávez's revolutionary Bolivarianism can be summarized as: an emphasis on the importance of education, the creation of civilian-military unity, Latin American integration, social justice, and national sovereignty. In many ways this is not a particularly different set of principles and ideas to those of any other Enlightenment or national liberation thinker."
Although he was a leftist ever since his days at the military academy, after becoming president Chávez's political position progressed further left, rejecting moderate leftist ideologies like social democracy or the Third Way and instead embracing democratic socialism. He propagated what he called "socialism for the 21st century", but according to Gregory Wilpert, "Chávez has not clearly defined twenty-first century socialism, other than to say that it is about establishing liberty, equality, social justice, and solidarity. He has also indicated that it is distinctly different from state socialism", as implemented by the governments of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. As a part of his socialist ideas, he emphasised the role of so-called "participatory democracy", which he claimed increased democratic participation, and was implemented through the foundation of the Venezuelan Communal Councils and Bolivarian Circles which he cited as examples of grassroots and participatory democracy.
Chávez was 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 linguist Noam Chomsky and the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ.
Chávez's connection to Marxism was 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 was, however, well versed in many Marxist texts, having read the works of many Marxist theoreticians, and often publicly quoted them. Various international Marxists supported his government, believing it to be a sign of proletariat revolution as predicted in Marxist theory. In 2010, Hugo Chávez proclaimed support for the ideas of Marxist Leon Trotsky, saying "When I called him (former Minister of Labour, José Ramón Rivero)" Chávez explained, "he said to me: 'president I want to tell you something before someone else tells you ... I am a Trotskyist', and I said, 'well, what is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist! I follow Trotsky's line, that of permanent revolution," and then cited Marx and Lenin.
Oil products were the keystone of the Venezuelan economy during Chávez's presidential period. Chávez gained a reputation as a price hawk in OPEC, pushing for stringent enforcement of production quotas and higher target oil prices. According to Cannon, the state income from oil revenue "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 (inflation-adjusted) GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 percent annually." The inflation rate was over 20 percent in January 2013. According to Ian James, citing estimates from the Venezuelan Central Bank, the Venezuelan government "controlled" the same percentage of the economy as when Chávez was elected in 1998, with "the private sector still control[ling] two-thirds of Venezuela's economy". For the year 2009, the Venezuelan economy shrank by an average of 2.9% due to the global recession.
After his election in 1998, more than 100,000 state-owned cooperatives – which claimed to represent some 1.5 million people – were formed with the assistance of government start-up credit and technical training; and the creation and maintenance, as of September 2010, of over 30,000 communal councils, examples of localised participatory democracy; which he intended to be integrated into regional umbrella organizations known as "Communes in Construction". In 2010, Chávez supported the construction of 184 communes, housing thousands of families, with $23 million in government funding. The communes produced some of their own food, and were able to make decisions by popular assembly of what to do with government funds. In September 2010, Chávez announced the location of 876 million bolivars ($203 million) for community projects around the country, specifically communal councils and the newly formed communes. Chávez also criticised the bureaucracy still common in Venezuela saying, when in discussion with his Communes Minister Isis Ochoa, that "All of the projects must be carried out by the commune, not the bureaucracy." The Ministry for Communes, which oversees and funds all communal projects, was initiated in 2009.
Chávez supported the creation of a series of Bolivarian Missions which claimed to be 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 wrote 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 7.7% in 2006". Spending on housing "receives low public support", increasing only "from 1% in GDP to 1.6% in 2006". Teresa A. Meade wrote that Chávez's popularity "rests squarely on the lower classes who have benefited from these health initiatives and similar policies." Under Chavez, Venezuelans’ quality of life improved according to a UN Index and the poverty rate fell from 48.6 percent in 2002 to 29.5 percent in 2011, according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America. The Missions have entailed the construction of thousands of free medical clinics for the poor, the institution of educational campaigns that have reportedly made more than one million adult Venezuelans literate, and the enactment of food and housing subsidies.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) reported 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 fell by 72 percent. These poverty rates measured only cash income, and did take into account increased access to health care or education." Under his presidency, the Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, dropped from nearly .5 in 1998 to .39 in 2011, putting Venezuela behind only Canada in the Western Hemisphere. Nicholas Kozloff, Chávez's biographer, stated of Chávez's economic policies: "Chávez has not overturned capitalism, he has done much to challenge the more extreme, neo-liberal model of development."
FoodIn the 1980s and 1990s health and nutrition indexes in Venezuela were generally low, and social inequality in access to nutrition was high. Chávez made it his stated goal to lower inequality in the access to basic nutrition, and to achieve food sovereignty for Venezuela. The main strategy for making food available to all economic classes was a controversial policy of fixing price ceilings for basic staple foods implemented in 2003. In 2012, total food consumption was over 26 million metric tonnes, a 94.8% increase from 2003.
In 2011, Datanálisis, an independent polling firm found that powdered milk could be found in less than half of grocery stores in Venezuela and that liquid milk was even more scarce in the country. Chávez blamed "speculators and hoarders" for these scarcities.
Chávez's strategy in response to food shortages consisted mainly of increasing domestic production through nationalizing large parts of the food industry. The price ceilings increased the demand for basic foods while making it difficult for Venezuela to import goods causing increased reliance on domestic production. According to some commentators this policy may have increased shortages.
Chávez was strictly enforcing a price control policy, denouncing anyone who sold food products for higher prices as "speculators". In January 2008, Chávez ordered the military to seize 750 tons of food that sellers were illegally trying to smuggle across the border to sell for higher prices than what was legal in Venezuela. In February 2009, Chávez ordered the military to temporarily seize control of all the rice processing plants in the country and force them to produce at full capacity, which he claimed they had been avoiding in response to the price caps. In May 2010, Chávez ordered the military to seize 120 tons of food from Empresas Polar after inconsistencies in reports from the Empresas Polar conglomerate were said to have been detected by authorities.
In March 2009, the Venezuelan government set minimum production quotas for 12 basic foods that were subject to price controls, including white rice, cooking oil, coffee, sugar, powdered milk, cheese, and tomato sauce, which is intended to stop food companies from evading the law. Business leaders and food producers claimed that the government was forcing them to produce this food at a loss. Chávez expropriated and redistributed 5 million acres of farmland from large landowners, saying: "The land is not private. It is the property of the state... The land is for those who work it." But, the lack of basic resources made it difficult or impossible to make full use of the expropriated lands by its new tenants – leading to a lower overall degree of productivity in spite of a larger overall area of land under cultivation.
As part of his strategy of food security Chávez started a national chain of supermarkets, the Mercal network, which had 16,600 outlets and 85,000 employees that distributed food at highly discounted prices, and ran 6000 soup kitchens throughout the country. In 2008 the amount of discounted food sold through the network was 1.25 million metric tonnes, often sold at as much as 40% below the price ceiling set for privately own stores. Simultaneously Chávez expropriated many private supermarkets. According to Commerce Minister Richard Canan, “The average [savings] for the basic food bundle (at the Mercal Bicentennial markets) is around 30%. There are some products, for example cheese and meat, which reach a savings of 50 to 60% compared with capitalist markets.” The Mercal network was criticized by some commentators as being a part of Chávez's strategy to brand himself as a provider of cheap food, and the shops feature his picture prominently. The Mercal network was subject to frequent scarcities of basic staples such as meat, milk and sugar – and when scarce products arrived, shoppers had to wait in line.
In 2010, after the government nationalized the port at Puerto Cabello, more than 120,000 tons of food sat rotting at the port. In May 2010, during a shortage of beef, at least 40 butchers were detained on charges of speculation for allegedly selling meat above the regulated price; some of them were held at a military base and later strip-searched by police.
Human rightsVenezuelan 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.
In 2008, Human Rights Watch released a report reviewing Chávez's human rights record over his first decade in power. The report praises Chávez's 1999 amendments to the constitution which significantly expanded human rights guarantees, as well as mentioning improvements in women's rights and indigenous rights, but noted a "wide range of government policies that have undercut the human rights protections established" by the revised constitution. In particular, the report accused Chávez and his administration of engaging in discrimination on political grounds, eroding the independence of the judiciary, and of engaging in "policies that have undercut journalists' freedom of expression, workers' freedom of association, and civil society's ability to promote human rights in Venezuela." The Venezuelan government retaliated for the report by expelling members of Human Rights Watch from the country. Subsequently, over a hundred Latin American scholars signed a joint letter with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs criticizing the Human Rights Watch report for its alleged factual inaccuracy, exaggeration, lack of context, illogical arguments, and heavy reliance on opposition newspapers as sources, amongst other things. The International Labor Organization of the United Nations expressed concern over voters being pressured to join the party.
Amnesty International criticized the Chávez administration for targeting critics following several politically motivated arrests. Freedom House listed Venezuela as being "partly free" in its 2011 Freedom in the World annual report, noting a recent decline in civil liberties. A 2010 Organization of American States report found concerns with freedom of expression, human rights abuses, authoritarianism, press freedom, threats to democracy, as well as erosion of separation of powers, the economic infrastructure and ability of the president to appoint judges to federal courts. OAS observers were denied access to Venezuela; Chávez rejected the OAS report, pointing out that its authors did not even come to Venezuela. He said Venezuela should boycott the OAS, which he felt is dominated by the United States; a spokesperson said, "We don't recognize the commission as an impartial institution". He disclaimed any power to influence the judiciary. A Venezuelan official said the report distorted and took statistics out of context, and said that "human rights violations in Venezuela have decreased". Venezuela said it will not accept an IACHR/OAS visit as long as Santiago Cantón remains its Executive Secretary, unless the IACHR apologizes for what he described as its support of the 2002 coup.
Venezuelan Judge Maria Afiuni was arrested in 2009 on charges of corruption, after she ordered the conditional release on bail of banker Eligio Cedeño, who had been held on charges of fraud and other crimes due to alleged illegal currency trading activities. Some human rights officials alleged the arrest was politically motivated; Cedeño "had been in pretrial detention for nearly three years, despite a two-year limit prescribed by Venezuelan law". Cedeño later fled to the U.S. to avoid prosecution. Following Afiuni's arrest, several groups, including the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Episcopal Conference of Venezuela, Human Rights Watch, the Law Society of England and Wales, the U.S. Department of State, and the European Union Parliament accused Chávez of "creating a climate of fear" among Venezuela's legal profession. The European Parliament called it "an attack on the independence of the judiciary by the President of a nation, who should be its first guarantor". A director of Human Rights Watch said, "Once again the Chávez government has demonstrated its fundamental disregard for the principle of judicial independence."
Media and the pressAlthough the freedom of the press was mentioned by two key clauses in the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela, in 2008, Human Rights Watch criticized Chávez for engaging in "often discriminatory policies that have undercut journalists' freedom of expression." Freedom House listed Venezuela's press as being "Not Free" in its 2011 Map of Press Freedom, noting that "[t]he gradual erosion of press freedom in Venezuela continued in 2010." Reporters Without Borders criticized the Chávez administration for "steadily silencing its critics". In the group's 2009 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders noted that "Venezuela is now among the region’s worst press freedom offenders."
The large majority of mass media in Venezuela remained privately owned, but subject to significant state control. The Venezuelan government required that all private television stations dedicate at least 25% of their airtime to programs created by community groups, non-profits, and other independent producers. In 2007, private corporations controlled 80% of the cable television channels, 100% of the newspaper companies, and 706 out of 709 radio stations.
In July 2005 Chávez inaugurated TeleSUR, a Pan-American equivalent of Al Jazeera that sought to challenge the present domination of Latin American television news by Univision and the United States-based CNN en Español. In 2006 Chávez inaugurated a state-funded movie studio called Villa del Cine (English: Cinema City). According to Chávez, the goal of this indigenous film industry was to counter what he described as "the dictatorship of Hollywood", the lack of alternative media.
Twitter account with more than 3,200,000 followers as of August 2012. Chávez's Twitter account has been described as a way for people to bypass bureaucracy and contact the president directly. There was a team of 200 people to sort through suggestions and comments sent via Twitter. Chávez said Twitter was "another mechanism for contact with the public, to evaluate many things and to help many people", and that he saw Twitter as "a weapon that also needs to be used by the revolution". In a Twitter report released in June 2010 Venezuela was third globally for the prevalence of Twitter with 19% of the population using it.
In 2010 availability of Internet service in Venezuela rose by 43%. The Venezuelan state instituted Infocenters, community spaces equipped with computers with internet connections which are free to use. By January 2011 there were 737 infocenters, and the programme was awarded a prize by UNESCO.
In the days before the 11 April 2002 coup, the five main private Venezuelan TV stations gave advertising space to those calling for anti-Chávez demonstrations. In 2006, Chávez announced that the terrestrial broadcast license for RCTV would not be renewed, due to its refusal to pay taxes and fines, and its alleged open support of the 2002 coup attempt against Chávez, and role in helping to instigate the oil strike in 2002–2003. RCTV was transmitted via cable and satellite and was widely viewable in Venezuela until January 2010, when it was excluded by cable companies in response to an order of National Commission of Telecommunications. The refusal to renew its terrestrial broadcast license was condemned by a multitude of international organizations, many of whom have claimed that the closure was politically motivated, and was intended to silence government critics.
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) questioned whether, in the event a television station openly supported and collaborated with coup leaders, the station in question would not be subject to even more serious consequences in the United States or any other Western nation. In a poll conducted by Datanalisis, almost 70 percent of Venezuelans polled opposed the shut-down, but most quoted loss of their favourite soap operas rather than concerns about limits on freedom of expression.
In popular culture
- Syndicated cartoonists from around the world created cartoons, illustrations, and videos of Hugo Chávez's controversial political career and the reactions to his death.
- Hugo Chávez appears as a heroic character in the Latin American postmodern fantasy novel United States of Banana (2011) by Giannina Braschi; Chávez leads left-wing Latin American leaders Evo Morales, Lula, Fidel Castro, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on a quest to liberate the people of Puerto Rico from the United States.
- Oliver Stone directed the 2009 documentary "South of the Border", a film that challenges the mainstream media's misrepresentation of Hugo Chávez and other left-wing Latin American leaders such as Evo Morales, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Néstor Kirchner, Rafael Correa, Raúl Castro, Fernando Lugo and Lula.
Crime and punishmentDuring the 1980s and 1990s there was a steady increase in crime in Latin America. The countries of Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Brazil all had homicide rates above the regional average.
During Chávez's administration, homicide rates in Venezuela more than tripled, with one NGO finding the rate to have nearly quadrupled. The majority of the deaths occur in crowded slums in Caracas. The NGO found that the number of homicides in the country increased from 6,000 in 1999 to 19,000 in 2011 and 21,692 in 2012. In 2010 Caracas had the highest murder rate in the world. For 2012 there were 13,080 murders in Venezuela and 14,670 murders in neighboring Colombia.
Chávez maintained that the nation is no more violent now than it was when he took office. Although critical of Chávez, an International Crisis Group report claimed that when Chávez took office, there were factors beyond his control that led to the crime epidemic throughout Venezuela. The study went on to say that cross border activity, mainly with Colombia, was also an important factor. It claimed that international organised crime filters between the two countries had led to higher rates of kidnapping, drug trafficking, and homicides. Furthermore, Chávez supporters claimed that the states with the highest murder rates were controlled by the opposition.
Between 2000 and 2007, 6,300 Venezuelan policemen were investigated for violations of human rights. Because decentralization of police was blamed for their ineffectiveness, the 1999 constitution required the National Assembly to form a national police force to fight crime; however, legislation on this became bogged down in numerous 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 could participate in police supervision by being able to request investigations into police behaviour and file recommendations and complaints.
In 2008, Chávez passed a decree designed to implement Conarepol's recommendation on the national police force, and the National Bolivarian Police (PNB), and Experimental Security University began operations in 2009. According to the PNB, murder was reduced by 60%, robberies by nearly 59%, and gender-based violence by 66% in the pilot areas where the PNB was active in and around Caracas. However, not all homicides due to encounters with police are reported. According to the publications El Espectador and Le Monde diplomatique, rising crime in rural and urban areas of Venezuela was partly due to increased cross-border activity by Colombian right-wing paramilitary groups like Águilas Negras.
The decree was criticized because it was negotiated behind closed doors and did not follow Conarepol's recommendations to deal with human rights and because "politicization of the force could undercut the goal of professionalization".
Foreign policyPetrocaribe, Petrosur, and TeleSUR. Bilateral trade relationships with other Latin American countries also played a major role in his policy, with Chávez increasing arms purchases from Brazil, forming oil-for-expertise trade arrangements with Cuba, and creating unique barter arrangements that exchange Venezuelan petroleum for cash-strapped Argentina's meat and dairy products. Additionally, Chávez worked closely with other Latin American leaders following the 1997 Summit of the Americas in many areas – especially energy integration – and championed the OAS decision to adopt the Anti-Corruption Convention. Chávez participated in the United Nations Friends groups for Haiti, and pursued efforts to join and engage the Mercosur trade bloc to expand the hemisphere's trade integration prospects.
IranHugo Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, respectively, both described themselves on the world stage as opposed to American imperialism. Citing this commonality of opinion, they formed a close alliance embarked on a number of initiatives together. On 6 January 2007, the two announced that they would use some money from a previously announced $2 billion joint fund to invest in other countries that were "attempting to liberate themselves from the imperialist yoke", in Chávez's words. The two presidents declared an "axis of unity" against "US imperialism".
Chávez developed strong ties with the government of Iran, in particular in the area of energy production, economic, and industrial cooperation. He visited Iran on several occasions, the first time in 2001, when he declared that he came to Iran to "prepare the road for peace, justice, stability and progress for the 21st century". Mohammad Khatami also visited Venezuela on three occasions. During his 2005 visit, Chávez awarded him the Orden del Libertador and called him a "tireless fighter for all the right causes in the world". In May 2006, Chávez expressed his favorable view of the production of nuclear energy in Iran announced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and denied that they had plans to develop atomic weapons.
Personal lifeChávez married twice. He first wed Nancy Colmenares, a woman from a poor family in Chávez's hometown of Sabaneta. Chávez and Colmenares remained married for 18 years, during which time they had three children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, and Hugo Rafael, the latter of whom suffers from behavioural problems. The couple separated soon after Chávez's 1992 coup attempt. During his first marriage, Chávez had an affair with historian Herma Marksman; their relationship lasted nine years. Chávez's second wife was journalist Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez, whom he divorced in 2000. Through that marriage, Chávez had another daughter, Rosinés. Both María and Rosa provided Chávez with grandchildren. Allegations were made that Chávez was a womanizer, and had been throughout both his marriages, but these have remained unproven and are contradicted by statements provided by other figures close to him.
Chávez was a Catholic. He intended at one time to become a priest. He saw his socialist policies as having roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ, (liberation theology) and he publicly used the slogan of "Christ is with the Revolution!" He had some disputes with both the Venezuelan Catholic clergy and Protestant groups like the New Tribes Mission. Although he traditionally kept his own faith a private matter, Chávez over the course of his presidency became increasingly open to discussing his religious views, stating that both his faith and his version of Jesus' personal life and ideology had a profound impact on his liberation theology.
IllnessIn June 2011, Chávez revealed in a televised address from Havana, Cuba, that he was recovering from an operation to remove an abscessed tumor with cancerous cells. Vice President Elías Jaua declared that the President remained in "full exercise" of power and that there was no need to transfer power due to his absence from the country. On 3 July, the Venezuelan government denied, however, that Chávez's tumour had been completely removed, further stating that he was heading for "complete recovery". On 17 July 2011, television news reported that Chávez had returned to Cuba for further cancer treatments.
Chávez gave a public appearance on his 57th birthday, in which he stated that his health troubles had led him to radically reorient his life towards a "more diverse, more reflective and multi-faceted" outlook, and he went on to call on the middle classes and the private sector to get more involved in his Bolivarian Revolution, something he saw as "vital" to its success. Soon after this speech, in August Chávez announced that his government would nationalize Venezuela's gold industry, taking it over from Russian-controlled company Rusoro, while at the same time also moving the country's gold stocks, which were largely stored in western banks, to banks in Venezuela's political allies like Russia, China and Brazil.
On 9 July 2012, Chávez declared himself fully recovered from cancer just three months before the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election, which he won, securing a fourth term as president. In November 2012, Chávez announced plans to travel to Cuba for more medical treatment for cancer.
On 8 December 2012, Chávez announced he would undergo a new operation after doctors in Cuba detected malignant cells; the operation took place on 11 December 2012. Chávez suffered a respiratory infection after undergoing the surgery but it was controlled. It was announced 20 December by the country's vice-president that Chávez had suffered "new complications" following his surgery. It was announced on 3 January 2013 that Chávez had a "severe" lung infection that had caused respiratory failures following a strict treatment regimen for "respiratory insufficiency". However he was reported to have overcome this later that month, and it was reported that he was then undergoing a "supplementary course of treatment". On 18 February 2013, Chávez returned to Venezuela after 2 months of cancer treatment in Cuba. On 1 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, letting out for the first time, said Chávez had been receiving chemotherapy in Venezuela as he "continues his battle for life" since undergoing his last surgery in Cuba. On 4 March, it was announced by the Venezuelan government that Chávez's breathing problems had worsened and he was suffering a new, severe respiratory infection.
After his first cancer surgery in 2011, Chávez indicated that a baseball-sized tumor had been removed from his pelvis, but never revealed what type of cancer he suffered from then or later when further surgery, chemotherapy and radiation were used.
However, on 27 February 2012, Wikileaks released an internal Stratfor email, dated 6 December 2011, that detailed the earlier cancer as well as putting the blame on his doctors and Chavez's personal habits. It also details the cause for his second trip to Cuba.
The tumor started as a growth close to the prostate, it spread to the colon, which is what led to a lot of confusion in the [unknown] about the treatment of prostate v. colon cancer in hormonal v. chemotherapy. A reliable source on the medical has explained that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and into the bone marrow up to the spine, ie. very serious.
Chavez temporarily stopped the chemo in order to make an appearance at the recent CELAC meeting. The medical team is made up of both Russian and Cuban doctors. Both sides are clashing. The Russian team blamed the Cubans for an improper surgery the first time in trying to remove the tumor. The second surgery over the summer was basically the Russian team trying to clean up the Cuban team's mistakes. The Russians complain that the Cubans dont have the right imagery treatment to properly treat Chavez. The Cuban medical diagnosis is 2 years. The Russian medical diagnosis, due to improper medical equipment, is less than one year. The source on the medical team complains that Chavez is a very 'bad patient.' He doesn't listen to his doctors, and he ceases treatment when he has to make a public appearance. Now the Russian and the Chinese doctors are going at it because Chavez sought the advice of a Chinese doctor that advocates more natural treatments and the Russians are saying this is "horse shit treatment". Only Chavez can get the most politicized medical team in the world.
DeathOn 5 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on state television that Chávez had died in Caracas at 16:25 VET (20:55 UTC). The Vice President said Chávez died "after battling a tough illness for nearly two years." According to the head of Venezuela's presidential guard, Chávez died from a massive heart attack, and his cancer was very advanced when he died. Gen. Jose Ornella said that near the end of his life Chávez could not speak aloud, but mouthed, "Yo no quiero morir, por favor no me dejen morir" (I don't want to die. Please don't let me die). The funeral was planned to be held in Chávez is survived by four children and four grandchildren.
Vice President Maduro and Chávez's supporters had suggested foul play was behind Chávez's illness and death. Maduro speculated that Chávez had been poisoned or infected by enemies, and expressed a belief that the claim could someday be tested scientifically. It was unclear whether Maduro was referring to Chávez' cancer, or his respiratory infection. During the same address, Maduro announced the expulsion of an attaché to the U.S. embassy for what he called "a plot against the government" of Venezuela. Chávez himself had claimed to be "a victim of U.S. assassination attempts." The U.S. Department of State dismissed the allegation as "absurd". Argentine doctor Eduardo Cazap dismissed to the BBC the Venezuelan claims of the existence of a cancer-inducing weapon: "Our body is extremely resistant to all the factors that could affect it. And when you need to produce cancer in an experimental manner you need to use huge amounts of drugs or huge amounts of toxins".
His death triggered a constitutional requirement that a presidential election be called within 30 days. Chavez's Vice President, Maduro, was elected president.
Honours and awards
In 2008 Chávez was awarded the Blue Planet Award by the Ethecon Foundation, one of the comparatively very few 'grass-root' foundations.
Honorary degreesDuring his term, Chávez was awarded the following honorary degrees:
- South Korea: Kyung Hee University Honorary Doctorate in Political Science – Granted by Rector Chungwon Choue on 16 October 1999.
- Dominican Republic: Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo Honorary Doctorate in Jurisprudence, 9 March 2001.
- Brazil: University of Brasília Honorary Doctorate – Granted by Rector Alberto Pérez on 3 April 2001.
- Nicaragua: Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería Honorary Doctorate in Engineering – Granted by Rector Aldo Urbina on May 2001.
- Russia: Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Honorary Doctorate, 15 May 2001.
- China: Beijing University Honorary Doctorate in Economics, 24 May 2001.
- Bolivia: Higher University of San Andrés Honorary Doctorate, 24 January 2006.
- Chile: UARCIS Honorary Doctorate – Granted by Rector Carlos Margotta Trincado on 7 March 2006.
- Syria: University of Damascus Honorary Doctorate – Granted by Rector Wael Moualla on 30 August 2006.
- Libya: University of Tripoli Honorary Doctorate in Economy and Human Sciences, 23 October 2010.