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Friday, August 27, 1999 Published at 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK

World: Americas

Analysis: Popularity based on reform promise

Hugo Chavez: Elected on a ticket of reform

Hugo Chavez says his mission is to rid Venezuela of corruption and begin a peaceful revolution. The BBC's Liz Throssell examines why he seems to have the support of many Venezuelans.

In the 1970s and 80s, military governments were a way of life in much of Latin America but not so in Venezuela where civilian rule stretches back more than 40 years.

As well as a proud democratic record, Venezuelans had vast oil wealth. Goverments were able to spend freely and lobby for votes without ever having to worry about the bill.

But today the country presents a very different picture.

[ image: The president's actions have led to trouble on the streets]
The president's actions have led to trouble on the streets
Falling oil revenues resulted in the authorities introducing austerity measures, provoking widespread unrest. But not only that - voters saw politicians and the country's elite lining their own pockets.

Put simply, despite the biggest oil reserves outside the middle east, 80% of Venezuelans live in poverty.

With the traditional political parties discredited, Hugo Chavez, a former paratrooper who led a failed coup in 1992, swept to power last December promising radical reform.

And while his opponents accuse him of trying to concentrate power in his own hands and install a military dictatorship by stealth, many Venezuelans seem ready to put up with anything as long as the old political system is swept away.

The question remains whether the colourful Mr Chavez really can achieve fundamental change.

Economic headache

His supporters control the constituent assembly which will draw up the new constitution but there is no guarantee that he can solve the country's economic problems.

Indeed it could be argued that if the country's previous leaders had sustained economic growth, people would have been more ready to overlook corruption.

If he succeeds, Hugo Chavez will no doubt be feted as a national hero. But if his attempts at what he calls a rebirth of Venzuela fail, Mr Chavez could well be remembered not as offering a new way forward but as a retrogrde step back to an autocratic past which Latin America hoped it had put behind it.

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