Venezuela - Politics
On 5 March 2013, Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced that President Hugo Chavez had died in the capital Caracas, where he had been receiving treatment for an unknown form of cancer in his Pelvis. Chavez had been reported to have contracted an infection following after strong chemotherapy in a Caracas military hospital. Vice President Maduro also accused Venezuela's enemies of attacking the president with the cancer, but did not elaborate on how that could have been done. Other reports suggested that the suspicion had fallen on polonium or a similar toxic substance. Also on 5 March 2013, Venezuela expelled 2 US diplomats, accusing them of meeting with military officers and plotting to destabilize the government.
|13 Feb 1959||11 Mar 1964||Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello||AD|
|11 Mar 1964||11 Mar 1969||Raúl Leoni Otero||AD|
|11 Mar 1969||12 Mar 1974||Rafael Caldera Rodríguez||COPEI|
|12 Mar 1974||12 Mar 1979||Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez||AD|
|12 Mar 1979||02 Feb 1984||Luis Herrera Campins||COPEI|
|02 Feb 1984||02 Feb 1989||Jaime Ramón Lusinchi||AD|
|02 Feb 1989||31 Aug 1993||Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez||AD|
|21 May 1993||05 Jun 1993||Octavio Lepage Barreto||AD|
|05 Jun 1993||02 Feb 1994||Ramón José Velásquez Mujica||Non-party|
|02 Feb 1994||02 Feb 1999||Rafael Caldera Rodríguez||CN|
|02 Feb 1999||05 Mar 2019||Hugo Rafael Chavez Frías||MVR / PSUV|
|05 Mar 2013||?? ??? 20??||Nicolas Maduro Moros||PSUV|
AD = Social Democraft |
COPEI = Christian Democrat
CN = National Convergence
MVR = Fifth Republic Movement PSUV = United Socialist Party of Venezuela
Deep popular dissatisfaction with the traditional political parties, income disparities, and economic difficulties were some of the major frustrations expressed by Venezuelans in December 1998, when Hugo Chavez Frias won the presidency on a campaign for broad reform, constitutional change, and a crackdown on corruption.
In March 2005, President Chavez began calling for the creation of "the new socialism for the 21st century," saying that "capitalism is not a sustainable model of development." While the concept remained loosely defined, in practice, Chavez' "socialism for the 21st century" in Venezuela has involved the concentration of executive, legislative, judicial, economic, and media powers in the presidency. Chavez has even condemned the "division of powers" for "weakening the state". A defining feature of Chavez' vision was a broad-based hostility to the United States as an ideological foe and hegemonic threat. He appears committed to reducing Venezuelan economic dependence on the United States by developing alternative markets, suppliers, and foreign investors - regardless of whether these alternative arrangements are economically comparable or even competitive.
President Hugo Chavez's efforts to concentrate more power in his hands and undermine the democratic opposition were met in Venezuela with more acceptance and resignation than outrage and resistance. There are numerous, credible theories to explain Venezuelans' acquiescence to an increasingly authoritarian government ranging from Chavez's charismatic leadership and popular social programs to the fear, fatigue, and ineffectiveness that prevail among government opponents. Moreover, the majority of Venezuelans, long reliant on their petro-state's largesse, appear to prioritize "social rights" and self-preservation over abstract civil liberties. The enormous, corporatist Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) is for many citizens both an irreplaceable provider and exclusive source of information. Finally, Chavez has also effectively and systematically squelched any opposition to his rule either from within his ranks or from other political parties. While Chavez's popularity did not erode as he radicalized and the local economy worsened, and the Venezuelan president still appears well positioned to keep accelerating his Bolivarian revolution at the expense of remaining democratic institutions.
The charismatic Venezuelan president conveyed far more hope to voters than any of his competitors. State media outlets constantly lauded government initiatives, social programs, and "achievements of the revolution." Chavez himself regularly launched building projects, opens government cooperatives, or announces expropriations on his weekly "Alo, Presidente" radio and television talk show. While government critics rightly point out that many of the GBRV's projects are unsustainable, inefficient, or corrupt, local pollsters point out that Venezuela's poor report that they have more money in their pockets. Large numbers of Venezuelans also avail themselves of GBRV social programs, most commonly shopping at subsidized Mercal or Pdval stores, or receiving medical care courtesy of the Barrio Adentro program. "At least Chavez has given us something," is prevalent local sentiment among sectors of society long reliant on government largesse ("Papa estado").
Chavez also reaped political gains by stoking class antagonisms in stratified Venezuela. Railing against local "oligarchs," the Venezuelan president aims most of his economic "reforms" at large, and often foreign, enterprises. Although the vast majority of Venezuelan still support private property protections, there is little popular sympathy for big business in Venezuela, and as yet, little public recognition of the long-term economic effects of driving out foreign investment. Moreover, Chavez's core supporters believe that they would lose anything gained over the past decade if Chavez were to fail. Chavez has sought to reassure his base that he is not undermining their economic freedoms. One week after seizing large tracts of farmland in his native state of Barinas, Chavez distributed property titles last week to urban squatters in a televised ceremony. Local pollsters note that in this context most Venezuelans prioritize "social rights" over civil liberties. They tend to be more attracted to Chavez's promises of redistribution of wealth than alarmed by his concentration of power.
Pro-Chavez thugs, most notably the "La Piedrita" and "Alexis Vive" collectives, to engage in political violence with impunity. In a society awash in conspiracy theories, Venezuelans are inclined to believe the government is omnipotent. Moreover, the government has relied heavily on "litmus lists." Whether you signed the presidential recall referendum drive ("Tascon List") or are among the five million voters who purportedly registered with Chavez's PSUV party can determine whether or not you have access to government services, loans, scholarships, or can even obtain a passport.
The diversity of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' "Bolivarian Revolution" often made it appear divided. For example, differences emerged between the movement's civilians and soldiers, its democrats and dictators, and its ideologues and crooks. Nonetheless, these disputes were isolated; they have not divided Chavez' movement. Because all Chavista officials ultimately depended on Chavez for influence, machinations among pro-Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela groups had little impact on the stability of the administration. Government officials even had an interest in "staging" differences within the ruling party to try to establish that the branches of government are independent.
The "Bolivarian Revolution" of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez suffered from divisions and dissent, yet remained firmly in control. In addition to the festering morale issues in the Venezuelan Armed Forces and the Foreign Ministr, splinters within the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela have appeared throughout the country. Public disputes among pro-Chavez leaders and frequent Chavista-led protests against the government have led to speculation about the causes and extent of the divisions, in particular those between civilian and military officials.
The ruling Movimiento Quinta Republica (MVR Fifth Republic Movement) party was not the source of Chavez' power. Rather, the party depended on the President for influence and resources. The MVR had no weight other than what Chavez lent it, and its leaders had no independent support. Some said that without Chavez, the MVR would disintegrate. Because party members lacked their own power bases, the importance of intra-MVR disputes could be overplayed. MVR differences were settled when Chavez intervened. Chavez wielded almost unquestioned authority over other pro-Chavez political parties, as well, despite their trying to maintain a separate identity from the MVR.
Battle lines did not extend across Chavismo on any particular issue. As such, issue-specific interpretations of disputes within the government tend to be oversimplifications. The MVR was a chaotic party organized around personalities, business deals, institutions, and old alliances. The MVR lacked solid organizational structures and was racked with personal divisions. Although these competing sources of authority and personality conflicts rarely come to light, they all contribute to intra-party friction. Internal clashes were naked disputes over power. Given the separate and diffuse power centers, individual disputes are not necessarily representative of broad trends. None of the differences permeate the movement.
CIVILIAN vs. MILITARY. Some observers made much of civilian-military tensions. One example was Carabobo Governor Luis Felipe Acosta Carles, who irritated the local MVR by packing his staff with soldiers and bringing in some competent opposition party officials to keep the state running. There was much speculation as well over the civil and military factions in the National Assembly, led by National Assembly president [and later Vice President and chosen successwor] Nicolas Maduro and former president Francisco Ameliach, respectively. Such strains exist; the pet holdovers and fellow coup-plotters from Chavez' military days probably did arouse some resentment. Nevertheless, Chavez opponents exaggerated the splits to try to condemn Chavez for the "militarization" of Venezuelan society. The civilian-military divide is not the defining axis of division.
IDEOLOGY vs. VENALITY. Reporters attempt to discern divisions by hyping differences in Chavista officials' character traits. Chavismo contains, for example, officials who appear extremely ideological, such as firebrand deputy Iris Varela, former human rights lawyer Governor Tarek William Saab, and mob leader "comandante" Lina Ron. It also includes less reactionary officials who appear to be devoting considerable energies into getting rich, such as Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello and Interior Minister Jesse Chacon. All of these politicians have had public disputes with other pro-Chavez officials, but no evidence exists that corrupt officials are aligning against the "true believers" or vice versa. On the other hand, it appears that as Chavez prioritized the fight against corruption, Chavistas attempted to undermine their personal enemies in the revolution by accusing them of graft.
DEMOCRATS vs. "TALIBANES." Experiments with internal democracy have caused some disenchantment in the party. Media headlines have suggested a war between "democratic" Chavistas and hard-line "Talibanes" who impose electoral candidates from above. Yet, none of the splits exposed by elections have cut across the entire movement, either. For instance, MVR primaries held in April 2005 to determine candidates for the August parochial elections touched off disputes over candidacies, but all appeared to be isolated instances. In perhaps the most notorious example, Chavez silenced a public row between Caracas metropolitan mayor Juan Barreto and the city's Libertador municipality mayor Freddy Bernal over candidacies. The nature of the insults swapped suggested the two may have harbored personal grudges before the elections. In other isolated examples, the MVR expelled Trujillo State Governor Gilmer Viloria and two Portuguesa State mayors from the party for promoting unsanctioned candidates for the December 2005 National Assembly elections.
DIVISIONS AMONG CHAVISTA PARTIES. Divisions between the MVR and other pro-Chavez political parties were perhaps the only ones that Chavistas themselves had an interest in hyping. Following Chavez' sweep of the National Assembly elections in December 2005, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela representatives publicly rattled off a laundry list of pro-Chavez parties with seats to try to show that the legislature remained an independent branch of government. These parties' public and private statements, however, indicate their firm loyalty to Chavez. Pro-Chavez parties Podemos and Patria Para Todos (PPT) announced in early May 2006 that they backed Chavez' threat to hold a referendum asking voters to allow him to remain in office until 2031. Although Podemos and PPT announced they would form a legislative "opinion bloc," they assured reporters they did not seek to compete with the MVR.
The resolution of a few highly public rifts between Chavista parties displayed the cohesion of the Chavez movement. The PPT and Podemos parties' annoyance over the MVR's failure to consult with them over National Assembly leadership positions appeared to end quickly. A dispute between the PPT and the MVR over candidates for the Amazonas State gubernatorial elections in August 2005 appeared to fizzle once the parties conducted a poll and settled on the incumbent PPT candidate. Implicated in human rights abuses in his states, PPT Governor of Guarico State Eduardo Manuitt emerged from a National Assembly interior politics committee inquiry with no more punishment than a declaration of "political responsibility." Nicolas Maduro, then National Assembly president, effectively silenced MVR critics of Manuitt when he demanded an inquiry into whether their "political enmity" motivated the committee's report.
President Chavez announced that his intention to form a single "revolutionary" party - the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) - early in 2007. Chavez and other leaders of the ruling Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) stated that the party would be built upon Chavez' nation-wide election campaign structure and will inject more ideology and party discipline up and down the ranks of Chavez' supporters. As a first step toward this process, Chavez' MVR party dissolved on 18 December 2006, and numerous small pro-Chavez parties followed its example. After winning the 03 December 2006 presidential election by a wide margin, Chavez was in a solid position to impose what is essentially an MVR hostile take-over of the smaller pro-government parties.
The second-most popular political figure within the Chavista movement, Governor of Lara State Henri Falcon, announced 22 February 2010 in an open letter that he was leaving the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) for the allied Fatherland For All (PPT) party. Falcon alleged that the PSUV had been undermined by favoritism and a "poorly-understood concept of loyalty," and said that for years he had sought unsuccessfully to engage in a "frank dialogue without intermediaries" with Chavez. On February 23, PSUV leaders excoriated Falcon and announced the party had frozen relations with the PPT, asserting that they had "joined the counter-revolutionary movement." Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) spokesman Pedro Eusse said February 22 that Falcon's resignation showed the necessity for dialogue among the different factions that support Chavez. He argued that Falcon "had not abandoned the revolutionary struggle," and that an individual's change in party affiliation within the allied movement (PSUV, PPT, PCV) "did not make the governor a traitor." Eusse further pledged that the PCV membership continued to support the PSUV and should not be designated "counterrevolutionaries."
News of Falcon's announcement on February 22 was juxtaposed with coverage of Chavez's broadside the previous day against the potential opposition candidates for the September 2010 National Assembly elections, whom he referred to as "assassins, rapists, robbers, muggers, paramilitaries, and fugitives from justice." Falcon's non-confrontational style and savvy choice of words in his letter - "diversity," "dialogue," "participation," "inclusion," and the sentence "I adhere to the thesis that the ills of democracy are only cured by justice and more democracy" - threaten Chavez because they call to mind images of what Chavez is not: a leader who can reconcile competing national visions.
Falcon's stature as the most popular Chavista leader apart from Chavez was confirmed by Falcon's approval ratings in Lara and a few neighboring states, which far surpass those of the President. Falcon's potential command over a sizable electorate puts Chavez in a difficult position. If he brooked this disobedience, Chavez risked appearing weak and losing other disaffected Chavistas, who may judge that they can remain credible "revolutionaries" without necessarily staying in the party (and under Chavez's thumb). However, cracking down on Falcon - either by punishing the PPT or going after the governor personally, or both - could cause a public backlash among Falcon's supporters, jeopardizing PSUV support. Gubernatorial elections were held 16 December 2012, and Henri Falcon was re-elected, defeating the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidate Luis Reyes Reyes.
Pro-Chavez Venezuelans protest regularly throughout the country over government failures to provide services, pay public employees, and carry out entitlement programs. Demonstrations have been especially common in Chavez' home state of Barinas, where two pro-Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela state government factions came to blows. Chavez adeptly silenced internal wrangling in his government for the time being. In the long run, divisions within Chavismo will become more apparent in the absence of a unifying opposition threat. It is not possible to rule out the possibility that the fault lines in the party could become more serious; indeed, given the incapacity of the current opposition, the most likely source for a viable political counterpart to Chavismo is a breakaway faction within Chavismo. Chavismo as a whole does appear solid.
On Sunday 07 October 2012, Venezuelans went to the polls to either prolong President Hugo Chavez's 14-year rule for another six years [there are no term limits] or select his younger challenger Henrique Capriles. Hugo Rafael CHAVEZ Frias of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela [Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela PSUV] received 8,161,640 votes, 55.12% of the votes cast, while Henrique CAPRILES Radonski of Justice First [Primero Justicia PJ] received 6,554,725 votes, 44.27% of the votes cast. The support for Chavez was down slightly from 2006, when he received 62.85% of the votes cast, but about the same as the 56.93% he had received in the 2000 election and the 56.20% he received when first elected in 1998.
Chavez died on 05 March 2013 at age 58 after a long struggle with cancer. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who was chosen by Chavez as his successor, is expected to face opposition from Henrique Capriles in the upcoming election which is due to take place within 30 days. "It would be suicide" not to choose Capriles, said Governor of Lara State Henri Falcon, one of the opposition's three governors. He endorsed Capriles despite being seen by some as a possible rival. Without doubt that the Chavez team led by Vice-President Nicolas Maduro will win a victory. This is because the opposition continues to be in disarray, despite its seemingly good result at the presidential elections in October 2012, and Chavismo remains popular.
Venezuelan political parties prepared for intense campaigning ahead of the presidential election set for 14 April 2013 to replace Hugo Chavez. The date was announced by Venezuela's electoral commission one day after Chavez's vice president and chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, was sworn in as acting president. Maduro faced opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state.
On April 14, 2013 Venezuela's Electoral Council has declared Nicolas Maduro the winner of the nation's presidential election by a slim margin. But opposition candidate Henrique Capriles demanded a recount. National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced Maduro's victory with 50.7 percent of the vote, an estimated 235,000 ballots more than opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who garnered 49.1 percent of the vote. Early in the campaign, Maduro held a significant lead in polls, but Capriles narrowed the gap in the final days of the campaign. His strong showing speaks to growing frustration in the country with double-digit inflation and a soaring crime rate.
Maduro vowed to continue the Chavez policies that cut poverty from 50 to 29 percent with popular health, education and food programs.
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