– A Portrait of the Charismatic President of Venezuela
Closing down radio channels, passing laws confining the liberty of the press, and being accused of an alliance with the FARC guerrillas and squandering Venezuelan oil money like it was his own possession. Still he is the most well known president of the Latin American countries and is compared to the sainted Evita Perón. How is this possible?
In 1992, Hugo Chavéz commanded a coup d’état against the president in power, Carlos Andrés Pérez. This was Chávez first attempt towards becoming Venezuela’s next president. Although this attempted coup caused the death of 400 civilians, At this state Chavéz’ gave himself up to the government which gave him the chance to appear in the medias. However, he’s imprisonment was short-lived. In 1994 Chávez received a pardon from the new President Rafael Caldera and could continue in the footprints of populism. He kept on occurring on national television while he traveled all over Venezuela to show that he was the one to save to save the poor, all very much alike the Perónism policy that Chávez seam to advocate. This is thought to have played a key role in gaining enough votes to win the 1998 elections with 56% of the vote.
In the following years Chávez continued making progress. In 1999 he managed to change the constitution with the left parties applauding his actions. Nicolas Lara, a Venezuelan student explains that president Chávez resigned from the presidency shortly before the new constitution was introduced to have the new option of being re-elected indefinitely under the new laws. An act that Venezuelan people considered was to cheat the democratic system just to claim more power. Supporters of the president say he speaks for the poor, while his critics say he has become increasingly autocratic. Due to alleged inconsistencies in the election process, there are some doubts as to whatever or not Venezuela can be considered a democratic nation. According to Inger Enkvist, professor in Spanish at the University of Lund, the election process itself seems to be run as it should be. What supports the accusations of a non democratic nation says Enkvist, is more the fact that the opposition chose not to take part in the elections 2005 because they found that the political movements were restricted by President Chávez. Since then however, the opposition has concluded that the right means to beat Chávez is to accept the electoral fight against him. At present the opposition has gained a fair amount of support from the voters and they surely will give Chávez a fight. “People are afraid to go back to what it was like before Chávez, that’s why they keep voting him to the presidential post. For the majority of the Venezuelan people Chávez did something good by bringing them out of the claws of the Peréz government.” explains Nicolas. Furthermore Inger Enkvist also alerts the frequently debated “gag-law” that president Chàvez presented in 2009. A law that implicates an almost dictatorial control over the freedom of the press, increases again doubts of categorizing the nation of Venezuela as democratic.
The ideology of “El Chávismo” with the catchphrase “Fatherland, socialism or death” is the very own creation of president Chávez and senses political currents from the partisan Simón Bolivar to unite the Hispano-American countries into one nation. El Chávismo is also linked to a populistic kind of policy that appears through his never fading absence in the media. For example the live show “¡Alo presidente!”, where poor inhabitants may phone directly to president Chávez on national television and ask for whatever type of material they seem to lack and receive it, is highly appreciated by the public. “The sad thing is that this kind of policy makes the Venezuelan people lazy but it really has turned out well for Chávez. There isn’t a Venezuelan that doesn’t have a cousin or a friend that hasn’t got a house or a tractor financed by the government.” says an Venezuelan student.
The intrigues around the president continued in 2002, when a coup d’état against him was attempted. For the first time since 1998 a dislike for the government was shown. Chávez blamed the USA for having lobbied for the attempted overthrow in order to claim the Venezuelan oil resources. Relations with the United States haven’t been good for a long time and Mr Chávez’s outrageous utterances in the political sphere like “Bush is the devil” is no longer choking. “USA doesn’t seem to bother at all concerning what Chávez says and does. The oil is too important for The States to provoke an argument, and for the US, Chávez doesn’t really constitute a threat” says the student.
Venezuelan oil has been called “the blessing and the curse of Venezuela”, in accounts for 25% of Venezuela’s GNP. Around 3 million dollars are annually put into subsidized health care for the poor, programs against illiteracy, and public labor. On the other hand, instead of utilizing the Venezuelan skilled labor market, medical labor is bought from Cuba with Venezuelan oil money. Chávez close relations with Castro is also shown via the cancer treatment he has received in Cuba this past year. As well as the struggle against his illness, Hugo Chavéz has to solve the problems with high rates of criminality that on the contrary speaks against the countries GNP. According to Nicolas, Caracas is today one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Everybody talks about Colombia and Bogotá, but that’s like a charter resort compared to the capital of Venezuela. “People in Caracas can kill you for a stupid mobile phone if you’re unlucky” say Susana Hong, Venezuelan student from Caracas.
So will the end of El Chavismo be a cancer to the nation or will the strongly growing opposition benefit from this? “I can’t and won’t guess the outcome of that” says Inger Enkvist. But in Susana Hong’s opinion Chávez will never resign because of his illness and since there doesn’t seem to be a Chávismo without Chávez he will surely continue in the spirit of Eva Perón, until death do, him and his ideology, part. Because like it’s stated, if El Chávismo is neither “fatherland” nor “socialism”, the only remaining thing is “death”.