Re-elected Venezuelan leader the unshrinking Hugo Chávez just last February was having cancer treatment in Cuba. He claimed to have cleared that hurdle, and was fighting fit to run for president again. He presents himself as a reincarnation of Simon Bolivar, heroic liberator of Hispanic America in the 19th century.
Humility is just is not his style. He told crowds after his latest campaign victory: “Chávez is not gone. I should say that when this body truly gives out, Chavez will never end, because I am no longer Chávez . Chávez is in the streets, has become the people: a national essence.”
He was a colonel in the military when he launched his political career with a failure – trying to overthrow an austerity government in 1992 through a mass civilian uprising, which was violently repressed. He gave himself up, but kept hope alive.
Chávez said: “It’s time to avoid more bloodshed,” he said, “time to reflect. New conditions will come when the country takes a definitive turn for the better.”
Ten years later he had been democratically elected president and a coup against him failed, contributing to his growing stature as he survived a power struggle. After a 48-hour absence, he boasted: “I’m still the king!”
He tried to change Venezuelan constitution in 2007, unsuccessfully, but he persevered and in 2009 the two-term limit for presidents was dropped, so he could run his whole life.
Oil paid for Chávez’s many social programmes, in health, housing and education. His vote base were mostly the poor, the majority in Venezuela’s some 29 million people.
Yet violent crime and corruption have remained endemic, and inflation last year was more than 26 percent. This brought masses of ordinary people out in protest demonstrations, saying the Bolivarian Revolution in the country with millions of uncontrolled weapons was not working.
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