Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈuɣo ɾafaˈel ˈt͡ʃaβes ˈfɾi.as]; 28 July 1954 – 5 March 2013) was a Venezuelan politician who was President of Venezuela from 1999 to 2013. Chávez was also leader of the Fifth Republic Movement political party from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when it merged with several other parties to form the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which he led until 2012.
Born into a working-class family in Sabaneta, Barinas, Chávez became a career military officer, and after becoming dissatisfied with the Venezuelan political system based on the Puntofijo Pact, he founded the clandestine Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200) in the early 1980s. Chávez led the MBR-200 in an unsuccessful coup d'état against the Democratic Action government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992, for which he was imprisoned. Released from prison after two years, he founded a political party known as the Fifth Republic Movement and was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. He was re-elected in 2000 and again in 2006 with over 60% of the votes. After winning his fourth term as president in the October 2012 presidential election, he was to be sworn in on 10 January 2013, but Venezuela's National Assembly postponed the inauguration to allow him time to recover from medical treatment in Cuba. Suffering a return of the cancer originally diagnosed in June 2011, Chávez died in Caracas on 5 March 2013 at the age of 58.
Following the adoption of a new constitution in 1999, Chávez focused on enacting social reforms as part of the Bolivarian Revolution. Using record-high oil revenues of the 2000s, his government nationalized key industries, created participatory democratic Communal Councils and implemented social programs known as the Bolivarian missions to expand access to food, housing, healthcare and education. Venezuela received high oil profits in the mid-2000s, resulting in temporary improvements in areas such as poverty, literacy, income equality and quality of life occurring primarily between 2003 and 2007, though these gains started to reverse after 2012 and it has been argued that government policies did not address structural inequalities. By the end of Chávez's presidency in the early 2010s, economic actions performed by his government during the preceding decade such as deficit spending and price controls proved to be unsustainable, with Venezuela's economy faltering while poverty, inflation and shortages in Venezuela increased. Chávez's presidency also saw significant increases in the country's murder rate and continued corruption within the police force and government. His use of enabling acts and his government's use of Bolivarian propaganda was also controversial.
Internationally, Chávez aligned himself with the Marxist–Leninist governments of Fidel and then Raúl Castro in Cuba, as well as the socialist governments of Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua). His presidency was seen as a part of the socialist "pink tide" sweeping Latin America. Chávez described his policies as anti-imperialist, being a prominent adversary of the United States's foreign policy as well as a vocal critic of U.S.-supported neoliberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. He described himself as a Marxist. He supported Latin American and Caribbean cooperation and was instrumental in setting up the pan-regional Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, the Bank of the South and the regional television network TeleSUR. Chavez's ideas, programs, and style form the basis of "Chavismo", a political ideology closely associated with Bolivarianism and socialism of the 21st century.
He was born on 28 July 1954 in his paternal grandmother Rosa Inéz Chávez's home, a modest three-room house located in the rural village Sabaneta, Barinas State. The Chávez family were of Amerindian, Afro-Venezuelan, and Spanish descent. His parents, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, described as a proud COPEI member, and Elena Frías de Chávez, were schoolteachers who lived in the small village of Los Rastrojos.
Hugo was born the second of seven children. Hugo described his childhood as "poor... [but] very happy", though his childhood of supposed poverty has been disputed as Chávez possibly changed the story of his background for political reasons. Attending the Julián Pino Elementary School, Chávez was particularly interested in the 19th-century federalist general Ezequiel Zamora, in whose army his own great-great-grandfather had served. With no high school in their area, Hugo's parents sent Hugo and his older brother Adán to live with their grandmother Rosa, who lived in a lower middle class subsidized home provided by the government, where they attended Daniel O'Leary High School in the mid-1960s. Hugo later described his grandmother 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. His father, despite having the salary of a teacher, helped pay for college for Chávez and his siblings.
Aged seventeen, Chávez studied at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in Caracas, following a curriculum known as the Andrés Bello Plan, instituted by a group of progressive, nationalistic military officers. 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, and said that this experience only made him further committed to achieving social justice. He also began to get involved in activities outside of the military school, playing baseball and softball with the Criollitos de Venezuela team, progressing with them to the Venezuelan National Baseball Championships. He also wrote poetry, fiction, and drama, and painted, and he researched 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. 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 Maximum Leader Omar Torrijos, the leftist dictator of Panama, Chávez visited Panama, where he met with Torrijos, and was impressed with his land reform program that was designed to benefit the peasants. Influenced by 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 Torrijos and Velasco, Chávez became highly critical of Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing general who had recently seized control in Chile with the aid of the United States' CIA. Chávez later said, "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 as one of the top graduates of the year.
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. At one point he found 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 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: "By the time I was 21 or 22, I made myself a man of the left".
In 1977, Chávez's unit was transferred to Anzoátegui, where they were involved in battling the Red Flag Party, a Marxist–Hoxhaist insurgency group. After intervening to prevent the beating of an alleged insurgent by other soldiers, Chávez began to have his doubts about the army and their methods in using torture. At the same time, he was becoming increasingly critical of the corruption in the army and in the civilian government, coming to believe Venezuela's poor were not benefiting from the oil wealth, and began to sympathize with the Red Flag Party and their cause and their violent methods.
In 1977, he founded a revolutionary movement within the armed forces, in the hope that he could one day introduce a leftist government to Venezuela: the Venezuelan People's Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación del Pueblo de Venezuela, or ELPV), consisted of him and a handful of his fellow soldiers who had no immediate plans for direct action, though they knew they wanted a middle way between the right wing policies of the government and the far left position of the Red Flag. Nevertheless, hoping to gain an alliance with civilian leftist groups in Venezuela, Chávez set up clandestine meetings with various prominent Marxists, including Alfredo Maneiro (the founder of the Radical Cause) and Douglas Bravo. At this time, Chávez married a working-class woman named Nancy Colmenares, with whom he had three children: Rosa Virginia (born September 1978), Maria Gabriela (born March 1980) and Hugo Rafael (born October 1983).
Five years after his creation of the ELPV, Chávez went on to form a new secretive cell within the military, the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200 (EBR-200), later redesignated the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200). He was inspired by Ezequiel Zamora (1817–1860), Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) and Simón Rodríguez (1769–1854), who became known as the "three roots of the tree" of the MBR-200. Later, Chávez said 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 for the Bolivarian Movement to become a politically dominant party that would "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 MBR's early ideology "was a doctrine in construction, a heterogeneous amalgam of thoughts and ideologies, from universal thought, capitalism, Marxism, but rejecting the neoliberal models currently being imposed in Latin America and the discredited models of the old Soviet Bloc".
In 1981, Chávez, by now a captain, was assigned to teach at the military academy where he had formerly trained. Here he introduced new students to his so-called "Bolivarian" ideals and recruited some of them. By the time they had graduated, at least thirty out of 133 cadets had joined his cause. In 1984 he met Herma Marksman, a recently divorced history teacher with whom he had an affair that lasted several years. During this time Francisco Arias Cárdenas, a soldier interested in liberation theology, also joined MBR-200. Cárdenas rose to a significant position within the group, although he came into ideological conflict with Chávez, with Chávez believing that they should begin direct military action in order to overthrow the government, something Cárdenas thought was reckless.
After some time, some senior military officers became suspicious of Chávez and reassigned him so that he would not be able to gain any more fresh new recruits from the academy. He was sent to take command of the remote barracks at Elorza in Apure State, where he organized social events for the community and contacted the local indigenous tribal peoples, the Cuiva and Yaruro. Distrustful as they were because of the 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. Chávez said his experiences with them later led him to introduce laws protecting the rights of indigenous tribal peoples. 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.
In 1989, centrist Carlos Andrés Pérez (1922–2010) was elected President, and though he had promised to oppose the United States government's Washington Consensus and the International Monetary Fund's policies, he opposed neither once he got into office, following instead neoliberal economic policies supported by the United States and the IMF, angering the public. In an attempt to stop widespread protests and looting that followed his social spending cuts, Pérez initiated Plan Ávila and an outbreak of looting and violent repression of protesters, known as El Caracazo unfolded. Though members of Chávez's MBR-200 movement allegedly participated in the crackdown, Chávez did not; he was then hospitalized with chicken pox. He later condemned the event as "genocide".
Chávez began preparing for a military coup d'état known as Operation Zamora. The plan involved members of the military overwhelming military locations and communication installations and then establishing Rafael Caldera in power once Perez was captured and assassinated. Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup, initially planned for December, until the early twilight hours of 4 February 1992.
On that date five army units under Chávez's command moved into urban Caracas. Despite years of planning, the coup quickly encountered trouble since Chávez commanded the loyalty of less than 10% of Venezuela's military. After numerous betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances, Chávez and a small group of rebels found themselves hiding in the Military Museum, unable to communicate with other members of their team. Pérez managed to escape Miraflores Palace. Fourteen soldiers were killed, and fifty soldiers and some eighty civilians injured during the ensuing violence. Another unsuccessful coup against the government occurred in November, with the fighting during the coups resulting in the deaths of at least 143 people and perhaps as many as several hundred.
Chávez gave himself up to the government and appeared on television, in uniform, to call on the remaining coup members to lay down their arms. Many viewers noted that Chávez in his speech remarked that he had failed only "por ahora" (for now). Venezuelans, particularly poor ones, began seeing him as someone who stood up against government corruption and kleptocracy. The coup "flopped militarily—and dozens died—but made him a media star", noted Rory Carroll of The Guardian.
Chávez was arrested and imprisoned at the San Carlos military stockade, wracked with guilt and feeling responsible for the failure of the coup. Pro-Chávez demonstrations outside San Carlos led to his transfer to Yare Prison. The government meanwhile cracked down on journalists who supported Chávez and the coup. Pérez was impeached a year later for malfeasance and misappropriating funds for illegal activities.
While Chávez and the other senior members of the MBR-200 were in prison, his relationship with Herma Marksman broke up in July 1993. In 1994, Rafael Caldera (1916–2009) of the centrist National Convergence Party who allegedly had knowledge of the coup was elected president and soon afterward he freed Chávez and the other imprisoned MBR-200 members, though Caldera banned them from returning to the military. Chávez went on a 100-day tour of the country, promoting his Bolivarian cause of social revolution. On his tours around the country he met 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 he met Castro and became friends with him. During his stay in Colombia, he spent six months receiving guerilla training and establishing contacts with the FARC and ELN terrorist groups, and even adopted a nom de guerre, Comandante Centeno. After his return to Venezuela, Chávez was critical of President Caldera and his neoliberal economic policies. A drop in per capita income, coupled with increases in poverty and crime, "led to gaps emerging between rulers and ruled which favoured the emergence of a populist leader".
By now Chávez was a supporter of taking military action, believing that the oligarchy would never allow him and his supporters to win an election, while Francisco Arias Cárdenas insisted that they take part in the representative democratic process. Indeed, Cárdenas soon joined the Radical Cause socialist party and won the December 1995 election to become governor of the oil-rich Zulia State. As a result, Chávez and his supporters founded a political party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR – Movimiento Quinta República) in July 1997 in order to support Chávez's candidature in the 1998 presidential election.
At the start of the election run-up, front runner Irene Sáez was backed by one of Venezuela's two primary political parties, Copei. Chávez's revolutionary rhetoric gained him support from Patria Para Todos (Homeland for All), the Partido Comunista Venezolano (Venezeuelan Communist Party) and the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism). Chávez's promises of widespread social and economic reforms won the trust and favor of the primarily poor and working class. By May 1998, Chávez's support had risen to 30% in polls, and by August he was registering 39%. With polls showing support for Chávez increasing, and for Sáez decreasing, both the main two political parties, Copei and Democratic Action, put their support behind Henrique Salas Römer, a Yale University-educated economist who represented the Project Venezuela party.
Voter turnout was 63%, and Chávez won the election with 56% of the vote. Academic analysis of the election showed that Chávez's support had come primarily from the country's poor and "disenchanted middle class", whose standard of living had decreased rapidly over the previous decade, while much of the middle and upper class vote went to Römer.
Chávez's presidential inauguration took place 2 February 1999. He deviated from the usual words of the presidential oath when he took it, proclaiming: "I swear before God and my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times." Freedom in Venezuela suffered following "the decision of President Hugo Chávez, ratified in a national referendum, to abolish congress and the judiciary, and by his creation of a parallel government of military cronies". Soon after being established into office, Chávez spent much of his time attempting to abolish existing checks and balances in Venezuela. He appointed new figures to government posts, adding leftist allies to key positions and "army colleagues were given a far bigger say in the day-to-day running of the country". For instance he put Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 founder Jesús Urdaneta, in charge of the Bolivarian Intelligence Agency and made Hernán Grüber Ódreman, one of the 1992 coup leaders, governor of the Federal District of Caracas.
Chávez appointed conservative, centrist and centre-right figures to government positions as well. He reappointed Caldera's economy minister, Maritza Izaquirre, to her previous position and appointed businessman Roberto Mandini president of the state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. His critics referred to these government officials as the "Boliburguesía" or "Bolivarian bourgeoisie", and highlighted that it "included few people with experience in public administration". The number of his immediate family members in Venezuelan politics led to accusations of nepotism also.
In June 2000 he separated from his wife Marisabel, and their divorce was finalised in January 2004.
The Chávez government's initial policies were moderate, capitalist and centre-left. They had much in common with those of contemporary Latin American leftists like Brazilian president Lula da Silva. Chávez initially believed that capitalism was still a valid economic model for Venezuela, but only Rhenish capitalism, not the US-supported neoliberalism of prior Venezuelan governments. He followed the economic guidelines of the International Monetary Fund and continued to encourage foreign investment in Venezuela, even visiting the New York Stock Exchange in the United States to convince wealthy investors to invest.
Beginning 27 February 1999, the tenth anniversary of the Caracazo massacre, Chávez set into motion a social welfare program called Plan Bolívar 2000. He said he had allotted $20.8 million for the plan, though some say that the program cost $113 million. The plan involved 70,000 soldiers, sailors and members of the air force repairing roads and hospitals, removing stagnant water that offered breeding areas for disease-carrying mosquitoes, offering free medical care and vaccinations, and selling food at low prices.
In May 2000 he launched his own Sunday morning radio show, Aló Presidente (Hello, President), on the state radio network. This followed an earlier Thursday night television show, De Frente con el Presidente (Face to Face with the President). He founded two newspapers, El Correo del Presidente (The President's Post), founded in July, for which he acted as editor-in-chief, and Vea (See), another newspaper, as well as Question magazine and Vive TV. El Correo was later shut down among accusations of corruption and mismanagement. In his television and radio shows, he answered calls from citizens, discussed his latest policies, sang songs and told jokes, making it unique not only in Latin America but the entire world.
Chávez called a public referendum, which he hoped would support his plans to form a constitutional assembly of representatives from across Venezuela and from indigenous tribal groups to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. Chávez said he had to run again; "Venezuela's socialist revolution was like an unfinished painting and he was the artist," he said, while someone else "could have another vision, start to alter the contours of the painting". The momentum of the support he received in previous elections, made the referendum on 25 April 1999 a success for Chávez; 88% of the voters supported his proposal.
Chávez called an election on 25 July to elect the members of the constitutional assembly. Over 900 of the 1,171 candidates standing for election that July were Chávez opponents. Despite the many opposition candidates, Chávez supporters won another overwhelming electoral victory. His supporters took 95% of the seats, 125 in all, including all of the seats assigned to indigenous groups. The opposition won only six seats. The constitutional assembly, filled with supporters of Chávez, began to draft a constitution that made censorship easier and granted the executive branch more power.
On 12 August 1999, the new constitutional assembly voted to give themselves the power to abolish government institutions and to dismiss officials who were perceived as corrupt or as operating only in their own interests. Opponents of the Chávez regime argued that it was therefore dictatorial. Most jurists believed that the new constitutional assembly had become the country's "supreme authority" and that all other institutions were subordinate to it. The assembly also declared a "judicial emergency" and granted itself the power to overhaul the judicial system. The Supreme Court ruled that the assembly did indeed have this authority, and was replaced in the 1999 Constitution with the Supreme Tribunal of Justice.
The Chávez supporting constituent assembly then put together a new constitution. The referendum in December 1999 on whether to adopt it saw a low turnout with an abstention vote of over 50%. However 72% of those who did vote approved the new constitution's adoption. The constitution included progressive language on environmental and indigenous protections, socioeconomic guarantees and state benefits, but also gave greater powers to Chávez. Notably, the presidential term was expanded to six years, and he was allowed to run for two consecutive terms. Previously, a sitting president could not run for reelection for 10 years after leaving office. It also replaced the bicameral Congress with a unicameral Legislative Assembly, and granted Chávez the power to legislate on citizen rights, to promote military officers and to oversee economic and financial matters. The assembly also gave the military a mandated role in the government by empowering it to ensure public order and aid national development, which the previous constitution had expressly forbidden.
In the new constitution, the country, until then officially known as the Republic of Venezuela, was renamed the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (República Bolivariana de Venezuela) at Chávez's request.
The 1999 Venezuelan constitution eliminated much of Venezuela's checks and balances, Chávez's government controlled every branch of the Venezuelan government for over 15 years after it passed until the Venezuelan parliamentary election in 2015.
Under the new constitution, it was legally required that new elections be held in order to re-legitimize the government and president. This presidential election in July 2000 would be a part of a greater "megaelection", the first time in the country's history that the president, governors, national and regional congressmen, mayors and councilmen would be voted for on the same day. Going into the elections, Chávez had control of all three branches of government. For the position of president, Chávez's closest challenger proved to be his former friend and co-conspirator in the 1992 coup, Francisco Arias Cárdenas, who since becoming governor of Zulia state had turned towards the political centre and begun to denounce Chávez as autocratic. Although some of his supporters feared that he had alienated those in the middle class and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy who had formerly supported him, Chávez was re-elected with 60% of the vote (the equivalent of 3,757,000 people), a larger majority than his 1998 electoral victory, again primarily receiving his support from the poorer sectors of Venezuelan society.
That year, Chávez helped to further cement his geopolitical and ideological ties with the Cuban government of Fidel Castro by signing an agreement under which Venezuela would supply Cuba with 53,000 barrels of oil per day at preferential rates, in return receiving 20,000 trained Cuban medics and educators. In the ensuing decade, this would be increased to 90,000 barrels a day (in exchange for 40,000 Cuban medics and teachers), dramatically aiding the Caribbean island's economy and standard of living after its "Special Period" of the 1990s. However, Venezuela's growing alliance with Cuba came at the same time as a deteriorating relationship with the United States: in late 2001, just after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for 11 September attacks against the U.S. by Islamist militants, Chávez showed pictures of Afghan children killed in a bomb attack on his television show. He commented that "They are not to blame for the terrorism of Osama Bin Laden or anyone else", and called on the American government to end "the massacre of the innocents. Terrorism cannot be fought with terrorism." The U.S. government responded negatively to the comments, which were picked up by the media worldwide.
Meanwhile, the 2000 elections had led to Chávez's supporters gaining 101 out of 165 seats in the Venezuelan National Assembly, and so in November 2001 they voted to allow him to pass 49 social and economic decrees. This move antagonized the opposition movement particularly strongly.
At the start of the 21st century, Venezuela was the world's fifth largest exporter of crude oil, with oil accounting for 85% 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.
During Chávez's first term in office, the opposition movement had been "strong but reasonably contained, [with] complaints centering mainly on procedural aspects of the implementation of the constitution". However, much of Chávez's opposition originated from the response to the "cubanization" of Venezuela. Chávez's popularity dropped due to his relationship with Fidel Castro and Cuba, with Chávez attempting to make Venezuela in Cuba's image. Chávez, following Castro's example, consolidated the country's bicameral legislature into a single National Assembly that gave him more power and created community groups of loyal supporters allegedly trained as paramilitaries. Such actions created great fear among Venezuelans who felt like they were tricked and that Chávez had dictatorial goals.
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. Parents noticed that such textbooks were really Cuban books filled with revolutionary propaganda outfitted with different covers. The protest movement, which was primarily by middle class parents whose children went to privately run schools, marched to central Caracas shouting out the slogan "Don't mess with my children." Although the protesters were denounced by Chávez, who called them "selfish and individualistic", the protest was successful enough for the government to retract the proposed education reforms and instead enter into a consensus-based educational program with the opposition.
Later into 2001, an organization known as the Coordinadora Democrática de Acción Cívica (CD) was founded, under which the Venezuelan opposition political parties, corporate powers, most of the country's media, the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, the Institutional Military Front 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.
The CD and other opponents of Chávez's Bolivarian government accused it of trying to turn Venezuela from a democracy into a dictatorship by centralising power amongst its supporters in the Constituent Assembly and granting Chávez increasingly autocratic powers. Many of them pointed to Chávez's personal friendship with Cuba's Fidel Castro and the one-party socialist government in Cuba as a sign of where the Bolivarian government was taking Venezuela. Others did not hold such a strong view but still argued that Chávez was a "free-spending, authoritarian populist" whose policies were detrimental to the country.
On 11 April 2002, during mass protests in Caracas against the Bolivarian government, twenty people were killed, and over 110 were wounded. A group of high-ranking anti-Chávez military officers had been planning to launch a coup against Chávez and used the civil unrest as an opportunity. After the plotters gained significant power, Chávez agreed to be detained and was transferred by army escort to La Orchila; 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 some felt was implementing totalitarian measures, quickly led to Carmona's resignation, and Chávez was returned to power on 14 April.
Chávez's response 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 to increase 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 and training planes from Brazil. Troop numbers were also increased.
In 2002, after appointing political allies to head the PDVSA and replacing the company's board of directors with loyalists who had "little or no experience in the oil industry", Chávez faced a two-month management strike at the PDVSA. 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. According to one observer, this move further damaged the strength of Chávez's opposition by removing the many managers in the oil industry who had been supportive of their cause to overthrow Chávez.
The 1999 constitution had introduced the concept of a recall referendum into Venezuelan politics, so the opposition called for such a referendum to take place. A 2004 referendum to recall Chávez was defeated. 70% of the eligible Venezuelan population turned out to vote, with 59% of voters deciding to keep the president in power. Unlike his original 1998 election victory, this time Chávez's electoral support came almost entirely from the poorer working classes rather than the middle classes, who "had practically abandoned Chávez" after he "had consistently moved towards the left in those five and a half years".
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".
In the presidential election of December 2006, which saw a 74% voter turnout, Chávez was once more elected, this time with 63% of the vote, beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales, who conceded his loss. The election was certified as being free and legitimate by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center. After this victory, Chávez promised an "expansion of the revolution."
On 15 December 2006, Chávez publicly announced that those leftist political parties who had continually supported him in the Patriotic Pole would unite into one single, much larger party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV). In the speech which he gave announcing the PSUV's creation, Chávez declared that the old parties must "forget their own structures, party colours and slogans, because they are not the most important thing for the fatherland". According to political analyst Barry Cannon, the purpose of creating the PSUV was to "forge unity amongst the disparate elements [of the Bolivarian movement], providing grassroots input into policy and leadership formation, [and] uniting the grassroots and leadership into one single body". It was hoped that by doing so, it would decrease the problems of clientelism and corruption and also leave the movement less dependent on its leadership: as Chávez himself declared, "In this new party, the bases will elect the leaders. This will allow real leaders to emerge."
Chávez had initially proclaimed that those leftist parties which chose to not dissolve into the PSUV would have to leave the government, however, after several of those parties supporting him refused to do so, he ceased to issue such threats. There was initially much grassroots enthusiasm for the creation of the PSUV, with membership having risen to 5.7 million people by 2007, making it the largest political group in Venezuela. The United Nations' International Labour Organization however expressed concern over some voters' being pressured to join the party.
In 2007, the Bolivarian government set up a constitutional commission in order to review the 1999 constitution and suggest potential amendments to be made to it. Led by the prominent pro-Chávez intellectual Luis Britto García, the commission came to the conclusion that the constitution could include more socially progressive clauses, such as the shortening of the working week, a constitutional recognition of Afro Venezuelans and the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It also suggested measures that would have increased many of the president's powers, for instance increasing the presidential term limit to seven years, allowing the president to run for election indefinitely and centralizing powers in the executive. The government put the suggested changes to a public referendum in December 2007. Abstention rate was high however, with 44% of registered voters not turning out, and in the end the proposed changes were rejected by 51% 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.
On 7 October 2012, Chávez won election as president for a fourth time, his third six-year term. He defeated Henrique Capriles with 54% of the votes versus 45% for Capriles, which was a lower victory margin than in his previous presidential wins, in the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election Turnout in the election was 80%, with a hotly contested election between the two candidates. There was significant support for Chávez amongst the Venezuelan lower class. Chávez's opposition blamed him for unfairly using state funds to spread largesse before the election to bolster Chavez's support among his primary electoral base, the lower class.
The inauguration of Chávez's new term was scheduled for 10 January 2013, but as he was undergoing medical treatment at the time in Cuba, he was not able to return to Venezuela for that date. The National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello proposed to postpone the inauguration and the Supreme Court decided that, being just another term of the sitting president and not the inauguration of a new one, the formality could be bypassed. The Venezuelan Bishops Conference opposed the verdict, stating that the constitution must be respected and the Venezuelan government had not been transparent regarding details about Chávez's health.
Acting executive officials produced orders of government signed by Chávez, which were suspected of forgery by some opposition politicians, who claimed that Chávez was too sick to be in control of his faculties. Guillermo Cochez, recently dismissed from the office of Panamanian ambassador to the Organization of American States, even claimed that Chávez had been brain-dead since 31 December 2012. Near to Chavez's death, two American attachés were expelled from the country for allegedly undermining Venezuelan democracy.
Due to the death of Chávez, Vice President Nicolas Maduro took over the presidential powers and duties for the remainder of Chávez's abbreviated term until presidential elections were held. Venezuela's constitution specifies that the speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, should assume the interim presidency if a president cannot be sworn in.
Chávez propagated what he called "socialism for the 21st century", but according to the pro-Chavez academic Gregory Wilpert, "Chávez has not clearly defined twenty-first century socialism, other than to say that it is about establishing liberty, equality, social justice, and solidarity. He has also indicated that it is distinctly different from state socialism", as implemented by the governments of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. As a part of his socialist ideas, he emphasised the role of so-called "participatory democracy", which he claimed increased democratic participation, and was implemented through the foundation of the Venezuelan Communal Councils and Bolivarian Circles which he cited as examples of grassroots and participatory democracy.
Hugo Chávez defined his political position as Bolivarianism, an ideology he developed from that of Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) and others. Bolívar was a 19th-century general who led the fight against the colonialist Spanish authorities and who is widely revered across Latin America today. Along with Bolívar, the other two primary influences upon Bolivarianism are Simón Rodríguez (1769–1854), a philosopher who was Bolívar's tutor and mentor, and Ezequiel Zamora, (1817–1860), the Venezuelan Federalist general. Political analyst and Chávez supporter Gregory Wilpert, in his study of Chávez's politics, noted that "The key ingredients for Chávez's revolutionary Bolivarianism can be summarized as: an emphasis on the importance of education, the creation of civilian-military unity, Latin American integration, social justice, and national sovereignty. In many ways this is not a particularly different set of principles and ideas to those of any other Enlightenment or national liberation thinker." Chávez's ideology originating from Bolívar has also received some criticism because Chávez had occasionally described himself as being influenced by Karl Marx, a critic of Bolívar. Beddow and Thibodeaux noted the complications between Bolívar and Marx, stating that "[d]escribing Bolivar as a socialist warrior in the class struggle, when he was actually member of the aristocratic 'criollos,' is peculiar when considering Karl Marx's own writings on Bolivar, whom he dismissed as a false liberator who merely sought to preserve the power of the old Creole nobility which he belonged".
Chávez's connection to Marxism was a complex one, though he had described himself as a Marxist on some occasions. In May 1996, he gave an interview with Agustín Blanco Muñoz in which he remarked that "I am not a Marxist, but I am not anti-Marxist. I am not communist, but I am not anti-communist." In a 2009 speech to the national assembly, he said: "I am a Marxist to the same degree as the followers of the ideas of Jesus Christ and the liberator of America, Simon Bolivar." He was well versed in many Marxist texts, having read the works of many Marxist theoreticians, and often publicly quoted them. Various international Marxists supported his government, believing it to be a sign of proletariat revolution as predicted in Marxist theory. In 2010, Hugo Chávez proclaimed support for the ideas of Marxist Leon Trotsky, saying "When I called him (former Minister of Labour, José Ramón Rivero)" Chávez explained, "he said to me: 'President I want to tell you something before someone else tells you ... I am a Trotskyist', and I said, 'well, what is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist! I follow Trotsky's line, that of permanent revolution," and then cited Marx and Lenin.
Chávez's early heroes were nationalist military dictators that included former Peruvian president Juan Velasco Alvarado and former Panamanian "Maximum Leader" Omar Torrijos. One dictator Chávez admired was Marcos Pérez Jiménez, a former president of Venezuela that he praised for the public works he performed. Chávez praised Pérez Jiménez in order to vilify preceding democratic governments, stating that "General Pérez Jiménez was the best president Venezuela had in a long time ... He was much better than Rómulo Betancourt, much better than all of those others. They hated him because he was a soldier."
Chávez was also well acquainted with the various traditions of Latin American socialism, espoused by such figures as Colombian politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán and former Chilean president Salvador Allende. Early in his presidency, Chávez was advised and influenced by the Argentine Peronist Norberto Ceresole. Cuban Communist revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro also influenced Chávez, especially with Castro's government assistance with the Bolivarian Missions. Other indirect influences on Chávez's political philosophy are the writings of American linguist Noam Chomsky and the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ. Other inspirations of Chávez's political view are Giuseppe Garibaldi, Antonio Gramsci and Antonio Negri.
In September 2006, Chávez said 9/11 conspiracy theories were "not absurd" and that "A building never collapses like that, unless it’s with an implosion." Chávez also told Christopher Hitchens that he did not believe that the footage of the Apollo 11 moon landings was genuine.
This section may be too long to read and navigate comfortably. (December 2014)
From his election in 1998 until his death in March 2013, Chávez's administration proposed and enacted democratic socialist economic policies. Domestic policies included redistribution of wealth, land reform, and democratization of economic activity via workplace self-management and creation of worker-owned cooperatives.
With increasing oil prices in the early 2000s and funds not seen in Venezuela since the 1980s, Chávez created the Bolivarian Missions, aimed at providing public services to improve economic, cultural, and social conditions so he could maintain political power. According to Corrales and Penfold, "aid was disbursed to some of the poor, and more gravely, in a way that ended up helping the president and his allies and cronies more than anyone else". The Missions entailed the construction of thousands of free medical clinics for the poor, and the enactment of food and housing subsidies. A 2010 OAS report indicated achievements in addressing illiteracy, healthcare and poverty, and economic and social advances. The quality of life for Venezuelans had also improved temporarily according to a UN Index. Teresa A. Meade wrote that Chávez's popularity strongly depended "on the lower classes who have benefited from these health initiatives and similar policies".
The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, also dropped from .495 in 1998 to .39 in 2011, putting Venezuela behind only Canada in the Western Hemisphere. Venezuelans aged 15 and older, 95% could also read and write, with Venezuela having one of the highest literacy rates in the region, though some scholars have disputed that literacy improvements during Chavez's presidency resulted from his administration's policies. The poverty rate fell from 48.6% in 1999 to 32.1% in 2013, according to the Venezuelan government's National Statistics Institute (INE). The drop of Venezuela's poverty rate compared to poverty in other South American countries was slightly behind that of Peru, Brazil and Panama with the poverty rate becoming higher than the Latin American average in 2013 according to the UN. In the two years following Chávez's death, the poverty rate returned to where it had been before his presidency, with a 2017 NACLA analysis stating that "reductions in poverty and inequality during the Chávez years were real, but somewhat superficial ... structural poverty and inequality, such as the quality of housing, neighborhoods, education, and employment, remained largely unchanged".
The social works initiated by Chávez's government relied on oil products, the keystone of the Venezuelan economy, with Chávez's administration suffering from Dutch disease as a result. Economist Mark Weisbrot, in a 2009 analysis of the Chávez administration stated that economic expansion during Chávez's tenure "began when the government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003". Chávez gained a reputation as a price hawk in OPEC, pushing for stringent enforcement of production quotas and higher target oil prices. According to Cannon, the state income from oil revenue grew "from 51% of total income in 2000 to 56% 2006"; oil exports increased "from 77% in 1997 [...] to 89% in 2006"; and his administration's dependence on petroleum sales was "one of the chief problems facing the Chávez government". In 2012, the World Bank also explained that Venezuela's economy is "extremely vulnerable" to changes in oil prices since in 2012 "96% of the country's exports and nearly half of its fiscal revenue" relied on oil production, while by 2008, according to Foreign Policy, exports of everything but oil "collapsed". The Chávez administration then used such oil prices on his populist policies to gain the approval of voters.
Economists say that the Venezuelan government's overspending on social programs and strict business policies contributed to imbalances in the country's economy, contributing to rising inflation, poverty, low healthcare spending and shortages in Venezuela going into the final years of his presidency. Such occurrences, especially the risk of default and the unfriendliness toward private businesses, led to a lack of foreign investment and stronger foreign currencies, though the Venezuelan government argued that the private sector had remained relatively unchanged during Chavez's presidency despite several nationalizations. In January 2013 near the end of Chávez's presidency, The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal gave Venezuela's economic freedom a low score of 36.1, twenty points lower than 56.1 in 1999, ranking its freedom very low at 174 of 177 countries, with freedom on a downward trend. Nicholas Kozloff, Chávez's biographer, stated of Chávez's economic policies: "Chávez has not overturned capitalism, he has done much to challenge the more extreme, neo-liberal model of development." According to analysts, the economic woes Venezuela suffered under President Nicolás Maduro would have still occurred with or without Chávez.
In the 1980s and 1990s health and nutrition indexes in Venezuela were generally low, and social inequality in access to nutrition was high. Chávez made it his stated goal to lower inequality in the access to basic nutrition, and to achieve food sovereignty for Venezuela. The main strategy for making food available to all economic classes was a controversial policy of fixing price ceilings for basic staple foods implemented in 2003. Between 1998 and 2006 malnutrition related deaths fell by 50%. In October 2009, the Executive Director of the National Institute of Nutrition (INN) Marilyn Di Luca reported that the average daily caloric intake of the Venezuelan people had reached 2790 calories, and that malnutrition had fallen from 21% in 1998 to 6%.[better source needed] Chávez also expropriated and redistributed 5 million acres of farmland from large landowners.
Price controls initiated by Chávez created shortages of goods since merchants could no longer afford to import necessary goods. Chávez blamed "speculators and hoarders" for these scarcities and strictly enforced his price control policy, denouncing anyone who sold food products for higher prices as "speculators". In 2011, food prices in Caracas were nine times higher than when the price controls were put in place and resulted in shortages of cooking oil, chicken, powdered milk, cheese, sugar and meat. The price controls increased the demand for basic foods while making it difficult for Venezuela to import goods causing increased reliance on domestic production. Economists believe this policy increased shortages. Shortages of food then occurred throughout the rest of Chávez's presidency with food shortage rates between 10% and 20% from 2010 to 2013. One possible reason for shortages is the relationship between inflation and subsidies, where no profitability due to price regulations affect operations. In turn, the lack of dollars made it difficult to purchase more food imports. Chávez's strategy in response to food shortages consisted of attempting to increase domestic production through nationalizing large parts of the food industry, though such nationalizations allegedly did the opposite and caused decreased production instead.
As part of his strategy of food security Chávez started a national chain of supermarkets, the Mercal network, which had 16,600 outlets and 85,000 employees that distributed food at highly discounted prices, and ran 6000 soup kitchens throughout the country. Simultaneously Chávez expropriated many private supermarkets. According to Commerce Minister Richard Canan, "The average [savings] for the basic food bundle (at the Mercal Bicentennial markets) is around 30%. There are some products, for example cheese and meat, which reach a savings of 50 to 60% compared with capitalist markets." The Mercal network was criticized by some commentators as being a part of Chávez's strategy to brand himself as a provider of cheap food, and the shops feature his picture prominently.[according to whom?] The Mercal network was also subject to frequent scarcities of basic staples such as meat, milk and sugar—and when scarce products arrived, shoppers had to wait in lines.
After his election in 1998, more than 100,000 state-owned cooperatives—which claimed to represent some 1.5 million people—were formed with the assistance of government start-up credit and technical training; and the creation and maintenance, as of September 2010, of over 30,000 communal councils, examples of localised participatory democracy; which he intended to be integrated into regional umbrella organizations known as "Communes in Construction".
In 2010, Chávez supported the construction of 184 communes, housing thousands of families, with $23 million in government funding. The communes produced some of their own food, and were able to make decisions by popular assembly of what to do with government funds. In September 2010, Chávez announced the location of 876 million bolivars ($203 million) for community projects around the country, specifically communal councils and the newly formed communes. Chávez also criticised the bureaucracy still common in Venezuela saying, when in discussion with his Communes Minister Isis Ochoa, that "All of the projects must be carried out by the commune, not the bureaucracy." The Ministry for Communes, which oversees and funds all communal projects, was initiated in 2009. Despite such promises, the Venezuelan government often failed to construct the number of homes they had proposed. According to Venezuela's El Universal, one of the Chávez administration's outstanding weaknesses is the failure to meet its goals of construction of housing.
In the first few years of Chavez's office, his newly created social programs required large payments in order to make the desired changes. On 5 February 2003, the government created CADIVI, a currency control board charged with handling foreign exchange procedures. Its creation was to control capital flight by placing limits on individuals and only offering them so much of a foreign currency. This limit to foreign currency led to a creation of a currency black market economy since Venezuelan merchants rely on foreign goods that require payments with reliable foreign currencies. As Venezuela printed more money for their social programs, the bolívar continued to devalue for Venezuelan citizens and merchants since the government held the majority of the more reliable currencies.
The implied value or "black market value" is what Venezuelans believe the Bolivar Fuerte is worth compared to the United States dollar. The high rates in the black market make it difficult for businesses to purchase necessary goods since the government often forces these businesses to make price cuts. This leads to businesses selling their goods and making a low profit. Since businesses make low profits, this leads to shortages since they are unable to import the goods that Venezuela is reliant on.
During the 1980s and 1990s there was a steady increase in crime in Latin America. The countries of Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Brazil all had homicide rates above the regional average. During his terms as president, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans were murdered due to violent crimes occurring in the country. Gareth A. Jones and Dennis Rodgers stated in their book Youth violence in Latin America: Gangs and Juvenile Justice in Perspective that, "With the change of political regime in 1999 and the initiation of the Bolivarian Revolution, a period of transformation and political conflict began, marked by a further increase in the number and rate of violent deaths" showing that in four years, the murder rate had increased to 44 per 100,000 people. Kidnappings also rose tremendously during Chavez's tenure, with the number of kidnappings over 20 times higher in 2011 than when Chavez was elected. Documentary filmmaker James Brabazon, stated "kidnapping crimes had skyrocketed ... after late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez freed thousands of violent prisoners as part of controversial criminal justice system reforms" while kidnappings and murders also increased due to Colombian organized crime activity as well. He further explained that common criminals felt that the Venezuelan government did not care for the problems of the higher and middle classes, which in turn gave them a sense of impunity that created a large business of kidnapping-for-ransom.
Under Chávez's administration, crimes were so prevalent that by 2007 the government no longer produced crime data. Homicide rates in Venezuela more than tripled, with one NGO finding the rate to have nearly quadrupled. The majority of the deaths occur in crowded slums in Caracas. The NGO found that the number of homicides in the country increased from 6,000 in 1999 to 24,763 in 2013. In 2010 Caracas had the highest murder rate in the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2012 there were 13,080 murders in Venezuela.
In leaked government INE data for kidnappings in the year 2009, the number of kidnappings were at an estimated 16,917, contrasting the CICPCs number of only 673, before the Venezuelan government blocked the data. According to the leaked INE report, only 1,332 investigations for kidnappings were opened or about 7% of the total kidnapping cases, with 90% of the kidnappings happening away from rural areas, 80% of all being express kidnappings and the most common victim being lower-middle or middle class Venezuelans and middle-aged men. Also in 2009, it was reported that Venezuelan authorities would assign judicial police to Caracas area morgues to speak with families. At that time, they would advise families not to report the murder of their family member to the media in exchange for expediting the process of releasing the victim's body.
In September 2010, responding to escalating crime rates in the country, Chávez stated that Venezuela is no more violent than it was when he first took office. An International Crisis Group report that same year stated that when Chávez took office, there were some factors beyond his control that led to the crime epidemic throughout Venezuela, but that Chávez ignored it as well as corruption in the country; especially among fellow state officials. The report also stated that international organised crime filters between Colombia and Venezuela with assistance from "the highest spheres of government" in Venezuela, leading to higher rates of kidnapping, drug trafficking, and homicides. Chávez supporters stated that the Bolivarian National Police has reduced crime and also said that the states with the highest murder rates were controlled by the opposition.
During Chávez's presidency, there were reports of prisoners having easy access to firearms, drugs, and alcohol. Carlos Nieto—head of Window to Freedom—alleges that heads of gangs acquire military weapons from the state, saying: "They have the types of weapons that can only be obtained by the country's armed forces. ... No one else has these." Use of internet and mobile phones are also a commonplace where criminals can take part in street crime while in prison. One prisoner explained how, "If the guards mess with us, we shoot them" and that he had "seen a man have his head cut off and people play football with it".
Edgardo Lander, a sociologist and professor at the Central University of Venezuela with a PhD in sociology from Harvard University explained that Venezuelan prisons were "practically a school for criminals" since young inmates come out "more sort of trained and hardened than when they went in". He also explained that prisons are controlled by gangs and that "very little has been done" to control them.
The electoral processes surrounding Venezuela's democracy under Chávez were often observed controversially. Given the protests and strikes, some of which were quite big, like in 10 December 2001, then the largest in the history of Venezuela, some confidential cables published on Wikileaks tried to explain the discrepancy between Chávez's relatively low popularity and his overwhelming electoral victory.
According to the cables, Hugo Chávez used "practically unlimited state resources" for propaganda activities, and high oil prices facilitated his success. The opposition, on the contrary, was divided into different parties, which ran for the same office, and the limited financial resources were badly invested. During his re-election campaigns, Chávez handed out huge amounts of money in exchange for votes. He reportedly mobilized the lower class Venezuelan voters who had historically abstained from elections for years, providing both undocumented Venezuelans and foreigners with identity cards; 200,000 foreigners were naturalized before August 2004 and around 3,000–4,000 foreigners per year that might have been naturalized thereafter. Most of them purportedly voted for him.
According to the same cable, Chávez had control over the CNE (National Electoral Council) "and, by extension, the international observer missions." Moreover, "The CNE's decision to use fingerprinting machines "cazahuellas" to verify a voter's identity led to the widespread belief that a person's vote would not be secret".
Finally, Chávez allegedly used the judiciary in order to detain or intimidate opposition politicians or NGOs accused of receiving money from the United States (through the National Endowment for Democracy – NED) purportedly in order to overthrow the government. According to the same source, the received money amounts to $30,000. He reportedly also put pressure in the attorney general's office in order to replace three key employees and have any case that might damage the government or Chávez himself undisclosed.
In December 1998, Hugo Chávez declared three goals for the new government; "convening a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, eliminating government corruption, and fighting against social exclusion and poverty". However, during Hugo Chávez's time in power, corruption has become widespread throughout the government due to impunity towards members of the government, bribes and the lack of transparency. In 2004, Hugo Chávez and his allies took over the Supreme Court, filling it with supporters of Chávez and made new measures so the government could dismiss justices from the court. According to the libertarian Cato Institute, the National Electoral Council of Venezuela was under control of Chávez where he tried to "push a constitutional reform that would have allowed him unlimited opportunities for reelection". The Corruption Perceptions Index, produced annually by the Berlin-based NGO Transparency International (TNI), reported that in the later years of Chávez's tenure, corruption worsened; it was 158th out of 180 countries in 2008, and 165th out of 176 (tied with Burundi, Chad, and Haiti). Most Venezuelans believed the government's effort against corruption was ineffective; that corruption had increased; and that government institutions such as the judicial system, parliament, legislature, and police were the most corrupt.
In Gallup Poll's 2006 Corruption Index, Venezuela ranked 31st out of 101 countries according to how widespread the population perceive corruption as being in the government and in business. The index listed Venezuela as the second least corrupt nation in Latin America, behind Chile. Some criticism came from Chávez's supporters, as well. Chávez's own political party, Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), had been criticized as being riddled with the same cronyism, political patronage, and corruption that Chávez alleged were characteristic of the old "Fourth Republic" political parties. Venezuela's trade unionists and indigenous communities participated in peaceful demonstrations intended to impel the government to facilitate labor and land reforms. These communities, while largely expressing their sympathy and support for Chávez, criticized what they saw as Chávez's slow progress in protecting their interests against managers and mining concerns, respectively.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), "Chavez's government funded FARC's office in Caracas and gave it access to Venezuela's intelligence services" and said that during the 2002 coup attempt that "FARC also responded to requests from [Venezuela's intelligence service] to provide training in urban terrorism involving targeted killings and the use of explosives". The IISS continued saying that "the archive offers tantalizing but ultimately unproven suggestions that FARC may have undertaken assassinations of Chavez's political opponents on behalf of the Venezuelan state". Venezuelan diplomats denounced the IISS' findings saying that they had "basic inaccuracies".
In 2007, authorities in Colombia claimed that through laptops they had seized on a raid against Raúl Reyes, they found in documents that Hugo Chávez offered payments of as much as $300 million to the FARC "among other financial and political ties that date back years" along with other documents showing "high-level meetings have been held between rebels and Ecuadorean officials" and some documents claiming that FARC had "bought and sold uranium".
In 2015, Chávez's former bodyguard Leamsy Salazar stated in Bumerán Chávez that Chávez met with the high command of FARC in 2007 somewhere in rural Venezuela. Chávez created a system in which the FARC would provide the Venezuelan government with drugs that would be transported in live cattle and the FARC would receive money and weaponry from the Venezuelan government. According to Salazar, this was done in order to weaken Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, an enemy of Chávez.
In the 1999 Venezuelan constitution, 116 of the 350 articles were concerned with human rights; these included increased protections for indigenous peoples and women, and established the rights of the public to education, housing, healthcare, and food. It called for dramatic democratic reforms such as ability to recall politicians from office by popular referendum, increased requirements for government transparency, and numerous other requirements to increase localized, participatory democracy, in favor of centralized administration. It gave citizens the right to timely and impartial information, community access to media, and a right to participate in acts of civil disobedience.
Shortly after Hugo Chávez's election, ratings for freedom in Venezuela dropped according to political and human rights group Freedom House and Venezuela was rated "partly free". In 2004, Amnesty International criticized President Chavez's administration of not handling the 2002 coup in a proper manner, saying that violent incidents "have not been investigated effectively and have gone unpunished" and that "impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators encourages further human rights violations in a particularly volatile political climate". Amnesty International also criticized the Venezuelan National Guard and the Direccion de Inteligencia Seguridad y Prevención (DISIP) stating that they "allegedly used excessive force to control the situation on a number of occasions" during protests involving the 2004 Venezuela recall. It was also noted that many of the protesters detained seemed to not be "brought before a judge within the legal time limit".
In 2008, Human Rights Watch released a report reviewing Chávez's human rights record over his first decade in power. The report praises Chávez's 1999 amendments to the constitution which significantly expanded human rights guarantees, as well as mentioning improvements in women's rights and indigenous rights, but noted a "wide range of government policies that have undercut the human rights protections established" by the revised constitution. In particular, the report accused Chávez and his administration of engaging in discrimination on political grounds, eroding the independence of the judiciary, and of engaging in "policies that have undercut journalists' freedom of expression, workers' freedom of association, and civil society's ability to promote human rights in Venezuela". The Venezuelan government retaliated for the report by expelling members of Human Rights Watch from the country. Subsequently, over a hundred Latin American scholars signed a joint letter with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a leftist NGO that would defend Chávez and his movement, with the individuals criticizing the Human Rights Watch report for its alleged factual inaccuracy, exaggeration, lack of context, illogical arguments, and heavy reliance on opposition newspapers as sources, amongst other things.
In 2010, Amnesty International criticized the Chávez administration for targeting critics following several politically motivated arrests. Freedom House listed Venezuela as being "partly free" in its 2011 Freedom in the World annual report, noting a recent decline in civil liberties. A 2010 Organization of American States report found concerns with freedom of expression, human rights abuses, authoritarianism, press freedom, threats to democracy, as well as erosion of separation of powers, the economic infrastructure and ability of the president to appoint judges to federal courts. OAS observers were denied access to Venezuela; Chávez rejected the OAS report, pointing out that its authors did not even come to Venezuela. He said Venezuela should boycott the OAS, which he felt is dominated by the United States; a spokesperson said, "We don't recognize the commission as an impartial institution". He disclaimed any power to influence the judiciary. A Venezuelan official said the report distorted and took statistics out of context, and said that "human rights violations in Venezuela have decreased". Venezuela said it would not accept an IACHR/OAS visit as long as Santiago Cantón remains its Executive Secretary, unless the IACHR apologizes for what he[clarification needed] described as its support of the 2002 coup.
In November 2014, Venezuela appeared before the United Nations Committee Against Torture over cases between 2002 and 2014. Human rights expert of the UN committee, Felice D. Gaer, noted that in "only 12 public officials have been convicted of human rights violations in the last decade when in the same period have been more than 5,000 complaints". The United Nations stated that there were 31,096 complaints of human rights violations received between the years 2011 and 2014. Of the 31,096 complaints, 3% of the cases resulted in only in an indictment by the Venezuelan Public Ministry.
Chavez's opposition to Zionism and close relations with Iran led to accusations of antisemitism Such claims were made by the Venezuelan Jewish community at a World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Jerusalem. Claims of antisemitism were prompted by various remarks Chávez made, including in a 2006 Christmas speech where he complained that "a minority, the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ", now had "taken possession of all of the wealth of the world". In 2009, attacks on a synagogue in Caracas were alleged to be influenced by "vocal denunciations of Israel" by the Venezuelan state media and Hugo Chávez even though Chavez promptly condemned the attacks blaming an "oligarchy". A weeklong investigation by the Venezuelan CICPC revealed the synagogue attack to be an 'inside job', the motive apparently being robbery rather than anti-semitism.
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."
In July 2005 Chávez inaugurated TeleSUR, a pan-American news channel similar to Al Jazeera, which 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).
Chávez also had a Twitter account with more than 3,200,000 followers as of August 2012. A team of 200 people sorted 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".
Though Chávez inspired other movements in Latin America to follow his model of chavismo in an attempt to reshape South America, it was later seen as being erratic and his influence internationally became exaggerated. He refocused Venezuelan foreign policy on Latin American economic and social integration by enacting bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements, including his so-called "oil diplomacy" making Venezuela more dependent on using oil, its main commodity, and increasing its longterm vulnerability. Chávez also aligned himself with authoritarian nations and radical movements that were seen as being anti-Western, with relations with Cuba and Iran becoming a particular importance. Chávez focused on a variety of multinational institutions to promote his vision of Latin American integration, including Petrocaribe, Petrosur, and TeleSUR. Bilateral trade relationships with other Latin American countries also played a major role in his policy, with Chávez increasing arms purchases from Brazil, forming oil-for-expertise trade arrangements with Cuba, and creating unique barter arrangements that exchange Venezuelan petroleum for cash-strapped Argentina's meat and dairy products. He also befriended pariah states such as Belarus and Iran. Domestic mishandling of the country under Chávez prevented Venezuela from strengthening its position in the world.
Chávez married twice. He first wed Nancy Colmenares, a woman from a poor family in Chávez's hometown of Sabaneta. Chávez and Colmenares remained married for 18 years, during which time they had three children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, and Hugo Rafael, the latter of whom suffers from behavioural problems. The couple separated soon after Chávez's 1992 coup attempt. During his first marriage, Chávez had an affair with historian Herma Marksman; their relationship lasted nine years. Chávez's second wife was journalist Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez, with whom he separated in 2002 and divorced in 2004. Through that marriage, Chávez had another daughter, Rosinés. Both María and Rosa had children. When Chávez was released from prison, he initiated affairs with women that had been his followers. Allegations were also made that Chávez was a womanizer throughout both his marriages, having encounters with actresses, journalists, ministers, and ministers' daughters. The allegations remained unproven and are contradicted by statements provided by other figures close to him, though one retired aide shared that while Chávez was married to Marisabel and afterward, he participated in liaisons with women and gave them gifts, with some rumors among his aides stating that some of the women bore children from Chávez.
Those who were very close to Chávez felt that he had bipolar disorder. Salvador Navarrete, a physician that treated Chávez during his first years in the presidency believed that Chávez was bipolar. In 2010, Alberto Müller Rojas, then vice president of Chávez's party, PSUV, stated that Chávez had "a tendency toward cyclothymia—mood swings that range from moments of extreme euphoria to moments of despondence". A different explanation was that such behavior was a tactic used by Chávez in order to attack opponents and polarize.
Chávez was a Catholic. He intended at one time to become a priest. He saw his socialist policies as having roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ (liberation theology), and he publicly used the slogan of "Christ is with the Revolution!" Although he traditionally kept his own faith a private matter, Chávez over the course of his presidency became increasingly open to discussing his religious views, stating that he interpreted Jesus as a Communist. He was, in general, a liberal Catholic, some of whose declarations were disturbing to the religious community of his country. In 2008 he expressed his skepticism of an afterlife, saying that such an idea was false. He also would declare his belief in Darwin's theory of evolution, stating that "it is a lie that God created man from the ground."[clarification needed] Among other things, he cursed the state of Israel, and he had some disputes with both the Venezuelan Catholic clergy and Protestant groups like the New Tribes Mission, whose evangelical leader he "condemned to hell". In addition, he showed syncretistic practices such as the worship of the Venezuelan goddess María Lionza. In his last years, after he discovered he had cancer, Chávez became more attached to the Catholic Church.
In June 2011, Chávez revealed in a televised address from Havana, Cuba, that he was recovering from an operation to remove an abscessed tumor with cancerous cells. Vice President Elías Jaua declared that the President remained in "full exercise" of power and that there was no need to transfer power due to his absence from the country. On 3 July, the Venezuelan government denied, however, that Chávez's tumour had been completely removed, further stating that he was heading for "complete recovery". On 17 July 2011, television news reported that Chávez had returned to Cuba for further cancer treatments.
Chávez gave a public appearance on 28 July 2011, his 57th birthday, in which he stated that his health troubles had led him to radically reorient his life towards a "more diverse, more reflective and multi-faceted" outlook, and he went on to call on the middle classes and the private sector to get more involved in his Bolivarian Revolution, something he saw as "vital" to its success. Soon after this speech, in August Chávez announced that his government would nationalize Venezuela's gold industry, taking it over from Russian-controlled company Rusoro, while at the same time also moving the country's gold stocks, which were largely stored in western banks, to banks in Venezuela's political allies like Russia, China and Brazil.
On 9 July 2012, Chávez declared himself fully recovered from cancer just three months before the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election, which he won, securing a fourth term as president. In November 2012, Chávez announced plans to travel to Cuba for more medical treatment for cancer.
On 8 December 2012, Chávez announced he would undergo a new operation after doctors in Cuba detected malignant cells; the operation took place on 11 December 2012. Chávez suffered a respiratory infection after undergoing the surgery but it was controlled. It was announced on 20 December by the country's vice-president that Chávez had suffered complications following his surgery. It was announced on 3 January 2013 that Chávez had a severe lung infection that had caused respiratory failures following a strict treatment regimen for respiratory insufficiency. However he was reported to have overcome this later that month, and it was reported that he was then undergoing further treatment. On 18 February 2013, Chávez returned to Venezuela after 2 months of cancer treatment in Cuba. On 1 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said that Chávez had been receiving chemotherapy in Venezuela following his surgery in Cuba. On 4 March, it was announced by the Venezuelan government that Chávez's breathing problems had worsened and he was suffering a new, severe respiratory infection.
On 5 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on state television that Chávez had died in a military hospital in Caracas at 16:25 VET (20:55 UTC). The Vice President said Chávez died "after battling a tough illness for nearly two years". According to the head of Venezuela's presidential guard, Chávez died from a massive heart attack, and his colon cancer was very advanced when he died. Gen. Jose Ornella said that near the end of his life Chávez could not speak aloud, but mouthed his last words: "Yo no quiero morir, por favor no me dejen morir" (I don't want to die. Please don't let me die). Chávez is survived by four children and four grandchildren.
Alfredo Molero, then Minister of Defense, alleged that Chávez was poisoned or infected with a cancer virus by the U.S. government. A spokesman for the U.S State Department dismissed the claim as "absurd".
His death triggered a constitutional requirement that a presidential election be called within 30 days. Chavez's Vice President, Maduro, was elected president on 14 April 2013.
|Award or decoration||Country||Date||Place||Note|
|Order of José Marti||Cuba||17 November 1999||Havana||Cuban highest order of merit.|
|Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry||Portugal||8 November 2001||Lisbon|
|First Class of the Order of the Islamic Republic of Iran||Iran||29 July 2006||Tehran||Highest national medal of Iran.|
|Order of Augusto César Sandino||Nicaragua||11 January 2007||Managua||Highest honour of the Republic of Nicaragua.|
|Order of the Friendship of Peoples||Belarus||23 July 2008||Minsk|
|Order of the Republic of Serbia||Serbia||6 March 2013||Belgrade||Serbian highest order of merit. Awarded posthumously.|
The United States-based Time magazine included Chávez among their list of the world's 100 most influential people in 2005 and 2006, noting the spreading of his anti-globalization efforts and anti-US sentiment throughout Latin America. In a 2006 list compiled by the leftist British magazine New Statesman, he was voted 11th in the list of "Heroes of our time". In 2010 the magazine included Chávez in its annual The World's 50 Most Influential Figures. His biographers Marcano and Tyszka believed that within only a few years of his presidency, he "had already earned his place in history as the president most loved and most despised by the Venezuelan people, the president who inspired the greatest zeal and the deepest revulsion at the same time".
Chávez was awarded the following honorary degrees:
Finally, it is important to realize that the reductions in poverty and inequality during the Chávez years were real, but somewhat superficial. While indicators of income and consumption showed clear progress, the harder-to-change characteristics of structural poverty and inequality, such as the quality of housing, neighborhoods, education, and employment, remained largely unchanged.
Voter turnout rose significantly in the 1998 elections, reversing a two-decade trend toward lower participation.
For Chávez the show accomplishes a number of political objectives. First, it sustains and builds popular support for his leadership. By spending hours each week in front of a camera Chávez reinforces the message that he is the leader of his political movement and the government of Venezuela, its living symbol. Second, the television show is oriented to, and popular among, the lower classes of Venezuela who have traditionally remained outside of the political process.
News articles, reports and essays
Websites and e-publications
|Library resources about
|Party political offices|
|New office||Leader of the Fifth Republic Movement
|Leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela
|President of Venezuela