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Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 08:51 GMT
Viewpoints: What kind of a leader is Chavez?
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is up for re-election on 3 December. Since he was swept into power in 1998, he has proved to be controversial figure - loathed and revered - both at home and abroad.

Six writers and commentators give their views.

Click on the links below to read what they have to say.

Roger Noriega, former Bush administration official

Margarita Lopez Maya, Venezuelan historian

Alberto Garrido, Venezuelan political analyst

Abraham Aparicio, Venezuelan student leader

Daniel Duquenal, Venezuelan blogger

Julia Buxton, British academic


Roger Noriega was an official of the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005. He is a visiting fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a typical Latin American caudillo (strongman) who achieved an international profile primarily because of his lavish petrodollar diplomacy.

Roger Noriega
He has used [his] powers to harass the independent media and potential opponents
At home, he has forged an intensely ideological, combative, and intolerant regime, brandishing polarising rhetoric to divide and incite social classes and mobilising the tools of the state to suppress and persecute his opponents.

Since taking office, he has systematically concentrated power under his "revolution". He rewrote the constitution to eliminate checks and balances in order to consolidate power in his hands.

His 1999 constitution eliminated the senate, did away with congressional oversight of the armed forces, and politicised the judiciary.

He has used these powers to harass the independent media and potential opponents.

I believe his failure to win a UN Security Council seat, which was his to lose, will be seen as the high water mark for "Chavismo".

HAVE YOUR SAY
I am convinced that a big change is necessary but it has not yet arrived. The solution is not Chavez
Sara Tosta, Caracas, Venezuela

With his bombastic performance at the UN General Assembly, Venezuelans witness that his revolutionary message and outlandish spending abroad have bought him national humiliation. His allies in Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico have fallen flat, and his mentor Castro is breathing his last.

At home, Venezuelans have grown poorer, less secure, and more divided under his rule. Chavez's political opposition is uniting behind an able and tough politician, experienced governor Manuel Rosales.

There is much evidence that Chavez has lost "the street" and some polls show the opposition closing the gap despite a government-funded campaign.

Electoral observers of the Organization of American States and the European Union have an important responsibility to ensure a free and fair election. But more and more every day, Venezuelans are realising that if they are to reclaim their democracy, they will have to toughen up and do it themselves.

Margarita Lopez Maya is a historian and a professor at the Central University of Venezuela.

I met Chavez in 1997, when I was looking for information on new figures in the Left. I had an interview with him which lasted about two hours.

Margarita Lopez Maya
Maybe Chavez will surprise me again
I mention this because I found him to be a warm, affable person - we had a good conversation.

What surprised me the most was his interpretation of Venezuelan history - his notion that, for the poor, nothing had changed since independence in 1830.

I was impressed when he said he did not want to become a myth, remembered because of his TV appearance after the 1992 coup.

Now, when I see him on TV, and I see the impassioned crowds screaming and crying, I find it hard to believe this is the same man I met in 1997. I think I am immune to the passions this charismatic leader arouses.

I see Chavez as a powerful and extremely contradictory political figure.

His determination to reach power, to deepen democracy - giving Venezuelans full participation and social equality - is worthy of the highest praise.

His ability to survive ferocious attacks from the Right - Venezuelan and international - show his political skill.

However there are threats looming over the process of democratisation: Chavez's desire to be the one who is essential in the process; his furious outbursts; his refusal to leave behind the polarising discourse; surrounding himself with people who are unable to treat him as an equal, and his desire to perpetuate himself in power and centralise it.

I see Chavez as a politician of the transition - as long as he keeps the process polarised, the country divided, we will not be able to achieve the new system we seek.

But maybe Chavez will surprise me again and manage to transcend himself and become a statesman.

Alberto Garrido is a political analyst and author of a number of books about President Chavez.

Chavez is a very intelligent man - politically brave and bold. I think he is a great politician.

He is a formidable pragmatist - he may be a great admirer of the Cuban Revolution, but if he feels it is not right for Venezuela, he will not apply it across the board.

Alberto Garrido
Behind Chavez, there is a political cemetery
Chavez considers himself the bearer of a historic mission - to complete the work of [independence hero] Simon Bolivar. Fidel Castro calls it Latin America's second independence, the guerrillas called it emancipation - Chavez says the unipolar world must be replaced by a multipolar one.

Chavez isn't involved in small-scale things - he does not like them. That is why it bothers him so much to have to be involved in an election campaign.

He feels that political problems are geopolitical - they are global - and that is where he should be occupying his mind.

But he has to campaign because he is charismatic. He is what they call a man of the people. He does not suffer from embarrassment or have the trappings of traditional politicians - he can sing at meetings, recite, or dance if necessary. People feel he is close to them - they see him as one of their own.

He has leadership qualities, not only because he is a military man, but because he likes being in control and giving orders. Chavez is terrible when it comes to revenge - he is inexorable. There is no stopping him.

In his mind, there is no-one above him. No-one tells Chavez what to do. That makes him a very solitary figure - one with no commitments.

That has another consequence: those who work beside him are scared of him.

They know he does not make compromises, because he feels he has a mission ahead. So, he has left behind many of those who have started the process with him.

Behind Chavez, there is a political cemetery.

Abraham Aparicio is one of the leaders of the Bolivarian Federation of Students and a local community leader.

The president is a great leader, with all his virtues and defects. There are things that may have escaped him, things he has missed, but that is just human - to make mistakes is normal.

Abraham Aparicio
He is an ordinary guy, and has a lot of charisma
Those of us who are involved in the revolutionary process see him as someone who is very free. We have faith in the president - our hopes are placed in him to take the country forward.

The president is revolutionary, totally different to the people who have governed the country in the past.

These days, people are informed about what the government is doing, they are told where the money is being invested.

The president has himself been critical of certain things, such as the problems with housing and insecurity. He admits there are problems and that inspires me, as a community and student leader. I think we are going in the right direction.

The president has a very dynamic style of government. He often takes off his presidential investitures - he is like a friend, a father. He is an ordinary guy, and has a lot of charisma - that has helped him.

Those who accuse of him of being authoritarian should ask themselves what they mean by that.

If authoritarianism is giving more power to the people, then the concept of authoritarianism needs to be looked at again. If it is giving more opportunities for people to get an education, then one needs to ask what they mean.

The president is working for the people.

Daniel Duquenal is a well-known blogger writing in English from Yaracuy, Venezuela (Venezuela News and Views blog).

As a leader Chavez has been changing considerably over the years.

From your average military coupster in 1992, he evolved into a political leader able to unite a broad coalition from the right to the left for his 1998 election.

Daniel Duquenal
His military origins... make him view all political adversaries as enemies that must be crushed
But since then he has been drifting, becoming a leftist leader whose goal is to ensure the succession to Fidel Castro, to become the iconic image of the Latin America Left.

Chavez has revealed himself a purely political leader. The hands-on approach, monitoring whether the law and his orders, are fulfilled is not for him.

Chavez does not care much if the results are up to expectations or if they represent the will of the people. The only results that matter are those deriving from the politics of the "Bolivarian revolution" which aims to ensure its staying power over the decades, with Chavez in charge.

Chavez only worries about appearing as the only viable leader of the so-called revolution. His main concern has been to set the agenda alone, all the time, preferably every Sunday through his talk show Alo Presidente.

He has been very successful at this, even if along the way he has left a stupendous catalogue of promises made, but ignored.

In a country used to decades of populist governments, it has worked out quite well for Chavez who has simply outdone any previous Venezuelan leader's promises, but with more charisma and much better contact with the masses.

His military origins also make him view all political adversaries as enemies that must be crushed.

And there lies his weakness as a leader: once victory is achieved he does not know what to do with it, and thus he looks for new adversaries at home or abroad.

Along the way, he exhausts the country.

Julia Buxton is a senior research fellow at Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford.

Hugo Chavez is usually dismissed as a "banana republic" strongman detached from the best interests of his country. The reality is more complex.

Julia Buxton
Chavez speaks the language of the excluded
He has led an important process of political change that has enhanced the quality of Venezuelan democracy by extending rights and opportunities to those previously marginalised by the two-party system that controlled politics (and distribution of the country's oil export resources) for 40 years.

This has made Chavez tremendously popular - not only in Venezuela but more widely - in countries where arcane models of "elite" control persist to the detriment of the poor, indigenous groups and women.

Chavez speaks the language of the excluded, his rhetorical flourishes tapping into and articulating the concerns of ordinary people.

The political transformation in Venezuela has been possible because Chavez led "from the front" and challenged elite vested interests.

However, the idea that Chavez is an all-powerful, unaccountable populist is misleading. The popular base of Chavismo is more autonomous than is reflected in media coverage of the country.

There is a strong two-way relationship between Chavez and his supporters and all changes have been approved in referendums or elections (10 of which have been held since 1999).

Chavez holds together an eclectic alliance of groups and his government has been constantly attacked by domestic opponents and the US. These factors have served to elevate the importance of Chavez's leadership - as arbiter of his movement's internal divisions and as defender of the revolution against "imperialist" aggression.

The surge in oil prices has given Chavez tremendous leverage and insulated Venezuela from US pressure.

Consequently, Chavez has been able to adopt an aggressive stance against perceived injustices - neo-liberal policies, the war in Iraq, the suffering of Palestinian people.

These sentiments come from a genuine and deep felt sense of grievance against the current global order.

However, as his speech at the recent UN meeting showed, Chavez has a penchant for microphone diplomacy and off-the-cuff remarks that undermine the legitimacy of the causes that he seeks to promote.



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