▪ 2006Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávez made headlines throughout 2005 with his escalating anti-American rhetoric and increased efforts to implement “21st-century socialism.” Relations with the U.S., already contentious, rapidly worsened amid his repeated threats to end oil sales to the U.S., Venezuela's main customer, and his purchases of arms and other military equipment, acquisitions he claimed were necessary to defend Venezuela from the “imperialistic power.” Chávez's allegation that the U.S. administration of Pres. George W. Bush was plotting his assassination garnered much attention in August when Pat Robertson, an influential American television evangelist, said that the U.S. should “take him out.” Although the White House dismissed the statement, it viewed the firebrand leader as a destabilizing presence in South America and pursued a policy of containment. Tensions continued in November at the Summit of Americas in Argentina, where Chávez led protests against Bush (”Mr. Danger”) and derided a U.S.-backed free-trade agreement. While worrisome to the U.S., his anti-American policies were extremely popular with Venezuelans, as were his efforts to end poverty in the country. After years of delays, Chávez's socialist revolution gained momentum as more cooperatives and subsidized supermarkets were established and greater access was provided to education, low-cost housing, and health care.Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was born on July 28, 1954, in Sabaneta, Venez. He graduated from a Venezuelan military academy in 1975 and entered the army. Chávez became increasingly critical of the government, which he viewed as corrupt, and in 1992 led an unsuccessful coup against Pres. Carlos Andrés Pérez. Imprisoned until 1994, Chávez, an admirer of Simón Bolívar (“the Liberator”), subsequently cofounded the left-wing Fifth Republic Movement and in 1998 ran for president, promising to bring “true democracy” and populism to Venezuela. His platform proved popular with the poor, who accounted for some 80% of the population, and Chávez won a landslide victory.After taking office in 1999, Chávez oversaw the passage of a new constitution that radically reshaped the government and granted him greater powers. He also increased control of the oil industry, using its revenues to begin his “Bolivarian Revolution.” Although reelected president in 2000, Chávez faced a growing number of detractors, who viewed him as a populist demagogue and feared his growing power, and a massive protest march led to his ouster on April 12, 2002. The U.S. government—which was concerned about his close ties with Cuba and spreading influence in Latin America—appeared to support the overthrow, but it denied direct involvement. Two days later, however, Chávez was returned to power. Although unrest with his rule continued—a 2002–03 general strike greatly disrupted the country, and in 2004 enough signatures were gathered for a recall referendum, which was ultimately defeated—Chávez's power base continued to grow. In December 2005 his supporters took complete control of the legislature after most of the opposition candidates boycotted the election.Amy Tikkanen▪ 2000On Feb. 2, 1999, Hugo Chávez, the man who had staged a bloody, unsuccessful coup in 1992, took the oath of office as president of Venezuela after scoring a landslide victory in the December 1998 elections. Chávez, who had campaigned for sweeping political change on an anticorruption platform, led the radical left-wing Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) to victory, capturing more than 56% of the vote. During his four-year term as president, Chávez vowed to transform Venezuela completely by rooting out old-style Latin American politics as well as reviving the country's stagnant economy. His popularity among the nation's nearly 23 million citizens worried critics who feared that Chávez's calls for a “true democracy” camouflaged his thirst for power and, ultimately, unchallenged authority. Others, remembering his coup attempt, mistrusted him.Hugo Chávez Fríaz was born on July 28, 1954, in Sabaneta, Venez. As a youth, he had aspirations to join the military and later completed his college degree in military sciences and arts at a Venezuelan military academy. In 1975 he graduated as a second lieutenant and became a paratrooper in the army. By 1990 he had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Fascinated by the ideas of Simón Bolívar, “the Liberator,” Chávez took political science classes at Simón Bolívar University in Caracas.Following the 1992 coup attempt, Chávez was imprisoned and exiled from political life until 1994, when Pres. Rafael Caldera pardoned him in a gesture of goodwill and in response to cries of the Venezuelan people for his freedom. Upon his release, Chávez, together with allies from the army, established the MVR, intending to rid the country of corrupt government officials and policies. Traveling throughout the country, he promised to transform the democratic constitution, making it the centrepiece of his presidency. In December voters overwhelmingly approved Chávez's new constitution that gave him sweeping powers and a license to refashion the country's political and social structure.Amy Weber
* * *▪ president of Venezuelain full Hugo Rafael Chávez Fríasborn July 28, 1954, Sabaneta, VenezuelaVenezuelan politician, who became president of Venezuela in 1999.After graduating from a Venezuelan military academy in 1975, Chávez entered the army. He became increasingly critical of the government, which he viewed as corrupt, and in 1992 he helped stage an unsuccessful coup against Pres. Carlos Andrés Pérez (Pérez, Carlos Andrés). He was imprisoned and exiled from political life until 1994, when Pres. Rafael Caldera pardoned him. An admirer of Simón Bolívar (Bolívar, Simón) (“the Liberator”), Chávez subsequently cofounded the left-wing Movement for the Fifth Republic. In 1998 he ran for president, promising to end political corruption, revive the stagnating economy, and make sweeping constitutional changes to bring “true democracy” to the country. His platform proved popular with the poor, who accounted for some 80 percent of the population, and Chávez won a landslide victory.After taking office in 1999, Chávez oversaw the passage of a new constitution that greatly expanded his powers, reorganized the judiciary, and replaced the existing legislature with the National Assembly. He also increased control of the oil industry, using its revenues to fund his “Bolivarian Revolution,” which included free education, low-cost housing, and health care. The creation of a new legislature led to another round of national elections in 2000, and Chávez won a landslide victory amid charges of electoral fraud. Critics accused him of assuming dictatorial powers, and a series of antigovernment strikes culminated in a military coup on April 12, 2002, in which Chávez was ousted. Two days later, however, he was returned to power. Unrest with his government continued, and opponents forced a recall election in August 2004. Backed by the urban poor and rural peasants, Chávez easily won the election.Much of Chávez's foreign policy centred on strengthening ties with other Latin American countries, especially Cuba. Following the 2002 coup, which he claimed was supported by the U.S. government, Chávez's relationship with the United States grew highly contentious. He adopted anti-American rhetoric, threatened to end oil sales to the United States, and purchased arms and other military equipment, acquisitions he claimed were necessary to defend Venezuela from the “imperialistic power.”In December 2006 Chávez was reelected to a third term, capturing 63 percent of the vote. He continued his efforts to turn Venezuela into a socialist state and promoted a program that included the takeover of the petroleum sector in 2007 and the nationalization of telecommunications, electricity, steel, and cement companies in 2008. At the end of 2007, Chávez lost a referendum on constitutional changes, including one that would have allowed him to run for reelection indefinitely. He took the narrow defeat (51 to 49 percent) in stride and continued to promote his socialist agenda in Venezuela. Since taking office, Chávez's reforms have included modifying the country's name, its coat of arms, and its flag, as well as creating a new currency (the bolívar fuerte) and a new time zone for Venezuela.
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