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Hugo Chávez

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Hugo Chávez (1954–2013, full name Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías) was the socialist/populist president of Venezuela. Although he was democratically elected and didn't make any openly autocratic moves, he engaged in a lot of demagoguery and was seen by opponents as progressively creeping toward dictator status. However, the three elections won by Chávez were deemed free and fair by the international community.[1]

In many ways, Chávez and the Venezuelan state were one and the same. Chávez ran on a cult of personality, diminishing many of the democratic institutions within Venezuela. He typified majoritarianism, the idea that democracy is about elections only and that the opposition (those who didn't vote for him) could go fuck themselves. He had a bit of a messiah complex, assuring others that God would remove all obstacles to his goals for Venezuela. Arguably the only positive thing going for him were his policies on poverty reduction.[2] He still holds appeal for lefties who would rather live in a socialist hellhole than a capitalist nightmare; the opposite of Putin's fan club.

The economy under Chávez more or less collapsed and became inordinately dominated by the oil industry, inflation was consistently high, and Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Even oil production decreased under his tenure, due to systematic mismanagement of the state oil company. Venezuela today has the world's worst economic growth, worst inflation, and 9th-worst employment rate — unless Chavez's daughter wants to donate some of that billion-dollar fortune she 'inherited.'[3][4][5]

Political positions[edit]

Hugo Chávez and George W. Bush compare their favourite books
I write about peace and criticize the barriers to peace; that's easy. What's harder is to create a better world... and what's so exciting about at last visiting Venezuela is that I can see how a better world is being created.
Noam Chomsky in 2009.[6]
So, it’s a—I mean, if you look at it, it still has—if you look at, say, the U.N. Human Development Index, Venezuela still ranks, say, above Brazil.
—Chomsky in 2017[7]

Chavez, a fierce opponent of neoliberalism and imperialism, was very critical of George W. Bush. As a result of this, Chavez was the darling of the American liberal establishment for years. Hollywood actors would come out loudly proclaiming what a wonderful place Venezuela is. Oliver Stone and Sean Penn were probably the most notorious, but Michael Moore and Kevin Spacey also met with him.[8][9][10][11] Hollywood has a weird hard-on for socialist dictators. (Chávez also had a lot of oil, and Americans were legitimately worried God would tell Bush to invade their government would try to "liberate" Venezuela just like Iraq and other energy producers.)[12] And every cult needs a devil for its god to fight.[13][14]

Chavez was very fond of saying that everyone wanted to overthrow him and of then taking actions against them; examples include failure to renew the license of a private television station that he alleged was calling for his violent overthrow. He also tried to eliminate term limits - this was done through a popular referendum that eventually failed. On account of this first failure and his obvious dissatisfaction, he called the people of his country to yet another election, and after an aggressive campaign, he won with 6 million votes in favor versus 5 million against. He also nationalized the profits of the state oil company PDVSA, raised the literacy level of Venezuela, and enjoyed using profane language on national television for 8 hours straight every Sunday. So, at the very best, mixed.

Personal views[edit]

Chávez claimed to be a devout Christian,[15] called Jesus the world's first socialist, and was a huge fan of Noam Chomsky.

Good things Chávez did[edit]

After taking power in 1998, he used Venezuelan oil revenues to try to raise the standard of living of poor Venezuelans. He formed programs attempting to improve universal health care, education, and affordable housing. Venezuelans have actually managed to have more civil liberties than before the Chávez era; he accused many Venezuelan media outlets of sedition,[16] but took comparatively few steps to censor them.

He instituted a constitutional referendum and allowed the Venezuelan people to vote on a new constitution, and called many more referenda on significant questions.

Cheap oil for the poor[edit]

Chávez executed a humanitarian propaganda coup in the winter of 2006-2007 by performing an end-run around the State Department, negotiating an arrangement for low-cost heating oil (through the national oil company's subsidiary Citgo) to be delivered to needy households in Massachusetts and other states directly with a former Massachusetts Congresscritter and former teen heartthrob.[17]

He ended this program shortly before Barack Obama's inauguration, but quickly bowed to public pressure and restored it again for the winters of 2008 to 2012.[18]

Worrisome observations[edit]

Hugo Boss[edit]

Despite his Chomsky fanboyism and the fact that he still remained subject to the popular vote, he also pushed through the legislature the ability to make laws on his own,[19] which is kind of the essence of being a dictator.[note 1] The legislature did have to ratify any changes he made, although at the time the entire government structure was staffed by Chávez supporters.

Chávez also attempted to remove term limits and sought the ability to override democratically elected provincial governors, but when the referendum failed, he graciously accepted it as the will of the people — for all of two years, until he held another referendum on his term limits, which passed.[20]

Meanwhile, with inflation at over 20%[21] and food shortages growing,[22] his popularity may have been past its peak when he fell ill.

Labor issues[edit]

Despite Chávez's leftist image, his relations with organized labor were spotty at best. PDVSA, its employees and management, as well as the main labor federation, CTV, were primary sources of opposition to Chávez. Following a December 2002 general strike (which effectively ground the country to a standstill), called by CTV and supported by PDVSA workers, Chávez purged 19,000 employees from the company's rolls and stacked the management with Chávez loyalists.[23] In 2003 a rival pro-Chávez labor federation, the UNT, was formed in an attempt to lessen the anti-Chávez influence of CTV. As a result, during the 2006 elections, the head of PDVSA (as well as Venezuela's energy minister) told workers to either support Chávez or lose their jobs.

Since the stacking of PDVSA management with Chávez's friends, oil production in Venezuela is down 50%; Venezuela is (or was) the 5th largest oil supplier in the world.

Support for terrorism[edit]

Chávez had some other troubling associates, specifically a man named Raúl Reyes, who was the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of ColombiaWikipedia's W.svg (more commonly known as FARC). When Colombia launched a raid against FARC which crossed EcuadorWikipedia's W.svg's border, Chávez threatened to attack Colombia if they pursued FARC terrorists into his country. Since that time, there have been many disclosures of financial support for FARC.[24][25] There is also proof of (at least) partial support of the Basque Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) terrorist group: indeed, one former member of ETA, Arturo Cabillas, was in his government.

Conspiracy theories[edit]

Chávez also consistently claimed that the US was about to invade Venezuela, ostensibly to remove him and subjugate the Venezuelan people under its ironbooted Yankee imperialism (although, to be fair, the US has in fact tried and tried and occasionally succeeded at that sort of thing in other countries). His "evidence" was a few military personnel in Colombia and the fact that American servicepeople have been on some nearby Dutch islands for years. Chávez accused the United States of using a weather-based weapon system to cause the 2010 Haitian earthquake (as if earthquakes were caused by weather!), which he believes shall ultimately be used against Iran.[26] In 2011 Chávez claimed that the United States could be using a secret weapon to inflict cancer upon Latin American leftist leaders.[27] Chávez later denied that he was making rash accusations, more just thinking aloud. If you want to know, those affected by cancer include:

  • Hugo Chávez – incumbent President of Venezuela, confirmed in 2011 that he had undergone treatment for cancer (and died from it in 2013)
  • Dilma Rousseff – current President of Brazil, announced in 2009 that she was undergoing treatment for lymphoma
  • Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – President of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. Lula, a smoker for 40 years, was diagnosed with throat cancer
  • Fernando Lugo – incumbent President of Paraguay, was diagnosed in 2010 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma

It must be true!

Civil rights[edit]

Later in his presidency Chávez grew increasingly intolerant towards his opposition. In 2007, he failed to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), an opposition television station that participated in the 2002 coup against him.[28] RCTV continued as a cable network, but early in 2010, it was removed from the networks along with several other cable channels for, e.g., refusing to broadcast Chávez's speeches and not showing enough soap operas in the afternoon.

Religious fanaticism[edit]

Chávez took to saying that God would fix all of Venezuela's current problems, because God was actually a socialist just like him. In particular, despite forecasts from climate scientists that a drought that seriously affected hydroelectric power generation on the country's main dam during early 2010 would continue for quite some time, Chávez was convinced that God and nature would do so much sooner, overruling El Niño in favor of the Bolivarian revolution.[29]

Support for acknowledged dictators[edit]

To go along with Chávez's own dictatorial flirtations, he is on record as supporting leaders who are acknowledged on most hands to be dictators. He palled about considerably with Fidel Castro of Cuba, whom he befriended when touring Latin America in search of support for his Bolivarian revolution. He later joined Castro in supporting the Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi against the growing insurgency in that country, stating that people opposing Gaddafi are involved in a big U.S.-led conspiracy to colonize the place.[30]

Politicization of education[edit]

Chávez froze the budgets for the traditional public universities, where a number of his political opponents are stationed,[31] and established a new system of schools under the name of "Bolivarian University." These institutions, whose criteria for admission consist largely of being able to show up to class, have a primarily political purpose: they are aimed at quickly training a large body of Qualified Professionals to, say, staff public health care centers (thus allowing Chávez to make good on his campaign promises) and engage "radical journalism" that will counter the influence of the country's Biased Neoliberal Media.[32] The curriculum there has been criticized as "thinly veiled propaganda," and concerns have been raised about how all the new college graduates (the university had 180,000 students before it graduated any) will be able to be employed in a manner fully utilizing their skills.

In an interview, the rector of the Bolivarian University confirmed that there is a direct political goal to the university's programs, as the university expects its graduates to learn commitment to the "transformation of society." The rector also responded to the concerns about the potential underemployment of the university's graduates by evading them, first by claiming that when they speak of "work" for the graduates they do not mean jobs, and secondly with a lot of the usual slop about how "our job isn't to create professionals, but to empower people."

Convoluted violence[edit]

In 2007 anti-Chávez students were fired upon by masked gunmen. Many suggested that Chávez was trying to suppress those who would vote against referenda to give him more power; on the other hand, the referenda were expected to pass easily.[33] The gunmen were identified by university officials as members of a paramilitary group loyal to Chávez.[34]

Insane economic policies[edit]

Chávez was an old style Latin American caudillo and thus his policies were more dependent on what the poor masses wanted than what was economically prudent. For instance, he started printing money almost immediately after taking office and the bolívar (named, like almost anything in Chavista Venezuela, after Simon BolívarWikipedia's W.svg) tanked, which is bad if your economy is dependent on importing everything that is not oil. Providing welfare based on a single source of major revenue is never a good idea; Alaska got hit very hard by oil prices, but Alaskans aren't breaking into zoos to scrounge for horse/flamingo meat[35] (the “Maduro diet”), because they have a decentralized economy which can plow through a resource depression.

Prior to Chávez, Venezuela had a pretty healthy agricultural sector, and was actually self-sufficient in many important foodstuffs. Today, it is both easier and cheaper to get a gallon of gasoline than a gallon of milk.[36] Supermarkets are barren,[37] and it's not just capital flight. It's destruction of capital, and the suppression of new capital formation. So you have a whole country of farmers who stopped growing food because they were forbidden to make a profit off of it.[38] And by money we mean foreign currency, gold, silver, ammo, oil, food, jewelry or anything besides bolívar, because it's just a piece of paper now.[39] Most people don't have any of those, because they weren't prepared for such an apocalypse. They trusted their government.

Nearly every sector that is not petroleum has tanked, and today the most lucrative "businesses" are a) currency speculation (the bolívar has two different exchange rates officially, and a totally different one unofficially) and b) smuggling petrol or petroleum products to Colombia, where it can be sold for dollars or exchanged for goods. Of course Chávez and Maduro blamed "bourgeois speculators"[40] (and now "nefarious" smugglers)[41] for all the problems in the country.

Checkbook diplomacy[edit]

Not happy with having tanked the Venezuelan economy with his insane "Bolivarian" policies, Chávez also tried to buy himself an empire of like-minded presidents throughout America. Most of the other socialist or communist movements were dependent on Chavista funding for most of their reign, be they Cuba (who at least sent well-trained doctors in exchange), Bolivia under Morales, or Honduras under Zelaya. Of course this only helped to increase the dependency on oil and when the price of petroleum tanked, the whole house of cards came tumbling down.


Chavez has been accused multiple times[42][43][44][45][46] of holding antisemitic views, espousing antisemitic rhetoric and using it to attack political opponents foreign and domestic.

Conservatives and Chávez[edit]

Chávez became something of a liberal bogeyman to many conservatives. This ignores the fact that, other than oil, Chávez had no weapons to wield against the United States. His military was a joke and other states were starting to turn against him. However, wingnuts still treated him as an imminent danger to the United States[note 2] and he probably has Weapons of Mass Destruction.[note 3]

This fact may be why the Bush Administration did not clamor for war against Venezuela, unlike say, Iran or Syria. (Clamoring for war does not necessarily mean actually going to war.) Also, the reasons for war in Iraq simply don't exist in Venezuela.[note 4]

Fox News[edit]

The morons at Fox News seem to have great difficulty in understanding that there is a difference between Hugo Chávez and César Chávez.[47] Well, who can blame Fox, they are just two of that kind of people.

Ghostly Cesar Romero: I am the spirit of César Chávez.
Homer: Why do you look like Cesar Romero?
Ghostly Cesar Romero: Because you don't know what César Chávez looks like.
The Simpsons, Hungry, Hungry Homer

TV ventures[edit]

Chávez had a television show in Venezuela, titled Aló Presidente. It essentially consists of him talking into a camera for several hours (with occasional singing and dancing), sort of like the The O'Reilly Factor, except the Factor makes a tacit acknowledgment that other views exist. And doesn't have singing and dancing. In May of 2009, Chávez broadcast his program for four days straight (with breaks).[48]

¿Por qué no te callas?[edit]

At the 2007 Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile, Chávez continuously interrupted Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's speech by denouncing José María Aznar (Zapatero's predecessor as Spanish PM) as a fascist and as someone "less human than snakes." Zapatero (widely known to be very much opposed to Aznar's policies) defended Aznar by pointing out that he had been chosen by the Spanish people as their legitimate representative. Although the organization switched off Chávez's microphone to stop him, he continued to interrupt Zapatero's speech. And then, in a glorious moment, King Juan Carlos I leaned forward, turned towards Chávez and told him "¿Por qué no te callas?" ("Why don't you [just] shut up?"), reminding people that Spain still had a king. The king used familiar rather than formal Spanish, which is highly disrespectful when used outside of close personal or family relationships. Hence he spoke to him like an adult might speak towards an insolent child. This phrase soon became a meme, with T-shirts, mugs and assorted memorabilia being produced and sold everywhere in and outside of the Spanish-speaking world.

Unfortunately, Chávez never followed the request, and it took cancer to silence him.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. For example, one of the powers given to the original dictators, in the Roman Republic, was the power to rule by decree.
  2. For example, Pat Robertson called for his execution.
  3. See Iraq War
  4. This raises the question, if Venezuela is antagonistic, has a weak military, but has oil, was the War in Iraq entirely about oil? Reasonable minds can differ on this question.


  1. U.S. Relations With Venezuela, U.S. Department of State.
  2. Two sides of Chavez, one difficult legacy, The Globe and Mail
  3. Lansberg-Rodríguez, Daniel, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria Gabriela?" Atlantic 8.28.14.
  4. Minaya, Ezequiel, "Chávez Heir Lands First Job: U.N. Envoy", WSJ (9/19/14 at 4:40 p.m. ET ).
  5. Holmes, Frank, "New President Good News for Argentina", Forbes (12/1/15 at 10:56 AM).
  6. Suggett, James, "Noam Chomsky Meets with Chavez in Venezuela", Venezuela Analysis (28 August 2009, 11.30am ).
  7. "Chomsky: Leftist Latin American Governments Have Failed to Build Sustainable Economies", Democracy Now! 5 April 2017.
  8. Penn, Sean, "Conversations With Chavez and Castro", The Nation 28 November 2011.
  9. Orozco, José, "Oliver Stone film on Hugo Chávez flops with Venezuelans", CSMonitor 29 June 2010.
  10. Romero, Simon, "Michael Moore Irks Supporters of Chávez", NYT 25 October 2009.
  11. Lee, Ashley, "Kevin Spacey Defends Venezuela Protests: 'They Are on the Right Side of History'", Hollywood Reporter (9 April 2014, 10:48 AM PDT).
  12. "US investigates Venezuela coup role", BBC (14 May 2002, 11:57pm GMT).
  13. Stout, David, "Chávez Calls Bush ‘the Devil’ in U.N. Speech", NYT 20 September 2006.
  14. "Chavez Smells 'Sulfur'... Again", Daily Beast (18 February 2009, 10:44 AM ET).
  15. Chavez demands Pope apologize for Indian comments, Reuters
  16. Venezuela's war of the airwaves, BBC
  17. Venezuela's Oil Giveaway, Time
  18. Chávez restores free home heating oil program to US poor, Christian Science Monitor
  19. New Venezuela hands Chavez wide powers, The Guardian
  20. Hugo Chávez wins referendum allowing indefinite re-election, The Guardian
  21. Venezuela Raises Lending Rates in Bid to Cut Prices, Bloomberg
  22. Venezuela scrambles for food despite oil boom, The Guardian
  23. A Decade Under Chávez Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela
  24. Laptop emails link Venezuela to Colombian guerrillas, The Guardian
  25. Colombia Is Flashpoint in Chávez’s Feud With U.S., The New York Times
  26. Hugo Chavez: A U.S. Weapons Test Caused The Haitian Earthquake, Business Insider
  27. US rejects Hugo Chavez remarks on Latin America cancer, BBC
  28. Chavez to shut down opposition TV, BBC
  29. Chavez trusts God and nature in power crisis, Reuters
  30. In Venezuela, Chavez tries to boost Gaddafi, Washington Post
  31. Violence and Discrimination Rise in Opposition-Controlled Venezuelan Universities
  32. Chavez Educates Masses at a University in His Image, Washington Post
  33. Lawmakers in Venezuela Approve Expanded Power for Chávez, The New York Times
  34. Mr. Chavez's Coup, Washington Post
  35. Khan, Shebab, "Venezuelan ambassador denies there is humanitarian crisis - despite citizens stealing rare zoo animals for food", Independent (17 August 2016, 7:09pm BST).
  36. Shah, Kushbu, "Venezuela's inflation rates are now highest in the world, sending food prices through the roof",Business Insider (9 August 2016, 9:41 PM).
  37. Otis, John, "As Food Crisis Worsens, Venezuelans Loot Almost-Empty Stores", NPR (20 Junes2016, 12:13 PM ET).
  38. Livingstone, Grace, "Venezuela's farmers: 'Planting for the revolution'", BBC 25 Febuary 2016.
  39. Rueda, Manuel, "Venezuelans are hawking everything from wedding rings to their hair just to feed themselves", Fusion (3 January 2017, 1:24pm).
  40. Llana, Sara Miller, "Chávez vows to punish 'bourgeoisie speculation' after devaluing currency", CSMonitor 11 January 2010.
  41. "Venezuela's Maduro Vows to Extend Colombia Border Crackdown", Voice of America via Associated Press (25 August 2015, 8:53 AM).
  47. Google Honors Cesar Chavez, Right Wing Goes Into Massive Freakout Mode
  48. 'Aló Presidente,' Are You Still Talking?, Washington Post