Where has Chávez taken Venezuela?
After 10 years as president, Hugo Chávez has polarized Venezuela, but inspired its poor.
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The opposition disputes these numbers, arguing that the government's methods for measuring poverty do not meet international standards.Skip to next paragraph
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Timoteo Zambrano, head of international relations for the opposition political party Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era), says that too many citizens featured in the government's figures work as independent street vendors or shoe shiners with no benefits or real security.
They also reject the notion that the missions solve poverty in the long term.
Although the health mission, called Barrio Adentro, for example, has brought free primary care to the poorest areas, many say state hospitals have been neglected and are in disarray – a situation that helps no one.
“That doesn’t generate a fight against inequality. All those missions and other types of social programs give them transitory means while those citizens form part of a political court that he represents,” says Mr. Zambrano. “And it doesn’t resolve the problem at its roots.”
Even though the opposition lambastes Chávez’s “21st-century socialism,” it has adopted his platform for the poor.
“The Chávez revolution has led some opposition sectors to engage their sense of social responsibility in actual projects of social, economic, and political empowerment rather than simply assume that inequality and marginality will be miraculously resolved by leaving people to their own devices,” says David Smilde, a sociologist and close observer of Venezuelan politics at the University of Georgia.
Transforming the lives of the poor
Indeed, few deny that literacy and education programs have had a transformative effect on people like Ramirez.
On a November day, as reporters fanned out across Caracas covering local elections, Ramirez sat behind television screens, editing the reports flowing in. This is only part of a day’s work for him, though. He spends the other portion training others in his neighborhood in television and leading a community council. “I always had a social conscience, I’ve always loved my neighborhood, but I couldn’t put it into use,” he says.
It is this kind of awareness that leaders say is here to stay. “A social consciousness has been created,” says Alberto Muller Rojas, vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Chávez’s political party. “It’s improbable that we will regress to the way it was before,” he says, when the poor neither knew, nor asserted, their rights.
In city streets and office buildings across Caracas, pictures of revolutionary Che Guevara hang. “Yankee imperialists” is scribbled on the chalkboard at the Catia TVe station where Rodriguez works.
Critics of Chávez complain that among a burgeoning sense of participation, the only ones treated as participants, and rewarded with government support and contracts, are those who support his “revolution.”
Carlos Tablante, a former Chávez ally and ex-governor of the state of Argua, and now a member of Un Nuevo Tiempo, says he sees the missions and social programs as a “positive” step by the government but argues that they are too politicized.
Those who don’t tow the revolutionary line are excluded from the government’s benefits and even blacklisted, say opposition leaders. In 2004, politician Luis Tascón published a database on his website that included their national identity numbers, of more than 2.4 million Venezuelans who had signed a petition for a recall referendum against Chávez. Chávez ordered the list to be “buried” some months later, but many claim they continue to be persecuted as a result of appearing on the Tascón list. “This is a list of political segregation.