Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s leader, has recently undergone chemotherapy for cancer after a presumed surgery this year in Cuba and is recovering well, according to his country’s state-owned media. All indications are that despite his bad bill of health, Chavez is slated to be elected again in December of this year, which would put him in power until 2019 – if his health holds on.
Hugo Chavez has a pretty rough history, meaning before he came to power he really plowed in the underbelly of Venezuelan poverty, which he has said makes him a supporter of the masses. He gained national prominence in 1992, when he led the failed coup against a democratically elected leader President Carlos Andres Perez.
Though widespread frustrations had been mounting for ten years prior to his failed coup, he was jailed for two years for his role and was then granted a pardon. He immediately formed a new party, the Movement of the Fifth Republic, which garnered support. He and members of his party were elected to power in 1998 under United Socialist Party of Venezuela. After he officially took office in 1999, he quickly made enemies with the country’s church leaders, stating that the church often neglected the poor in his country and often defended the rich. (Interestingly, he considers himself a Christian, even as reports indicate he's "in bed" with Iran, a nation that right now is showing a lack of toleration for Christians within it's borders, with threats of execution of a prominent Christian pastor).
Once Chavez was in power, he quickly instituted a new constitution with socialist policies as its backbone. The constitution called for greater protections for Venezuela’s native and indigenous peoples and affirmed the country’s responsibility to provide greater opportunities and access to housing, food, healthcare, and protections for the country’s poor. He has affirmed his belief in socialism time and time again. “I have said it already, I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism… Capitalism leads us straight to hell,” he once said.
"Capitalism leads us straight to hell"
Relations with the United States soured when he consistently criticized the Bush Administration of waging unnecessary wars after the 9-11 attack. For a few days in 2002, he was pushed out of power after a coup attempt, which he blamed on the United States for being behind the move to overthrow him. The U.S. has consistently denied playing any role in the attempted coup against his leadership. Chavez was back in power in a couple of days.
Chavez reestablishes power in 2004 by winning a recall referendum, on whether he should serve out the rest of his elected term and continued making “reforms.” During Hurricane Katrina he offered the U.S. help, but was quickly denied by the Bush Administration. Despite back and forth rhetoric, the country of Venezuela has the richest deposits of oil in the Americas which makes him a big league regional player to the United States.
Despite many internal and international grumblings, Chavez was re-elected in 2006 for a six year term with nearly 65% of the vote, while his party receives a majority stake in the National Assembly. Yet, the opposition party wasn’t far behind with winning about 40% of the vote. Though poverty is still wide-spread, there have been over 100,000 co-operative organizations that the government has created with seed money. Programs to aid literacy and healthcare have also been started as well.
Chavez is well known for his flamboyant speeches where he has rattled anti-U.S. rhetoric and has vowed his eternal support for socialist reforms. “I hereby accuse the North American Empire of being the biggest menace to our planet,” he has been quoted saying.
Chavez sees America as a menace
Chavez has been accused of centralizing his power and turning a democratic country in to more of an authoritarian movement and has allied himself with other dictators like Fidel Castro of Cuba. Amnesty International has criticized the Chavez government for targeting and arresting those who are outwardly spoken against his government.
A judge in Spain has found that Chavez’s government may be linked to two terrorist organizations, the ETA in Spain, and FARC in Colombia, but Chavez never blinked. In a bold announcement earlier this month, Chavez announced that it will move all of its gold holding in the United States and Europe back to South America. Many groups of investors, through the World Bank, have sued the Venezuelan government for allegedly taking over its properties and assets in Venezuela.
The way it looks, The U.S. and its allies will be dealing with Chavez for some time to come.
His friendship and increased international trade with the nation of Iran may be cause to be concerned. With reports that Chavez supports FARC behind the scenes, and FARC supports drug cartels that move Cocaine, people, and other illegal contraband into the U.S., Chavez could assist Iranian funded terrorists with entry into the United States.
Could that be one reason why Iran overlooks Chavez Christian faith, while Iran is executing Christians back home? We may know more about this relationship in the days ahead.