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Venezuela’s ‘Comandante’ Hugo Chavez An iconic leader who raised Venezuela’s profile

Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias, who died on March 7, was a charismatic and prograessive leader, whose idiosyncratic brand of socialism gave hope to the poorest people in the Latin American country.

Mr Chavez was born on July 28, 1954 in the state of Barinas. The Chavez family were of Amerindian, Afro-Venezuelan, and Spanish descent. His parents, Hugo de los Reyes Chavez and Elena Fras de Chavez, were working-lower middle class schoolteachers who lived in the small village of Los Rastrojos.

He attended the Daniel O’Leary High School in Barinas city. At age seventeen, Chavez studied at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in Caracas. At the Academy, he was a member of the first class that was following a restructured curriculum known as the Andrs Bello Plan. He later said, I found my true vocation there.

Living in Caracas, he saw more of the endemic poverty faced by working class Venezuelans, something that echoed the poverty he had experienced growing up, and he maintained that this experience only made him further committed to achieving social justice.

In the Academy, he found time to study the lives of the 19th Century South American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar and 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 Bolivar’s lieutenant, Antonio Jos’ de Sucre, defeated royalist forces during the Peruvian War of Independence.

He graduated in 1975 and had already begun to form political ideas that he would later put into practice as president, including the belief that the military had a duty to step in if a civilian government was deemed to have failed to protect the poorest in society.

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 (Ejrcito de Liberaci³n del Pueblo de Venezuela, or ELPV), was a secretive cell within the military that consisted of him and a handful of his fellow soldiers.

In 1989, Carlos Andrs P’rez was elected President after promising to oppose the United States government’s ‘Washington Consensus’ and financial policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nevertheless, he did neither once he got into office. Disturbed by his policies, Chavez began preparing for a coup d”tat, known as Operation Zamora. Initially planned for December, Chavez delayed the MBR-200 coup until the early twilight hours of 4 February 1992.

On that date, five army units under Chavez’s command moved into urban Caracas with the mission of overwhelming key military and communications installations. Chavez’s immediate goal was to intercept and take custody of Perez, who was returning from an overseas trip. Despite years of planning, the coup quickly encountered trouble.

A revolt by members of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement claimed 18 lives before Colonel Chavez surrendered.

He was languishing in a military jail when his associates tried again to seize power nine months later. The second coup attempt in November 1992 was crushed as well.

Chvez spent two years in prison before relaunching his party as the Movement of the Fifth Republic, making the transition from a soldier to a politician.

 In his television and radio shows, Chvez answered calls from citizens, discussed his latest policies, sung songs and told jokes, making it unique not only in Latin America but the entire world.
 He spent time canvassing and found strong support and friendship from Cuba’s revolutionary president, Fidel Castro to whom he has a father-son relation.

Chvez believed in overthrowing the government by force but was persuaded to change his mind and instead became a candidate in the 1998 presidential elections.

Venezuela had enjoyed an unbroken period of democratic government since 1958, but the two main parties, which had alternated in power, stood accused of presiding over a corrupt system and squandering the country’s vast oil wealth.

Chvez promised ‘revolutionary’ social policies, and constantly abused the ‘predatory oligarchs’ of the establishment as corrupt servants of international capital.

Chvez’s promises of widespread social and economic reforms won the trust and favor of a primarily poor and working class following. Chvez won the election with 56.20% of the vote and on 2 February 1999, he was officially inaugurated as the President of Venezuela.

Whilst he was remaining fiscally conservative, he introduced measures in an attempt to alleviate the poverty of the Venezuelan working class. Chavez immediately set into motion a social welfare programme called Plan Bolívar 2000, which he organised to begin on 27 February 1999, the tenth anniversary of the Caracazo massacre.

In his television and radio shows, Chavez answered calls from citizens, discussed his latest policies, sung songs and told jokes, making it unique not only in Latin America but the entire world.

Chavez held a referendum to form a constitutional assembly to frame a new constitution. Under the new constitution, presidential election was held in July 2000.

Chávez was re-elected with 59.76% of the vote.

In the presidential election of December 2006 Chavez was once again elected. On 7 October 2012, Chavez won election as president for a fourth time, and for the third time he won a six-year term.

The inauguration of Chávez’s new term was scheduled for 10 January 2013, but he was undergoing medical treatment at the time in Cuba from where he left for the eternal abode.

On his death, a prestigious British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ wrote:

Chavez was a democratically elected champion of the poor. His policies lifted millions out of abject poverty and misery. He represented a break from years of corrupt regimes with often dire human rights records. His achievements were won in the face of an attempted military coup, an aggressively hostile media, and bitter foreign critics. He demonstrated that it is possible to resist the neo-liberal dogma that holds sway over much of humanity. He will be mourned by millions of Venezuelans’ and understandably so.

 

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