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Hugo Chavez in 1999, as President of Venezuela

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (born July 28, 1954) is the President of Venezuela. A former paratroop lieutenant-colonel who led an unsuccessful coup d'état in 1992, he was elected president in 1999. A highly polarising figure in Venezuela, his presidency has seen sweeping changes throughout the country, including a new constitution, many new social programs, and a new foreign policy distancing Venezuela from the United States.

Chávez and his administration have been opposed through confrontative methods by some established sectors in Venezuela, including the business federation Fedecámaras and union federation CTV, resulting in a coup d'état, general strike/lockout, and recall referendum, all of which failed to remove him from office. Chávez and his allies have won consistent political victories, occupying the vast majority of elected municipal, state, and national posts, as well as majorities in the supreme court, national electoral council and national assembly.

Chávez has been married twice and is currently separated from his second wife, Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez. He has four children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, Hugo Rafael and Rosiné.

Contents

Early years

Chávez was born in Sabaneta, Barinas State. His father, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, was a former regional director of education and a former member of the conservative Social Christian Party, and is currently the governor of Barinas.

At the age of 17, Chávez joined the paratroop legion of the Venezuelan armed forces, and began studies at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences. He graduated in 1975 with an M.S. in military sciences and engineering. He did further graduate work in political sciences at the Simón Bolívar University in Caracas, but left without a degree.

Chávez was fascinated by Simón Bolívar, an important independence figure in Venezuela and Latin America. On July 24, 1983, the 200th anniversary of Bolívar's birth, Chávez founded the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200 (MBR-200, "Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200").

In 1989, President Carlos Andrés Pérez had presided over unpopular IMF austerity measures that led to protests in 1989, which he brutally suppressed, leaving hundreds dead. On February 4, 1992, Chávez and the MBR-200 led a failed military coup against President Pérez, in which hundreds were killed. Chávez was permitted to read a statement on television in order to tell his co-conspirators to stand down. Famously, he said that they had not achieved their goals por ahora ("for now"). After spending two years in prison, Chávez was pardoned by President Rafael Caldera. He reconstructed the MBR as a political movement called the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR).

Chronology of Presidency

Early presidency

Chávez won the presidential election on December 6, 1998 by the largest percent of voters (56.2%) in four decades, running on an anti-corruption and anti-poverty platform, and condemning the two major parties that had dominated Venezuelan politics since 1958 (see: Venezuelan presidential election, 1998). Shortly after taking office on February 2, 1999, Chávez embarked on a series of sweeping changes to the Venezuelan government. He organized a series of elections. The first one, a referendum, authorized calling for a constitutional assembly. A second selected delegates to that Assembly, distinct from his country's legislature. Chávez's initial widespread popularity allowed supporters to win 60% of the votes and 120 of the 131 assembly seats.

In August 1999, the assembly set up a "judicial emergency committee" with the power to remove judges without consulting other branches of government. In the same month, the assembly declared a "legislative emergency". A seven-member committee was created to perform congressional functions, including law-making. The Constitutional Assembly prohibited the Congress from holding meetings of any sort.

The new constitution renamed the country the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela", after South American independence hero Simón Bolívar. It increased the presidential term of office to six years and added provisions for presidents to serve two terms, while providing for a new procedure to recall a president. It was approved in a nationwide referendum held in December 1999. Elections for the new, unicameral legislature were held in July 2000. During the same election, Chávez stood for re-election. Chávez's coalition obtained a commanding 2/3 majority of seats in the new Assembly and Chávez himself was reelected (see Venezuelan presidential election, 2000).

In November 2000, he backed a bill through the legislature allowing him to rule by decree for one year. In November 2001, Chávez passed a set of 49 laws by decree, shortly before the enabling law expired, including the Hydrocarbons Law (about oil) and the Land Law (For more on these laws, see policy below.) Business federation Fedecámaras vehemently opposed the 49 laws and called for a general business strike on December 10, 2001.

In December 2000, Chávez put a referendum on the ballot to force Venezuela's labor unions to hold state-monitored elections. (For more, see below.)

Coup attempt against Chávez

Main article: Venezuelan coup attempt of 2002

Loyal troops at Miraflores, April 14 celebrate the victory of the mass upsurge against the coup.
Loyal troops at Miraflores, April 14 celebrate the victory of the mass upsurge against the coup.

On April 9, 2002, Venezuela's largest union federation, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), led by Carlos Ortega Carvajal, called for a two-day general strike. Fedecámaras joined the strike and called on all of its affiliated businesses to close for 48 hours. (Footage available via Edonkey p2p network [1] (http://www.filehash.com/file/a8a6df74d90b639205b0aee14348cdbe)).

On Thursday April 11, an estimated one million people marched to the headquarters of Venezuela's oil company, PDVSA, in defense of its fired management. The organizers decided to re-route the march to Miraflores, the presidential palace, where a pro-government demonstration was taking place. After violence erupted between demonstrators, the metropolitan police (controlled by the opposition) and national guard (controlled by Chávez), 17 people were killed and more than one hundred people were wounded. Doctors who treated the wounded reported that many of them appeared to have been shot from above in a sniper-like fashion.

After commander-in-chief Lucas Rincón Romero announced to the nation that he had resigned, Chávez was arrested on April 12, 2002, and Fedecámaras president Pedro Carmona was appointed by the military as interim president. [2] (http://www.11abril.com/index/videos/abril_2002_1.asp) His first decree dissolved all established powers and reverted the nation's name back to República de Venezuela. This decree did not make it for publication in the official journal, due to the short time his self-proclaimed interim government was in power. These events generated a widespread uprising and looting on some sectors of Caracas in support of Chávez that was repressed by the Metropolitan Police. Learning that Chávez had not resigned and emboldened by massive popular protest, army troops loyal to Chávez retook the presidential palace. Thus ended the briefest de facto government in Venezuelan history with the return of Chávez in the night of Saturday April 14, 2002.

Strike/lockout

For two months from December 2, 2002, the Chávez government was faced with a business 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, industry captains and oil workers. As a consequence, Venezuela stopped exporting a daily average of 2,800,000 barrels (450,000 m³) of oil and derivatives and began to import gasoline for internal use. Chávez replaced the upper management of the Venezuelan national oil company and dismissed 18,000 PDVSA employees, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), on grounds of mismanagement and corruption, although supporters of the oil bosses called the action "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 Rodríguez have repeatedly expressed that the ruling will not be enforced.

The majority of those who participated in the lockout were opposition-supporting management, opposed in particular to Chavez' attempt to gain control of the oil industry from longstanding vested interests. The Chavez government as well as many of the workers who refused to be part of the lockout, and 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 software. This has been compared to the way the 'interim government', who tried to replace the president during their short-lived coup attempt, robbed the Miraflores safe before escaping the Presidential Palace.

Movement to remove Chávez in a referendum

See also: Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004

Chávez supporters march through the streets of Caracas on , , urging a 'No' vote in the upcoming recall.
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Chávez supporters march through the streets of Caracas on August 8, 2004, urging a 'No' vote in the upcoming recall.

In August 2003, opposition leaders began the process to recall Chávez, a procedure first introduced in Venezuela in the 1999 constitution. When the opposition presented the National Electoral Council (CNE) with 3.2 million signatures, the CNE rejected the petition by a vote of 3-0 with 2 members abstaining, ruling that signatures collected before the mid-point of Chávez's term were not valid under Venezuelan law. In November, the opposition conducted another signature drive, again presenting over 3 million signatures.

The recall vote was held on August 15, 2004. Record numbers of voters turned out, and polling hours had to be extended by at least eight hours. 59.25% of the vote was against the recall, for Chávez remaining in office. Election observers Jimmy Carter of the Carter Center and Organization of American States Secretary General César Gaviria endorsed the results of Venezuela's recall referendum. In the following weeks, opposition supporters made numerous claims regarding irregularites. Eventually, most of the opposition agreed that Chávez survived the recall effort.

Arrest of alleged paramilitaries

Main article: Alleged planned Venezuelan coup in 2004

In May 2004, Venezuelan state TV reported the capture of 126 Colombians accused of being paramilitaries, near properties belonging to Cuban exile Roberto Alonso, one of the leaders of the Venezuelan opposition group Bloque Democrático, and media magnate Gustavo Cisneros, a Cuban-Venezuelan Chávez opponent and one of the alleged architects of the 2002 coup. According to one of the detainees, they would have been offered 500,000 Colombian pesos to work on the farm, before being informed that they would have to prepare for an attack on a National Guard base, with the goal of stealing weapons to potentially arm a 3,000-strong militia. [3] (http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/583/583p18b.htm)

Venezuelan policy under Chávez

With Chávez's emergence, there have been many social and economic changes in Venezuela. The Venezuelan business community, represented by the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecámaras), strongly opposes Chávez and his policies, and the largest labor federation has joined them.

Economic and oil policy

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Hugo Chavez meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao on December 23, 2004 during a state visit to China aimed at bolstering his country's oil deals with the world's fastest growing large economy.

Venezuela is a major producer of oil products, and oil is vitally important to the Venezuelan economy. Chávez has gained a reputation as a price hawk in OPEC, pushing for stringent enforcement of production quotas and higher target prices. He has also attempted to broaden Venezuela's customer base, striking joint exploration deals with other developing countries, including Argentina, Brazil, India, and China.

Chávez has redirected the focus of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company, bringing it more closely under the direction of the Minister of Energy. He has also attempted to repatriate more oil funds, by raising the percentage of royalties Venezuela receives on joint extraction contracts, and exploring selling some or all of Citgo's assets, a US-based subsidiary of PDVSA.

International relations

Chávez has made Latin American integration one of the centerpieces of his policies. This has come in many forms: the creation or extension of joint institutions like Petrosur, Telesur, and Mercosur; bilateral trade relationships with other Latin American countries, including arms purchases from Brazil, oil-for-expertise trades with Cuba, and a pipeline through Colombia. Venezuela's relationship with its neighbor Colombia has been rocky at times, though; with events like the Rodrigo Granda affair temporarily throwing the relationship into crisis.

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In May 2005 Presidents Chavez and Castro sign the document creating the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), which deepens integration between the Cuban and Venezuelan economies. The signing was also an apparent protest against the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Venezuela under Chávez has had a mostly antagonistic relationship with the United States. Chávez's public friendship and significant trade relationship with Cuba and Fidel Castro have undermined the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba, and long-running ties between the U.S. and Venezuelan militaries were severed on Chávez's initiative. Chávez's stance as an OPEC price hawk has raised the price of oil for the United States, as Venezuela pushed OPEC producers towards a higher price, around $25 a barrel. 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 US, especially because Chávez had previously referred Hussein "brother." Chávez did respect the ban on international flights to and from Iraq (he drove from Iran, his previous stop).[4] (http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/meast/08/10/iraq.chavez.02/)

Chávez has been intensely critical of U.S. economic and foreign policy: in Iraq, Haiti, regarding the Free Trade Area of the Americas and in numerous other areas. On 20 February 2005, Chávez stated that he had reasons to believe that the U.S. had plans to have him assassinated; he said that any attempt would mean that Venezuela would cut off oil to the U.S. [5] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4282603.stm) His rhetoric has sometimes touched the personal: in response to the ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, Chávez called U.S. President George W. Bush a pendejo ("prick"); in a later speech, he made personal remarks regarding Condoleeza Rice.

The United States has consistently opposed Chávez, recognizing the Carmona government during the 2002 coup, calling Chávez a "negative force" in the region, and requesting support from Venezuela's neighbors in isolating Chávez. The U.S. has opposed and lobbied against numerous arms Venezuelan arms purchases, including a purchase of 100,000 rifles from Russia, which Donald Rumsfeld implied would be passed on to FARC, and the purchase of aircraft from Brazil. At the 2005 meeting of the Organization of American States, a United States resolution to add a mechanism to monitor the nature of democracies was widely seen as a move to isolate Venezuela. The failure of the resolution was seen as politically significant. (For more, see U.S.-Venezuelan relations.)

Social programs

Venezuela under Chávez has started numerous social programs: Barrio Adentro, an initiative to provide free health care to poor and underserved areas, Mission Robinson and Mission Sucre to increase literacy and basic education. The literacy programs are centered on learning to read and understand the Venezuelan Constitution and their inherent rights as Venezuelan citizens. These programs have been criticized as inefficient and incomplete by opposition figures but are widely heralded and appreciated by Chávez backers and by many international observers, including the World Health Organization.

Many of these programs involve importing expertise from abroad; Venezuela is providing Cuba with 53,000 barrels (8,000 m³) of below-market-rate oil a day in exchange for the service of hundreds of physicians, teachers, and other professionals that are severely lacking in Venezuela. (BBC) (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4035787.stm)

Land Reform

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Chávez speaks at an MST camp. (Photo: Marcello Jr/ABr)

The Ley de Tierras ("Land Law"), passed by decree in November 2001, created Plan Zamora to enact land reforms in Venezuelan agriculture: taxing unused landholdings, expropriating unused private lands (with compensation), and giving inheritable, unsellable land grants to small farmers and farm collectives. Venezuela has seen a vast disinvestment in its rural areas since oil wealth was discovered; the country has an urbanization rate of more than 85% and it is a net food importer. The rationale given for this program was that it would provide incentives for the repopulation of the countryside and provide "food security" for the country by lessening dependence on foreign imports. There are three types of land that may be granted under the program: government land, land which is claimed by private owners, but which the government disputes their claim, and disused private land. To date, only the first two types of land have been distributed.

Media

All of the five privately-owned mainstream TV networks and most major mainstream newspapers oppose Chávez, but a small minority of the media is said to support him. Chávez claims the opposition media is controlled by the interests which oppose him, whereas the media accuse him of having intimidated journalists with his pronouncements and of allegedly sending gangs to threaten journalists with physical violence.

The coverage of the 2002 coup by the five mainstream, privately-owned TV networks has been the source of much antagonism between the Chavez government and the media. These five stations openly urged popular support of the coup, showing footage which has come under fire from Chavistas (supporters of Chavez), the government and international journalists for its subjective selection of detail and even manipulation of images. On the first morning after the coup, many of the highest ranking members of the coup appeared on these stations openly thanking them and their owners for their support. Once the counter-coup was launched by Chavistas and Loyalist elements of the Palace Guard, these five stations ran an infamous 'news-blackout', refusing to report on the events, and instead showing old films and repeats of sitcoms.

Even before the April 2002 coup, these five TV networks and the Chavez government have been on very poor relations. Chavez and government officials repeatedly allege that the owners of these networks are allied to the interests of the U.S.A. and the economic policies of neoliberalism. The TV networks have made many comments against Chavez, which include repeatedly alleging that he is insane, has 'a sexual obsession with Castro' and other vitriolic accusations about his political dealings with other nations.

In 2005, the Chávez government announced the creation of Telesur, a proposed Latin America-wide satellite television network to compete with CNN en español and Univisión.

Labor

Chávez has had a combative relationship with the nation's largest trade union confederation, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), historically aligned with the Acción Democrática party. During December 2000 local elections, Chávez placed a referendum on the ballot to force internal elections within unions. The referendum, condemned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) as interference in internal union matters, passed by a large margin on very thin turnout. In the ensuing elections, Carlos Ortega declared victory and remained in office, whereas Chavista candidates declared fraud.

The Unión Nacional de los Trabajadores (UNT, National Workers' Union) is a pro-Chávez union federation which has been growing during Chávez's presidency, with some pro-Chávez unions disaffiliating with CTV because of their strident anti-Chávez activism and affiliation with the UNT. In 2003, Chávez sent UNT representatives to an ILO meeting, rather than CTV.

On January 19, 2005, Chávez nationalized Venepal, a paper- and cardboard-manufacturing company at the request of its workers. The company had gone bankrupt as a result of its participation in the general lockout in 2003. Workers occupied the factory and restarted production, but following a failed deal with management and amidst management threats to sell off equipment, Chávez ordered the nationalization, extended a line of credit, and ordered that the Venezuelan educational missions (see above) purchase paper products from the company.

Military

Before social programs like Barrio Adentro had been created, Chávez enacted Plan Bolivar. A large component of that plan was the involvement of the military in civic development. Each military branch became involved in different areas of development, such as road-building, vaccinations, or housing construction. These programs were widely criticized as corrupt, but Chávez has defended them, arguing that they were the only means of development available to him while his political opposition controlled most of the state bureacracy. [6] (http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=45&ItemID=2841)

Under Chávez, the Venezuelan military has diversified its sources of weaponry, purchasing arms from Brazil, Russia, and Spain. The U.S. has criticized many of these purchases and pressured both Russia and Spain not to carry through with them. Venezuela has also complained that the U.S. has refused or delayed sale of parts for F-16 airplanes which Venezuela had purchased from the U.S. in the 1980s. Venezuelan has distanced itself from the United States military, ending cooperation between the two militaries and asking U.S. soldiers to leave the country.

In 2005, Chávez announced the creation of a large "military reserve" to eventually encompass 1.5 million people.

Democratic Socialism

On 30 January 2005 at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Chávez declared his support for democratic socialism, in his words "a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything." [7] (http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1486) He later reiterated this in a February 26 speech at the 4th Summit on the Social Debt held in Caracas. [8] (http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/americas/02/25/venezuela.chavez.reut/)

See also

External links

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