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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 17:51 GMT
Head-to-head: Should Chavez leave power?
President Hugo Chavez arouses the deepest of passions among Venezuelans. Most either love him, or loathe him.

Elected in 1998, he has survived an attempted coup, a crippling two-month strike and numerous legal challenges to his rule. But he has survived in part because of his loyal support among Venezuela's have-nots.

Here, two commentators on either side of the divide give their views:

YES

Natalia Brandler, political scientist at Simon Bolivar University in the Venezuelan capital Caracas:

There are strong reasons to oppose the government of Hugo Chavez.

Chavez's ineptitude in fulfilling his promises of changing the corrupt and inefficient ways of previous governments has:

  • Produced the worst fiscal crisis for the past 20 years

  • Increased unemployment, inflation, poverty and malnutrition

  • Raised crime, impunity, and nepotism to much higher levels

  • Undermined the national oil company's production capacity. [Venezuela is the fifth largest oil producer in the world, and its economy is heavily dependent on oil.]

    However, these are not the reasons Chavez should go. There are many inefficient democratic governments in the world, and people just have to wait until their time is over to change them!

    'Authoritarian'

    Instead, Hugo Chavez should be recalled from office because he is implementing the radical views he has held since his coup attempt in 1992.

    He is gradually installing an authoritarian regime in Venezuela that systematically violates the constitution and the democratic separation of powers. He has:

  • Attacked and discredited the Supreme Court when it has not ruled in his favour

  • Publicly ordered civilian and military authorities to disregard and disobey any court decisions that run contrary to his will

  • Arranged for the pro-government Constitutional Court to modify the law that establishes the Supreme Court's composition - which will give Chavez total control over it, by appointing 10 more pro-government judges

  • Organised and financed armed pro-government groups which repeatedly attack and intimidate members of the opposition

  • Formed alliances with the leaders of rogue states accused of violating human rights and of fomenting terrorism (Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Chavez's close ally, Fidel Castro of Cuba)

  • Forged ties with irregular and subversive forces in the region, such as the Colombian guerrillas.

    Above all, Chavez is not a democrat. His radical revolution is leading Venezuela to the abyss of civil war.

  • NO

    Richard Gott, author of In the Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo Chavez and the Transformation of Venezuela:

    Hugo Chavez offers Venezuela the best hope for the future, and, were he to go, his departure would plunge the country into a deep crisis of ungovernability, bringing an opposition to power with no leaders, no programme, and no popular support.

    Venezuela was facing a serious political crisis long before the election of Chavez in 1998.

    The famous "Caracazo" of 1989, when the slum dwellers of Caracas took to the streets, was the first rebellion in Latin America against the neo-liberal economic programmes being tried out in the continent, and since that moment the old political framework in Venezuela has fallen to pieces.

    The traditional political parties, their leaders, and their associated trade unions, were abandoned by the voters.

    Chavez, emerging as a popular military leader, stepped into the vacuum with a programme designed to place the country on an entirely fresh footing.

    'Social democrat'

    He started with a new constitution, and followed this up with a wide-ranging programme of economic and social reform, affecting land ownership and the organisation of the state oil company.

    Revolutionary in his rhetoric but social democratic in his programme of government, Chavez has aroused great hostility in conservative sectors of society who have been more affected in their amour propre than in their pocket.

    Chavez, with his pronounced black and Indian ancestry, and his ability to appeal to Venezuela's poor and neglected majority population, offends against the racist norms of the country's traditional white settler elite.

    This elite opposition has discredited itself, first by supporting a right-wing military coup, and then by organising a political work-stoppage that gravely affected the country's oil income, an initiative viewed with disfavour by the armed services.

    Since the collapse of the strike, the opposition campaign against Chavez has largely run out of steam, and the president has reinforced his popularity with well-funded social programmes in the shanty towns that are already making a substantial impact.

    At the same time, his nationalist foreign policy, often critical of the United States, has restored a sense of self-respect to the Venezuelan people. He will doubtless soldier on for many years to come.





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