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Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías ( ) (born July 28, 1954) is the President of Venezuela. As the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chávez promotes a political doctrine of participatory democracy, socialism and Latin American and Caribbean cooperation. He is also a critic of neoliberalism, globalization, and United Statesmarker foreign policy.

A career military officer, Chávez founded the left-wing Fifth Republic Movement after orchestrating a failed 1992 coup d'état against former President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Chávez was elected President in 1998 with a campaign centering on promises of aiding Venezuela's poor majority, and was reelected in 2000 and in 2006. Domestically, Chávez has maintained nationwide Bolivarian Missions, whose goals are to combat disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty, and other social ills. Abroad, Chávez has acted against the Washington Consensus by supporting alternative models of economic development, and has advocated cooperation among the world's poor nations, especially those in Latin America.

Chávez's policies have evoked controversy in Venezuelamarker and abroad, receiving everything from vehement criticism to enthusiastic support. During the presidency of George W. Bush the government of the United States stated at various points that Chávez was a threat to democracy in Latin America. Quote:

Mr Chavez has often accused President Bush, of being the Devil, a mass murderer and a drunk. The White House has frequently retaliated by saying Venezuela's left-wing leader was threatening democracy in the region. Many other governments sympathize with his ideology or welcome his bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements. In 2005 and 2006 he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people.

Early life (1954–1992)

Chávez was born on July 28, 1954 in the town of Sabanetamarker, Barinasmarker. The second son of two schoolteachers, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez and Elena Frías de Chávez. He is the younger brother of the current governor of Barinas Adán Chávez, and the mayor of Sabaneta, Barinasmarker, Anibal José Chávez Frías. The family is of mixed Amerindian, Afro-Venezuelan, and Spanish descent. Chávez was born in a mud hut near Sabaneta. Due to the Chávez family's impoverished conditions, Hugo Chávez was sent to Sabaneta with his older brother Adán to live with his paternal grandmother, Rosa Inés Chávez. There, he pursued hobbies such as painting, singing, and baseball, while also attending elementary school at the Julián Pino School. He was later forced to relocate to the town of Barinas to attend high school at the Daniel Florencio O'Leary School.

Military career

At age seventeen, Chávez enrolled at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences. After graduating in 1975 as a sub-lieutenant with a degree in Military Arts and Science, Chávez entered military service for several months. He was then allowed to pursue graduate studies in political science at Caracasmarker' Simón Bolívar Universitymarker, but left without a degree.

Over the course of his college years, Chávez and fellow students developed a left-wing nationalist doctrine that they termed "Bolivarianism," inspired by the Pan-American philosophy of 19th century Venezuelan revolutionary Simón Bolívar, the influence of former Peruvianmarker President Juan Velasco and the thought of various socialist and communist leaders including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Chávez engaged in sporting events and cultural activities during these years as well. He played both baseball and softball with the Criollitos de Venezuela, progressing with them to the Venezuelan National Baseball Championships in 1969. Chávez also wrote numerous poems, stories and theatrical pieces.

Upon completing his studies, Chávez initially entered active-duty military service as a member of a counter insurgency battalion stationed in Barinas. Chávez's military career lasted 17 years, during which time he held a variety of posts including command and staff positions, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Chávez also held a series of teaching and staffing positions at the Academy of Military Sciences, where he was first acknowledged by his peers for his fiery lecturing style and radical critique of Venezuelan government and society. In 1983, Chávez established the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200). Afterwards, he rose to a number of high-level positions in Caracasmarker and was decorated several times.

Personal life

Chávez has been married twice. He first wedded Nancy Colmenares, a woman from a poor family originating in Chávez's own hometown of Sabaneta. Chávez and Colmenares remained married for eighteen years, during which time they had three children: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, and Hugo Rafael. They separated soon after Chávez's 1992 coup attempt. During his first marriage, Chávez also had an affair with young historian Herma Marksman; their relationship lasted nine years. Chávez is divorced from his second wife, journalist Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez. Through that marriage, Chávez had another daughter, Rosinés. Chávez has two grandchildren, Gabriela and Manuel.

Chávez was raised a Roman Catholic, although he has had a series of disputes with both the Venezuelan Catholic hierarchy and Protestant groups like the New Tribes Mission. Originally he kept his own faith a private matter, but over the course of his presidency, Chávez has become increasingly open to discussing his religious views, stating that both his faith and his interpretation of Jesus' personal life and ideology have had a profound impact on his left-wing and progressivist views. He often invokes God and asks for prayer in speeches, as he did when he asked Venezuelans to pray for Fidel Castro's health. He describes himself as Christian who grew up expecting to become a priest. According to him, as a result of this background his socialist policies have been borne with roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Political development

Coup attempt of 1992

Chávez calls for the surrender of all forces on national television (1992)

After an extended period of popular dissatisfaction and economic decline under the administration of President Carlos Andrés Pérez and the violent repression known as El Caracazo, Chávez made extensive preparations for a military coup d'état. Initially planned for December, Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup until the early twilight hours of February 4, 1992. On that date, five army units under Chávez's command moved into urban Caracas with the mission of assaulting and overwhelming key military and communications installations throughout the city, including the Miraflores presidential palace, the defense ministry, La Carlota military airport, and the Military Museum. Chávez's ultimate goal was to intercept and take custody of Pérez, who was returning to Miraflores from an overseas trip.

Chávez held the loyalty of less than 10% of Venezuela's military forces. Numerous betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances soon left Chávez and a small group of rebels hiding in the Military Museum, without any means of conveying orders to their network of spies and collaborators spread throughout Venezuela. Further, Chávez's allies were unable to broadcast their prerecorded tapes on the national airwaves in which Chávez planned to issue a general call for a mass civilian uprising against Pérez. As the coup unfolded, the coup plotters were unable to capture Pérez: fourteen soldiers were killed, and 50 soldiers and some 80 civilians injured in the ensuing violence.

Chávez, alarmed, soon gave himself up to the government. He was then allowed to appear on national television to call for all remaining rebel detachments in Venezuela to cease hostilities. When he did so, Chávez quipped on national television that he had only failed "por ahora" (for now). Chávez was catapulted into the national spotlight, with many poor Venezuelans seeing him as a figure who had stood up against government corruption and kleptocracy. Chávez was sent to Yare prison; meanwhile, Pérez, the coup's intended target, was impeached a year later. While in prison, Chávez developed a carnosity of the eye, which spread to his iris. The clarity of his eyesight was slowly corrupted; despite treatments and operations, Chávez's eyesight was permanently damaged.

Political rise (1992–1999)

After a two-year imprisonment, Chávez was pardoned by President Rafael Caldera in 1994. Upon his release, Chávez reconstituted the MBR-200 as the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR—Movimiento Quinta República, with the V representing the Roman numeral five). Later, in 1998, Chávez began to campaign for the presidency. In working to earn the trust of voters, Chávez drafted an agenda that drew heavily on his ideology of Bolivarianism. Chávez and his followers described their aim as "laying the foundations of a new republic" to replace the existing one, which they cast as "party-dominated"; the current constitution, they argued, was no more than the 'legal-political embodiment of puntofijismo,' the country's traditional two-party patronage system.

Chávez used his flamboyant public speaking style, which was notable for its abundance of colloquialisms and ribald manner—on the campaign trail to win the trust and favour of a primarily poor and working class following. By May 1998, Chávez's support had risen to 30% in polls, and by August he was registering 39%. Chávez went on to win the 1998 presidential election on December 6, 1998 with 56% of the votes.

Political philosophy

Chávez's Bolivarianism is based on ideas drawn from Simón Bolívar, Simón Rodríguez and Ezequiel Zamora, influenced by the writings of Marxist historian Federico Brito Figueroa. Chávez was well acquainted with the various traditions of Latin American socialism espoused by Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (a populist and Latin American socialist and Salvador Allende (another Latin American socialist) and from a young age by the Cuban revolutionary doctrine of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Other indirect influences on Chávez's political philosophy are the writings of Noam Chomsky and the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible (Chávez describes Jesus as the world's first socialist, or the world's greatest socialist). Although Chávez himself refers to his ideology as Bolivarianismo ("Bolivarianism"), Chávez's supporters and opponents in Venezuela refer to themselves as being either for or against "chavismo". Thus, Chávez supporters refer to themselves not as "Bolivarians" or "Bolivarianists", but rather as "chavistas".

Later in his life, Chávez would acknowledge the role that democratic socialism (a form of socialism that emphasizes grassroots democratic participation) plays in Bolivarianism. Because his Bolivarianism relies on popular support, Chávez has organized the "Bolivarian Circles", which he cites as examples of grassroots and participatory democracy. The circles are forums for a few hundred local residents who decide how to spend the government allowance for social development. They usually decide for neighborhood beautification, mass mobilization, lending support to small businesses, and providing basic social services.

Presidency (1999–present)

Following Chávez's inauguration in February 1999, a referendum for a new constitution was soon passed, and a constitutional assembly formed. The resulting 1999 Venezuelan Constitution was approved by another referendum on 15 December 1999. The new constitution included an increase in the presidential term from five to six years, a new presidential two-term limit, a new provision for presidential recall elections, renaming of the country to República Bolivariana de Venezuela, expanded presidential powers, conversion of the bicameral National Assembly into a unicameral legislature, merit-based appointments of judges, and creation of the Public Defender, an office authorized to regulate the activities of the presidency and the National Assembly. Elections for all elected government positions followed in 2000 under the new constitution, including the Venezuelan presidential election, 2000.

Chávez survived the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt which briefly removed him from power. A few months after the coup, on December 2, 2002, the Chávez presidency faced a two-month strike organized by management at the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S. A. (PDVSA) for the purpose of forcing Chávez out of office by creating an economic crisis and cutting the government off from all-important oil revenue. A further attempt to remove Chávez from office, the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004, also failed.

From 2003 onwards the Chávez government has pursued a series of Bolivarian Missions aimed at providing public services to the previously underserved poor by bypassing existing public institutions.

Chávez again won the OAS and Carter Center certification of the national election on December 3, 2006 with 63% of the vote, beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales who conceded his loss on December 4, 2006. After his victory, Chávez promised a more radical turn towards socialism.

On August 15, 2007, Chávez proposed a broad package of measures as part of a constitutional reform. Among other measures, he called for an end to presidential term limits and proposed limiting central bank autonomy, strengthening state expropriation powers and providing for public control over international reserves as part of an overhaul of Venezuela's constitution. In accordance with the 1999 constitution, Chávez proposed the changes to the constitution, which were then approved by the National Assembly. The final test was a December 2, 2007 referendum.The referendum was defeated, with 51% of the voters rejecting the amendments proposed by Chávez.

On February 15, 2009, Chávez won a referendum to eliminate term limits.

Foreign policy

Chávez has refocused Venezuelan foreign policy on Latin American economic and social integration by enacting bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements, including his so-called "oil diplomacy". Chávez stated that Venezuela has "a strong oil card to play on the geopolitical stage..." He said, "It is a card that we are going to play with toughness against the toughest country in the world, the United States." Chávez has focused on a variety of multinational institutions to promote his vision of Latin American integration, including Petrocaribe, Petrosur, and TeleSUR. Bilateral trade relationships with other Latin American countries have also played a major role in his policy, with Chávez increasing arms purchases from Brazilmarker, forming oil-for-expertise trade arrangements with Cubamarker, and creating unique barter arrangements that exchange Venezuelan petroleum for cash-strapped Argentina's meat and dairy products. Additionally, Chávez worked closely with other Latin American leaders following the 1997 Summit of the Americas in many areas—especially energy integration—and championed the OASmarker decision to adopt the Anti-Corruption Convention. Chávez also participates in the United Nations Friends groups for Haitimarker, and is pursuing efforts to join and engage the Mercosur trade bloc to expand the hemisphere's trade integration prospects.

Economic policy

Since 2005, Chávez is an outspoken proponent of what he calls a socialism of the 21st century as a means to help the poor. Since 2003, the Venezuelan government has set price controls on around 400 basic foods to counter inflation, which has led to "sporadic food shortages". Food processing companies said that regulated prices had not kept pace with inflation, so that they were producing regulated food at a loss. Chávez has also nationalized a number of major companies, including in the telephone, electric, steel, and cement industries, and encouraged cooperatives.

Venezuela is a major producer of oil products, which remains the keystone of the Venezuelan economy. Chávez has gained a reputation as a price hawk in OPEC, pushing for stringent enforcement of production quotas and higher target oil prices. At a June 2006 meeting, Venezuela was the only OPEC country calling for lowered production to drive oil prices higher.

Chávez and the media

Even before the April 2002 coup, many owners, managers, and commentators working for the five major private mainstream television networks and largest mainstream newspapers had stated their opposition to Chávez's policies. These media outlets have accused the Chávez administration of intimidating their journalists using specially dispatched gangs. Chávez in turn alleges that the owners of these networks have primary allegiance not to Venezuela but to the United States, and that they seek the advancement of neoliberalism via corporate propaganda.

According to Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York Universitymarker, "[The Venezuelan] media is chronically obsessed with Chávez, and critical in a way that would be completely alien for most US observers." After the media-backed 2002 coup attempt, Venezuela passed 'social responsibility' legislation regulating the media but has largely declined to enforce it.

Throughout his presidency, Chávez has hosted the live talk show known as Aló Presidente ("Hello, President!"). The show broadcasts in varying formats on state owned Venezolana de Televisión (VTV—Venezuelan State Television) each Sunday at 11:00 AM. The show features Chávez addressing topics of the day, taking phone calls and live questions from both the studio and broadcast audience, and touring locations where government social welfare programs are active. Additionally, on July 25, 2005, Chávez inaugurated TeleSUR, a proposed Pan-American homologue of Al Jazeera that seeks to challenge the present domination of Latin American television news by Univision and the United States-based CNN en Español. Chávez's media policies have contributed to elevated tensions between the United States and Venezuela.

In 2006, President Chávez announced that the terrestrial broadcast license for RCTV—Venezuela's second largest TV channel—would not be renewed. The channel's terrestrial broadcasts ended on May 28, 2007 and were replaced with a state network. RCTV is accused of supporting the coup against Chávez in April 2002, and the oil strike in 2002–2003. Also, it has been accused by the government of violating the Law on the Social Responsibility of Radio and Television. The director of the station, Marcel Granier, denies taking part in the coup.According to journalist Eva Golinger, "In the days before the April 11, 2002 coup, Venevisión, RCTV, Globovisión and Televen replaced regular programming with anti-Chávez speeches and propaganda calling for viewers to take to the streets."One of the main justifications for the coup was news footage aired by the private stations on April 11 showing Chávez supporters on the Puente Llaguno bridge shooting at an unseen target earlier that day, with a voiceover saying that they were shooting at a peaceful opposition march. It was later proved that the Chávez supporters on the bridge had not been shooting at a march, they were exchanging fire with Metropolitan Police positioned behind cars and buildings; the opposition march had not passed near the bridge and was not fired at from it. The airing of this report was followed, later on the 11th, by an interview with a group of dissident generals who said that because of the deaths caused by the government, they would no longer recognise Chávez as president. CNN news correspondent Otto Neustadl said that he was told on the 10th, before the events took place, that "tomorrow, on the 11th there will be a video of Chávez, there will be deaths and then 20 military officials of high rank will appear and pronounce themselves against the government of Chávez and will request his resignation." Eva Golinger concludes from this and other evidence that "The media involvement in the coup had clearly been premeditated."

RCTV is still broadcasting via cable and satellite and is widely viewable in Venezuela.The failure to renew its terrestrial broadcast license has been condemned by a multitude of international organizations. However, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) questioned whether, in the event a television station openly supported and collaborated with coup leaders, the station in question would not be subject to even more serious consequences in the United States or any other Western nation. In a poll conducted by Datanalisis, almost 70 percent of Venezuelans polled opposed the shut-down, but most cited the loss of their favorite soap operas rather than concerns about limits on freedom of expression.


During his term, Chávez has been awarded the following honorary degrees:

In a list compiled by the magazine New Statesman in 2006, he was voted eleventh in the list of "Heroes of our time".


Further reading

External links


Articles and Interviews

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