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Hugo Chávez

Hugo Chávez Frías (born July 28, 1954) is President of Venezuela. He is a controversial figure because he has been governing Venezuela following the principles of a progressive social movement, which he calls Bolivarianism, in honor of the Venezulan-born South American independence hero Simón Bolívar. His policies have antagonized the Venezuelan elite and the current United States government. He is supported by Venezuela's Bolivarian Circles, which claim to represent the working classes.

Table of contents
1 Personal background
2 2002 Coup Attempt Against Chávez
3 2002 Strike/Lockout
4 2003: A new coup?
5 Footnotes

Personal background

The son of Hugo de los Reyes Chávez and Elena Frías de Chávez, Chávez has four children of his own: Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, Hugo Rafael, and Rosinés. He was married twice and is currently separated from his second wife.

He graduated from the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences on July 5, 1975, after being awarded master's degrees in miltary sciences and engineering. He continued his education by following a master's degree in political sciences at the Simón Bolívar University in Caracas, which he did not finish according to his Universtity tutor and the head of the Politcal Science school. An ex-paratrooper, Chávez came to prominence after heading a failed military coup in 1992. After spending two years in prison, he was pardoned by former President Rafael Caldera, and emerged as a politician, organizing a new political party called the Movement for the Fifth Republic. Chávez won Presidential elections on February 4, 1998, and again in 2000, by the largest majority in four decades, running on an anti-corruption and anti-poverty platform, and condemning the two major parties that had dominated Venezuelan politics since 1958. (His elected term runs until 2006.)

Chávez has a deeply antagonistic position to the entrenched landed and commercial elite of Venezuela, and to the commercial media, much of which is associated with that powerful landed and commercial elite. However, his support has plunged to less than 30% (as of Dec 2003), even among the poorest, because of failure to deliver effective government in economic, social and personal security issues.

A number of about five major TV networks, and one out of approximately ten major newspapers are completely opposed to Chávez. Chávez claims that this is because they are controlled by the business interests which oppose him, whereas the media accuse him of having intimidated journalists with his pronouncements and of sending gangs to threaten journalists with physical violence.

Chávez passed a set of 49 laws, which, among many other measures, were supposed to increase the government's oil income and redistribute land. Fedecámaras, the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, vehemently opposed these laws and decided to call for a general business strike on December 10, 2001.

Chávez was responsible for the replacement of the upper management of the Venezuelan national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), allegedly on grounds of mismanagement and corruption, but supporters of the PDVSA board call the action "politically motivated".

Chávez has antagonised the government of the United States through his oil export policies, by his public friendship with Cuba, and by his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq (Chavez was the only president to visit Saddam Hussein since Gulf War).

2002 Coup Attempt Against Chávez

Chávez was briefly deposed and arrested in a military coup on April 12, 2002, which installed a businessman, Pedro Carmona, who was head of the Fedecámaras as interim president. Carmona resigned after about a day, and was briefly replaced by vice president Diosdado Cabello, before Chávez returned to the presidential palace. However, on the day of the alleged coup, it was initially announced by General in Chief Lucas Rincón that Chávez had resigned; since Rincón remains close to Chávez and is now, in fact, the Secretary of Domestic Affairs, many Venezuelans argue that the resignation was real and that there was no coup.

The coup was publicly condemned by most Latin American nations. The United States did not do the same until Chávez had been restored to power. U.S. government statements

An earlier protest by the military was made by two men, Air Force Col. Pedro Soto and National Guard Capt. Pedro Flores Rivero, who held a small rally to accuse the government of being non-democratic. The new venezuelan Constitution (approved during Chavez government) allows military personnel to do such political protests. They were sent home in uniform and placed under investigation by a joint civilian and military board.

On April 9, 2002, Venezuela's largest union federation, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), led by Carlos Ortega, called for a two-day general strike. This may have been in response to Chávez having forced the unions to carry out new elections of the leadership amid fraud allegations. Chávez did not recognise the reelection of the union leadership. Chávez raised the national minimum wage by 20% in an attempt to call off the strike.

Fedecámaras joined the strike and called on all of its affiliated businesses to close for 48 hours.

A large amount of people marched to the headquarters of Venezuela's oil company, PDVSA, in defense of its fired management. The organizers decided to re-route the march to Miraflores, the president's office building, so as to confront pro-government demonstrators.

After violence erupted between demonstrators and police (controlled by the opposition), 17 people were killed and about a hundred wounded, almost all of them Chávez supporters. Reports during the coup stated that the demonstrators were shot by armed Chávez supporters. Four of the alleged snipers were identified and it was suggested held close ties with the Chávez government. A video was recorded of the repeated firing of a pro-Chávez protester. Doctors who treated the wounded reported that almost all of them appeared to have been shot from above, not from the place where the known snipers were. It has been alledged that foreign professional marksmen were hired by those interested in creating disorders to overthrow Chávez.

However, a television crew from Irish television (Radio Telifís Éireann) which happened to be recording a programme about Chávez at the time (and which after the short coup was based in the presidential palace with members of both rival governments and their supporters) recorded images of the events that contradicted explanations given by anti-Chávez campaigners, by the opposition-controlled elements of the media, by the US State Department, and by President George W. Bush's official spokesman. In addition, after they initially took power, opposition figures bragged about how they had engineered the coup. They stated that the organizers of the anti-Chávez march had deliberately rerouted the parade to bring it face to face with a pro-Chávez march. This, one coup leader said, was done as a deliberate act of provocation, given that both parades had previously agreed routes with the police to avoid coming face to face. One organizer of the anti-Chávez march told the film crew that the march was intended to be the start of the overthrow of Chávez and that violence could be expected, with agents provocateurs located at the intended meeting point to trigger gunfire and provoke an opposition-controlled police and army response, mass panic and deaths. (Though the phrasing was ambiguous, the anti-Chávez activist speaking after the event while the coup leaders were still in power appeared to suggest that the gunfire was to have been launched against its own supporters initially for which the military would then be blamed.)1;

While briefly in power, Carmona:

The dissolution of the National Assembly and Supreme Court cost Carmona much of his support within Venezuela; some Venezuelans who were concerned that Chávez had authoritarian tendencies found these moves even more threatening.

Chavez himself has repeatedly stated that he believes the Bush Administration and the CIA orchestrated the coup. In September of 2003 he refused to travel to the United States to address the United Nations because he believed the American government had ordered his assassination.

2002 Strike/Lockout

For two months from December 2, 2002, the Chávez government was faced with a business strike, led by the oil industry management. As a consequence, Venezuela stopped exporting a daily average of 2,800,000 barrels of oil and derivatives and began to require the import of gasoline for internal use. Chávez combatted the oil strike by progressively firing about 18,000 PDVSA employees. A court ruling has deemed the dismissal of these workers illegal and has ordered the immediate return of the entire group to their former posts. Nevertheless, Chávez, PDVSA's CEO Alí Rodríguez, and Minister of Mines Rafael Rodríguez have repeatedly expressed that such ruling will not be enforced. The ILO has also criticised the measure stating a deep concern about violations to workers' rights.

2003: A new coup?

In October and November 2003, members of the parliament of Venezuela published various documents indicating the possibility of a second coup, planned by right-wing forces of Venezuela in close collaboration with the CIA. Charles S. Shapiro, the US ambassador in Caracas and former Deputy Chief of Mission at the US embassy in Chile at the time of the coup against Salvador Allende, admitted on 30 September 2003 that military training-camps for Venezuelan oppositional forces are currently being run in Florida. (A reference to those allegations can be found here.)


1 The film crew's report, broadcast on RTÉ's True Lives series under the title Chávez: Inside the Coup, won the Best Information and Current Affairs Production and the Global Television Grand Prize at the Banff Television Festival in Alberta, Canada, on 11 June 2003, beating 82 international productions in 14 categories, chosen from an entry of 900 from 39 countries. For the top prize it beat high profile series such as The West Wing and the BBC's Daniel Deronda. The special has been broadcast worldwide, praised by politicians and the media, and led to a fundamental revision in public attitudes as to what really happened in before and during the coup. No United States television channel has chosen to broadcast it, but it was aired in select theaters in the fall of 2003.

However, Chávez opponents say the film is manipulative and deceptive (see [1]), and cast some doubts about it.

See also: History of Venezuela, Politics of Venezuela