Read My Lips

Hugo Chávez — Venezuela’s Resourceful Leader

What are the pros and cons of President Chávez’s leadership?

President for life?

Takeaways


Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez once again showed off his political survival skills by comfortably winning the August 2004 recall referendum. His victory added another chapter to a volatile career, during which he bungled a military coup in 1992 — before getting himself democratically elected in 1998. Our Read My Lips feature explores the pros and cons of his leadership.

What explains Hugo Chávez's clear victory in the August 15, 2004, referendum?

"Mr. Chávez is a throwback to the populism of yesteryear, like Argentina's Juan Peron — and voters are eating it up."
(Hugo Faria, economist at Caracas' IESA business school, August 2004)

How did voters react to new social programs aimed at healthcare, literacy and improving basic job skills?

“Can you imagine what it has meant to me, at 52 years old, to now have a chance to read? It has transformed my life.”
(Olivia Delfino, resident of a poor Caracas barrio, August 2004)

What is the effect of Mr. Chávez's referendum victory on the rest of the world?

"The [oil] market has reacted positively to Venezuela for one reason: They see a little more stability. They know Chávez will likely continue."
(Roger Tissot, director of the PFC Energy consulting firm, August 2004)

Despite his initial attempts to head off the referendum, did Mr. Chávez relish the fight?

“Friends, it is a new battle — and what awaits us is a new victory.”
(Hugo Chávez, June 2004)

Did Venezuela's problems start with President Chávez?

“The political divisions in Venezuela didn’t start with my election in 1998. My country has been socially and economically divided throughout its history.”
(Hugo Chávez, May 2004)

Why was Hugo Chávez surprised to find out about U.S. President George W. Bush's low opinion of him?

“I thought since Bush came from an oil family — and given his political trajectory — that we would understand each other. I can’t believe that a government is willing to put at risk its oil supply.”
(Hugo Chávez, March 2004)

Yet, did this put a damper on his optimism?

“We’re going to make a bet to see who lasts longer, Mr. George Bush — you in the White House or Hugo Chávez here in Miraflores.”
(Hugo Chávez, March 2004)

What explains Mr. Chávez's dislike of Venezuela's media?

“They have been employed in media terrorism — inciting hatred, racism, calling on people not to recognize the official government, even calling on people to assassinate the president.”
(Hugo Chávez, March 2004)

Is President Chávez intimidated by his opponents?

“Like his mentor, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Mr. Chávez thrives on enemies. He sees them not just at home — but in Colombia and the United States.”
(Editorial in The Economist, May 2004)

In what regard is Mr. Chávez an anachronism?

“The 21st century was not supposed to engender a Latin American president with a red beret.”
(Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy, March 2003)

Is Venezuela’s real challenge one of political legitimacy?

“We have gone to a situation where the issue is not political rights — but the right to eat.”
(Henrique Salas Romer, former Venezuelan governor, April 2004)

Yet, what explains his appeal to Venezuela's poor?

“When Chávez talks, it is like he is one of us. He is the first president I’ve seen who talks to the poor — and not just the high classes. He includes us when he talks.”
(Pablo Rosales, Venezuelan taxi driver, March 2004)

And finally, did the high price of oil help Mr. Chávez in the run-up to the referendum?

“He is getting the revenue flows that will enable him to win back those who had defected because of the fact that he had not honored his pledges of allocating resources to the poor.”
(Larry Birns, analyst at the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, June 2004)

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