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The BBC's Peter Greste in Caracas
"According to Mr Arias the firebrand president has had his day"
 real 56k

Monday, 31 July, 2000, 05:12 GMT 06:12 UK
Chavez: Visionary or demagogue?
Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez: he calls himself a "social revolutionary"
Despite being unable to claim success on any of the issues that most concern Venezuelans, such as curbing crime and unemployment, Hugo Chavez has easily won a new presidential term.

In the campaign, he reverted to some of his favourite populist techniques in an effort to repeat the landslide victory he got in December 1998.

He has pledged to bring about an "economic revolution", promising to get the country's economy back on its feet and improve social conditions.

However, some analysts say that Mr Chavez is frightening off investment with threats to "crush the oligarchs".

Beloved and hated

A former military coup plotter and a charismatic leader, President Hugo Chavez has been called both a visionary and a dictator in the making. He prefers to describe himself as a "social revolutionary".


What my rivals don't understand, and this is the cause of their defeat, is that Hugo Chavez is not Chavez but the people of Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Long before Mr Chavez took office as president of Venezuela he had proved himself to be a man capable of arousing strong opinions.

To his detractors he is a populist demagogue with a patchwork quilt of political beliefs. To his supporters he is the leader that Venezuela needs to sweep away a corrupt and outdated establishment.

But whichever view prevails, there is no doubt that the 46-year-old ex-paratrooper's journey along the road to power has been an eventful one.

Now, the former colonel likes to spice his often lengthy and unusual speeches with quotes from the Bible, French poets, military overtones and repeated references to 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar, who Mr Chavez claims as his inspiration.

Francisco Arias campaign
Not everybody in the army supports Mr Chavez
He says that the voters have fully legitimised his power and his actions. Following his 1998 election, Mr Chavez called a referendum to approve plans for a new constitution, another to elect officials to write it and a third to approve the new charter.

Having recently faced worrying opposition from within the armed forces, who say he is politicising the military, Mr Chavez hopes Sunday's elections will further strengthen his mandate.

Founded secret movement

Mr Chavez first came to prominence in February 1992 when he led an attempt to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andres Perez amid growing anger at economic austerity measures.

But the foundations for that failed coup had been laid a decade earlier, when Mr Chavez and a group of fellow military officers had founded a secret movement named after the father of South American independence leader, Simon Bolivar.

The February revolt by members of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement (MBR) claimed 18 lives and left 60 injured before Colonel Chavez gave himself up.

Prison years

He was languishing in a military jail when his associates tried again to seize power nine months later.

That second coup attempt in November 1992 was crushed as well, but only after the rebels had captured a TV station and broadcast a videotape of Colonel Chavez announcing the fall of the government.

Carlos Andres Perez
Carlos Andres Perez was also arrested
Mr Chavez spent two years in prison before being granted a pardon. But the man he tried to oust, Mr Perez, fared little better - he was removed from office and sentenced to two years' house arrest on corruption charges.

While Mr Perez fell on hard times, Mr Chavez became a national hero in the eyes of many. As he made the transition from soldier to politician, his movement changed its name from MBR to MVR or Movement of the Fifth Republic.

At the same time, the old Venezuelan order was falling apart. Unlike most of its neighbours, Venezuela had enjoyed an unbroken period of democratic government since 1958 but the two main parties who had alternated in power stood accused of presiding over a corrupt system and squandering the country's vast oil wealth.

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28 Jul 00 | Americas
Q & A: Venezuela elections
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