Hugo Chavez: President, TV star, thorn in US side

133ahugo main Hugo Chavez: President, TV star, thorn in US side

Chavez began his adult life as an army officer in Venezuela’sparatrooper unit; he staged a coup in 1992 along with otherdisgruntled members of the military in an attempt to overthrow theruling government of Carlos Andres Perez.The coup failed, and Chavez spent two years in prison until hewas pardoned; this marked the beginning of his momentous career inpolitics.He then founded the revolutionary Movement of the Fifth Republicparty and ran for president in 1998, promising economic reforms andcampaigning against government corruption.He won the presidency in 1999 by riding a wave of popularoutrage at Venezuela’s traditional political elite.Chavez remained in power continually since then, except for abrief period in April 2002 when he was removed by military leadersover his controversial plan to tighten his personal grip on thestate-run oil industry.He returned to power, but a stalemate ensued, leading to areferendum in 2004 on whether Chavez should remain president. Amajority of voters chose for Chavez to complete his term.Revolutionary or autocrat?Chavez promised Venezuelans ‘revolutionary’ social policiestargeting the ‘predatory oligarchs’ of the establishment. Since hecame to power, most major Venezuelan companies have beennationalized. Since 1998, more than 100,000 state-ownedcooperatives – which claim to represent some 1.5 million people –have been formed.His supporters say he speaks for the poor, while his criticsargue that he has become increasingly autocratic. In 2010, AmnestyInternational criticized the Chavez administration for targetingcritics following several politically motivated arrests.A strong regional playerChavez may have been a source of controversy in foreign policymore than any other area, refocusing Venezuelan policy on economicand social integration in Latin American.He introduced what became known as ‘oil diplomacy’ on thecontinent, saying that his country has “a strong oil card toplay on the international stage. … It is a card we are going toplay with toughness against the toughest country in the world, theUnited States.”Chavez brokered deals to exchange Venezuelan oil for Brazilianarms, for Cuban expertise and for Argentinian meat and dairyproducts. He also partnered with Latin American leaders on energyintegration, and vigorously pursued efforts to expand tradeintegration across the continent.He was a vocal supporter of Argentine President CristinaFernandez de Kirchner in her long-running dispute with Britain overthe sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.Hostility to the USThroughout his presidency, Chavez was particularly hostiletowards the United States, which he blamed for the failed 2002 coupagainst him. In December 2011, Chavez also speculated that theUnited States could be infecting the region’s leaders with cancer.He objected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said that heconsidered George W. Bush to be an “evil imperialist.”He threatened to stop selling oil to the US in the event ofanother attempted coup, but also donated heating oil to help thevictims of hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which destroyedfuel processing facilities in the US.IranChavez developed strong ties with the government of Iran andintroduced industrial, economic and energy cooperation with theIslamic Republic. Chavez and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejadpublicly declared their alliance in what the Venezuelan presidentcalled an attempt to “liberate themselves from the imperialistyoke,” declaring they were an “axis of unity” against“US imperialism.”Chavez also expressed a favorable view of Iran’s controversialnuclear power program and denied that Iran aims to develop atomicweapons, much to considerable alarm in Washington.RussiaUnder Chavez, Venezuela also strengthened relations with Russia.Since 2005, Venezuela has purchased $4 billion worth of arms fromRussia, including 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, and the two countrieshave held joint naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea.In 2010, Chavez announced that Russia would build Venezuela’sfirst nuclear power station, and that the nation had agreed to afurther $1.6 billion in oil contracts with Moscow.Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro has argued that“the unipolar world is collapsing and finishing in all aspects,and the alliance with Russia is part of that effort to build amultipolar world.”Dressed for successDuring his time in office Chavez became one of Latin America’sbrightest and most extravagant leaders, not only in his politicaldecisions but also in the way he dressed. From his all-time favorite trademark paratrooper’s red beretand dark green uniform or a bright red shirt to traditional LatinAmerican ponchos and Mexican hats, he always wore something red asa classic socialist. He would never go to an official meetingwithout his signature red tie.Chavez would speak his mind on all possible matters, includingsport, theology, Marxist rhetoric and women. During Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin’s visit toVenezuela, Chavez spoke of his adoration of Russian women. Speakingof the Venezuelan flowers he intended to send for sale in Russia hesaid, “What can be better than our flowers? Perhaps only theRussian women.”LegacyWhile Chavez is regarded as a hero of socialism by many at homeand abroad, he leaves behind a country in crisis.His government is widely blamed for mismanaging Venezuela’seconomy; with inflation running at 18 per cent, another creditdevaluation is likely. The country’s homicide rate is likewisestaggering – in 2010, Caracas had the world’s highest murder rate.Corruption is notoriously rampant in virtually every publicinstitution, and consumer goods are scarce.During the November elections, Chavez defeated oppositioncandidate Henrique Capriles by 11 percentage points. Criticsaccused his government of controlling the media and electionapparatus, and of employing bullying tactics to discouragecompetition.There is now a chance that Vice President Nicolas Maduro,Chavez’s chosen successor, could face a steep challenge should herun in the country’s forthcoming presidential election.Watch Hugo Chavez tribute video on RTYouTube channelFor more pictures visit RT Gallery The many faces of Hugo Chavez

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Hugo Chavez: President, TV star, thorn in US side

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