Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías
Chávez Frías, Hugo Rafael (ōˈgō räfäĕlˈ chäˈvĕs frēˈäs) [key], 1954–, Venezuelan political leader, president of Venezuela (1999–). Educated at the Military Academy of Venezuela (grad. 1975), for two decades he was a career army officer, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1992, Chávez took part in an unsuccessful coup attempt against President Carlos Andrés Pérez and was imprisoned until 1994. A charismatic populist, he became the leader of the leftist Patriotic Pole alliance. Promising a peaceful social revolution, Chávez was elected president in a 1998 landslide. In office he ended the privatization of Venezuela's state holdings, put himself in control of economic matters, and cut oil production to raise oil prices. A constituent assembly mainly made up of his supporters wrote a new constitution that granted the president increased powers and a longer possible term of office and weakened the legislature and judiciary. Chávez's popularity with the country's poor increased as he took measures against corruption, criticized the traditional oligarchy, and made more funds available for social programs. He also attacked his critics in business and the media and expanded the role of the military; closer ties were established with Middle Eastern oil-producing nations and Cuba.
In 2000, Chávez won office under the new constitution. Despite his populist rhetoric, many expressed fears that he was exhibiting the distinctively dictatorial signs of the classic Latin American military strongman, the caudillo. Although he retained strong support among the lower classes, opposition to his rule increased, and strikes and demonstrations sparked by his attempts to assert control over the state oil company led to a short-lived coup in Apr., 2002, and a prolonged strike by oil workers late in 2002. An attempt by the opposition to recall him through a referendum (Aug., 2004) resulted in a solid vote for Chávez.
Reelected in a landslide in 2006, he moved to nationalize all private energy and power companies in Venezuela and the country's largest telecommunications firms; nationalizations subsequently expanded to include other industries and services. He also increased government restrictions on the media. Treated for cancer beginning in 2011, Chávez declared himself fully recovered before he sought reelection for a third time in 2012. He won solidly but not by a landslide; he continued to benefit from the social services underwritten by the government's oil revenues. Subsequent surgery in Cuba for cancer, however, led to complications, and his inauguration was postponed.
Internationally Chávez has called for Latin American nations to forge closer ties and achieve greater regional integration, and to be less dependent on the United States. His outspokenness and support for potential political allies in other countries, however, has led a number of Latin American nations to accuse him of meddling in their internal affairs.
See biographies by B. Jones and by A. B. Tyzka and K. Cordero (both: 2007); study by N. Kozloff (2006).
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