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Advances under Chavez
Posted: Sunday, April 4, 2004

His Excellency Mr. Hector Cassy Azocar
Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago
of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Friday, April 2nd 2004,

I would like to refer to the article in the Sunday Express (March 21) entitled "Hugo the Horrible", signed by Raoul Pantin, in which the author refers to Venezuela's political situation; the perception of President Hugo Chavez's supporters and detractors and President Chavez position on the downfall of Mr Aristide. I consider it pertinent to clarify some points addressed by the author in his article regarding the process of profound political, economic and social changes taking place in Venezuela.

Firstly, I disagree with the author when he states that "the politics of Venezuela mattered very little, if at all, to Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean". Nevertheless, it must be quite complicated for anyone unfamiliar with Venezuelan affairs to follow the current situation, particularly when the main information provided by the international media is superficial and frequently biased.

Perhaps it's relevant to point out that Venezuela's new constitution is widely viewed as one of the more progressive in the world. In a 2000 report on the document, Amnesty International stated, "The 1999 Constitution is an important and significant step forward in terms of human rights." Moreover, the recall referendum was proposed by President Chavez and his party when the country's constitutional assembly drafted the new constitution, as a mechanism to allow a recall election of all elected posts, once half of the term of the mandate has been fulfilled, and in compliance with the rules established (Article 72). Consequently, it is not up to President Chavez whether there is a referendum or not. He has repeatedly stated that he does not oppose the recall election as long as all the requirements established in the Constitution and laws are observed.

As to the author's opinion of President Chavez's agenda being "hardly about uplifting the poor and ennobling the disenfranchised", let me mention some of the most fundamental achievements of this Government to defeat poverty and social exclusion in the last four years. However, it would be worth noting that President Chavez inherited an economy that was experiencing a long-term trend towards increased poverty, misery and inequality.

Actually, President Chavez is not the first Venezuelan president to face capital flight or the first to apply exchange controls (implemented at the end of 1983; then, in 1986 and in 1994). There was extensive privatisation; foreign investment increased, oil prices rose-but corruption and poverty kept on growing. This was the situation President Chavez's government inherited in 1999.

This takes us to the author's next allegation that, "for the first time since Venezuela's return to democracy in the 1950s, there are hints of a return to the instability and upheaval that characterised Venezuelan politics for decades".

This statement ignores the various unfortunate social and political uprisings that occurred in Venezuela during many decades, one of the most recent ones being "The Caracao" on February 27, 1989. Just 25 days after Carlos Andres Perez's second presidential term began, a violent upheaval against the harsh IMF-imposed reforms took place in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities and brutal repression by state security forces that ensued left thousands killed and wounded. Furthermore, in February and November 1992, there were two other attempts to oust the government.

Allow me also to point out that it was under the government of President Hugo Chavez that the the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognised the responsibility of the State during the tragic events of February 1989 and the rights of indemnification of victims and relatives. It was President Chavez's government which indemnified the victims and indicted the public officers responsible of those crimes to the international jurisdiction of human rights.

Despite the current political instability and the incessant attacks on President Chavez's administration, significant goals have been accomplished.

- In the educational field, massive programmes to increase the number of children attending school by 25 per cent; the creation of 2,800 Bolivarian Schools (where children receive meals, health care and recreational facilities); the literacy programme, which reduced illiteracy by more than one million in six months; the formation of the Bolivarian University; the threefold increase in the university budget, and 240 infocentres (free public Internet access facilities in the slums and in other remote locations).

- Medical attention has been provided to more than 15 million persons in the slums in less than a year through the programme "Inside the Barrio".

- 40 per cent of the National Budget has been destined to the socio-economic development.

- In the judicial framework, different laws have been approved to protect children and adolescents; prevention and attention to domestic violence against women; education for the indigenous peoples.

- Other indicators of the process are of increased life expectancy by nine months and of lowering the infant mortality rate from 18 to 15 per 1,000 live births.

To conclude, more people are involved in Venezuela's political institutions now than ever before, from land reform committees, to local participatory planning councils, to public accountability efforts. Last week thousands of candidates were nominated for next August's regional elections of governors, mayors, state legislators, and city council persons. This political and social transformation, which seeks to address inequalities of opportunities, as well as advance towards true participative democracy, is being carried out within the democratic framework.

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