Renegade or Redeemer?
Following his re-election, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez evoked the words of Pablo Neruda, saying: "Simon Bolivar awakes every hundred years. You, the Venezuelan people, have awoken as a result of this process of revolutionary change."
The elections on July 30 put Chavez's popularity with the Venezuelan people, especially the poor, to a test. The economy plunged into a recession during his first year as president, and unemployment has reached 18 percent. In spite of these difficulties, Chavez received 59 percent of the vote, 3 percent more than in his initial election in 1998. In addition, his "Patriotic Pole" coalition won about 100 seats in the 165-member Congress.
The "revolution" that Chavez advocates is aimed at improving the lives of the "marginal class," Venezuelans lacking steady work. After two decades of economic downturn, this group now constitutes 70 percent of the working population.
Chavez has lashed out at neoliberalism, although he stops short of calling for a state-run economy. Venezuela's new constitution, which was ratified through a national referendum last December, allows private investments for the state pension system, but mandates government oversight. In addition, the new constitution opens the social security system to those working in the informal economy.