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Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez (born July 28, 1954) is President of Venezuela.

The son of Hugo de los Reyes Chávez and Elena Frías de Chávez, he 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 was educated at Simón Bolivar University[?], but also attended military schools. An ex-paratrooper, Chavez came to prominence after heading a failed military coup in 1992. After spending two years in prison, he was pardoned, and emerged as a politician, organizing a new political party called the Movement for the Fifth Republic. Chavez 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.) He has been governing Venezuela following the principles of his own social movement, called Bolivarianism[?], named after the Venezulan-born South American independence hero Simón Bolívar.

Although Chavez originally had a popularity rating of around 80%, his popularity has steadily declined in the past year, supposedly reaching the low 30% range by Spring 2002. According to a recent Associated Press article, polls indicate that he would have been reelected if an election had been called at that time.

Chavez 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 the commercial and landed elite. A number of about five major TV networks, and one out of approximately ten major newspapers is completely opposed to Chavez. Chavez 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 supposedly sending gangs to threaten journalists with physical violence.

Chavez is also accused by opponents of exploiting a law which permits the government to take over all of the airwaves for important government announcements.

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

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

Chavez has antagonised the government of the United States through his oil export policies, and by his public friendship with Cuba.

2002 Coup Attempt Against Chavez

Chavez was briefly deposed and arrested in a military coup on April 12, 2002, which installed a businessman, Pedro Carmona, who was head of the FEDECAMERAS as interim president. Carmona resigned after about a day, and was briefly replaced by vice president Diosdado Cabello, before Chavez returned to the presidential palace. (In Venezuela, it was initially announced that he had resigned, and to this day some believe that there was no real coup.)

The coup was publicly condemned by most Latin American nations. The United States did not do the same until Chavez had been restored to power. U.S. government statements (http://embajadausa.org.ve/wwwh1805)

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 and called for a coup. 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 Chavez having forced the unions to carry out new elections of the leadership amid fraud allegations. Chavez did not recognise the reelection of the union leadership. Chavez raised the national minimum wage by 20% in an attempt to call off the strike.

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

1,000,000 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 about 5,000 pro-government demonstrators.

After violence erupted between demonstrators and police, 17 people were killed and nearly 100 wounded, almost all of them demonstrators. Reports during the coup stated that the demonstrators were shot by armed Chavez supporters. Four of the alleged snipers were identified and it was suggested held close ties with the Chavez government. A video was recorded on the repeated firing of pro-chavez protester. Seventeen people were killed and more than a hundred wounded. Doctors who treated the wounded reported that almost all of them appeared to have been shot from above.

However a television crew from Irish television (Radio Telifís Éireann) which happened to be recording a programme about Chavez 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 which contradicted explanations given by anti-Chavez campaigners, by the opposition-controlled elements of the media, by the US State Department and by President George W. Bush's official spokesman. In particular opposition figures after they initially took power bragged about how they had engineered the coup. They stated that the organisors of the anti-Chavez march had deliberately rerouted the parade to bring it face to face with a pro-Chavez 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 organisor of the anti-Chavez march told the film crew that the march was intended to be the start of the overthrow of Chavez and that violence could be expected, with agents provocataire located at the intended meeting point to trigger gunfire and provoke a police and army response, mass panic and deaths. (Though the phrasing was ambiguous, the anti-Chavez 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:

  • Dissolved the National Assembly, promising elections by December
  • Pledged presidential elections within one year
  • Declared void the 1999 constitution introduced under Chavez
  • Promised a return to the pre-1999 bicameral parliamentary system
  • Repealed the 49 laws that gave the government greater control of the economy
  • Reinstated retired General Guaicaipuro Lameda as president of Petroleos de Venezuela.
  • Fired the Supreme Court judges

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

2002 Strike/Lockout For two months from December 2 2002 the government of Chavez was faced with a civic strike, led by the oil industry management. As consequence, Venezuela stopped exporting an average of 2,800,000 daily barrels of oil and derivatives and began to require the import of gasoline for internal use. Chavez combatted the oil strike by progressively firing about 18,000 PDVSA employees.


1 The film crew's report, broadcast in RTÉ's True Lives series under the title Chavez: Inside the Coup won the Best Information and Current Affairs Production and the Global Television Grand Prize at the Banff Television Festival in Alberta in 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. Though broadcast worldwide and been praised by politicians and the media and let to a fundamental revision in public attitudes as to what really happened in the lead up to and during the coup, no United States television has chosen to broadcast it.

See also: History of Venezuela, Politics of Venezuela, Presidents of Venezuela, Venezuela

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