The central proposal of Chávez’s Bolivarian Fifth Republic Movement was the establishment of a constitutional assembly to bring to an end the Fourth Republic of Venezuela, which was adapted to neocolonial domination and to rule by a Venezuelan elite. When Chávez assumed the presidency on February 2, 1999, one of his first acts was to sign a decree calling for a constitutional referendum. The opposition sought to annul the decree through challenges to the Supreme Court, but the referendum was held, a Constitutional Assembly was elected, and a new Constitution was developed and approved. Chávez terminated his presidency under the Fourth Republic after only two years and ran for president under the new Constitution. In 2000, he was elected under the new Constitution to a six-year term from 2001 to 2007. In 2006, he was elected (with nearly 63% of the vote) to a second term from 2007 to 2013. He died of cancer in 2013.
The Chávez government sought to institutionalize the process of the popular participation that had been emerging during the 1980s and 1990s. The government initiated the development of structures of Popular Power that include community councils, workers’ councils, student councils, and councils formed by small farmers, which are incorporated into confederations of local, regional, and national councils. Chávez envisioned the gradual integration of popular councils into the state, “progressively transforming the bourgeois state into an alternative state, socialist and Bolivarian” (Chávez 2006:317, 325-27).
The government of Hugo Chávez sought to reduce the autonomy of PDVSA and to incorporate its resources into a project of national development. The Chávez government appointed new directors of PDVSA, replacing the directors appointed by previous governments. With the new leadership of PDVSA, the state income from petroleum increased significantly, and the new funds were directed toward various social projects in education, health, and housing as well as to wage increases, financial assistance to those in need, and the elimination of foreign debt. Most of the social projects are designated as “missions.”
A literacy program, Mission Robinson, was developed with Cuban support. Named for Simón “Robinson” Rodríguez, who was Simón Bolívar’s teacher, it taught one million people to read in 2003. Other missions in education emerged: Mission Ribas, named after independence hero José Felix Ribas, is a program for the completion of high school; Mission Sucre, named after Antonio José Sucre, one of the heroes of the Latin American revolution of 1810-24, is a scholarship program for university education; and Mission Vuelvan Caras provides opportunity for vocational training (Guevara 2005:50-54, 141).
Mission Barrio Adentro is a medical mission that is financed by the Venezuelan state and relies upon the participation of 20,000 Cuban doctors, providing health care services in the poorest regions and neighborhoods of Venezuela. In 2004, Mission Barrio Adentro attended 50 million cases, providing free health care services and medicine (Chávez 2006:110-11, 241-42).
The government of Chávez played a leadership role in forging the unity and integration of Latin America and the Caribbean as well as South-South cooperation. I will describe these processes, which retake the historic dream of the Third World, in subsequent posts in this series of posts on the Third World project.
As a popular revolutionary project that seeks to attain the true sovereignty of the nation and to develop its own endogenous project of national development, the Chávist Bolivarian Revolution is a threat to the neocolonial world-system, which requires the subordination of the nations of the world to the Western neocolonial powers. Since the emergence of the revolution, the US government has sought to undermine it through the support of those sectors in Venezuela that have interests in opposition to the revolutionary project, sectors that in one way or another benefit from the neocolonial world order. These sectors include: the technocratic elite that managed the petroleum industry prior to 1998; the business elite, owners of import-export companies; leaders of the union of petroleum workers, who occupied a privileged position relative to the majority of workers; the landed estate bourgeoisie, historic beneficiaries of the core-peripheral relation; and the traditional political parties, junior partners in the imposition of neocolonial structures and in the implementation of neoliberal policies. These opposition sectors control the private media of communication, and they can count on international financial support and the active engagement of the US embassy.
During the period of the Chávez presidency from 1998 to 2013, the opposition generated much conflict, but the Chávist forces prevailed. However, with the death of Chávez in 2013, the opposition escalated its tactics, and they have created a complicated situation for Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, as we will discuss in the next post.
Guevara, Aleida. 2005. Chávez, Venezuela, and the New Latin America. Melbourne: Ocean Press.
Chávez Frías, Hugo. 2006. La Unidad Latinoamericana. Melbourne: Ocean Sur.
Key words: Chávez, Venezuela, socialism, Bolivarian Revolution