The ballad of Hugo Chavez

In 1998 Venezuela’s political scenario changed dramatically when Hugo Chavez Frias was elected president.

Last week, in a mixed tone of celebration and political campaign, Chavez held meetings and events throughout the country to reassert his pledge to the people and celebrate the 12th anniversary of the Bolivarian Revolution.

With over a decade in government, the people of Venezuela and the world look back to size up Chavez’ policies.

“Both in practice and in discourse, he has handled the rules of democracy to the point of maximum tension, if not frank erosion,” commented Natalia Saltalamacchia, professor for the department of international studies at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM).

Chavez has worked to find legal means to legitimize his hold on power, starting from the creation of a new Constitution in 1999, to the multiple ad hoc reforms that have taken place over the years.

According to Saltalamacchia, the fact that this has been possible “underlines the existence of a basic democratic consensus.”

Various successful missions in areas of health, education and food underpin the changes pushed by Chavez and have helped him to earn the confidence of his constituents.
According to the pollster GIS XXI, Chavez has popular support despite his long stay in power with an approval rate that is around 54 per cent.

However, he has faced popular discontent in recent months due to the housing shortage after the rainstorms of late 2010 and the rise of violence and insecurity.

“There is discontent in the country for the circumstances they live, but it is not widespread due to the effective mass management that the ruling party has,” commented Jessica Rojas, civil society activist in Latin America.

“Venezuelan society receives much outside influence and that is where the movement for free elections has its roots,” said Rojas.

Chavez suffered a setback during the last legislative elections in September, when the opposition got 52 per cent of the popular votes.

Rojas explained, “These results as well as the scenario for 2012 will be influenced by this movement that has been gaining force in search of freedom from coercion in the electoral process.”

Rojas commented that some sectors of the population are starting to resent the effects of his role as leader of the left movements in Latin America, while paying less attention to the national needs.

“The people feel that he should look back inside and start solving the problems of the country.”
According to Saltalamacchia, since the 2004 referendum Chavez “began a course of radicalization of his government that extended to international relations,” transforming them into an instrument of consolidation of its political project in Venezuela.

“He implemented an active and controversial strategy to support related policy options in other countries of the region. As part of this support was his lively and prolonged celebration of successive electoral victory of leftist leaders,” Saltalamacchia concluded.

While Chavez continues his day-to-day proselytizing campaigns, there is still a long path towards the 2012 elections. “You can have free elections without democracy, but there is no democracy without free elections,” Rojas stated.