By JELA DE FRANCESCHI, VOA news, August 22, 2006 – Venezuela’s fiery President Hugo Chavez is the subject of both adulation and scorn. Some say he is headed toward despotism; others claim he is a man of the people. And still others say he is both.
When Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was first elected president in 1998, oil-rich Venezuela was ripe for change. For four decades, two parties – - the Democratic Action Party and the Christian Democratic Party — dominated the political scene. During that time, many observers note, no Latin American country deteriorated more than Venezuela. Its gross domestic product fell nearly 40 percent; three-quarters of the population lived below the poverty line.
According to Riordan Roett, Director of the Western Hemisphere Program at The Johns Hopkins University in Washington, the country’s old political elites were guilty of rampant corruption and mismanagement.
“The Christian Democrats and the Democratic Action Party captured the Venezuelan state in the 1970s and 1980s, and robbed it blind. And they bear heavy responsibility for not taking the appropriate social development policies in the last quarter of the last century. [Hugo] Chavez would not exist if the oil wells in Venezuela had been invested in the Venezuelan people, rather than in the pockets of its politicians,” says Professor Roett.
He adds that Venezuela’s oil wealth — the largest oil reserves in the Western Hemisphere — only deepened the discontent of the poor. When Mr. Chavez entered politics, his confrontational style and populist rhetoric served him well. He came to office in a landslide victory in 1998 and was re-elected two years later on his promise to help the poor and reorder the political system.
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