Caracas, Venezuela, February 6, 2006—President Hugo Chavez officially inaugurated his reelection campaign for a second six-year term as president of Venezuela, on Saturday. Chavez made the launch official during at the end of a demonstration in commemoration of the anniversary of his February 4, 1992 coup attempt against the then-government of President Carlos Andrés Perez.
Chavez announced a new “battle of Santa Inés,” to rally all possible support for him in the upcoming presidential elections. The first “battle of Santa Inés” campaign was to defeat the referendum recall vote of August 14, 2004, which Chavez defeated with 59% of the vote. The term “battle of Santa Inés” comes from a key battle during Venezuela’s 19th century civil war.
Chavez said he wants to “reactivate the Electoral Battle Units” (UBEs), which had first been activated during the recall referendum. These UBEs are made up of supporters who campaign and recruit campaign volunteers with the aim of attaining 10 million votes out of a projected 16 million registered voters on December 3, 2006. Venezuela’s electoral registry currently has 14 million voters.
According to National Assembly president Nicolas Maduro, the demonstration, which was called “March for Dignity and Bolivarian Rebellion” and marched over 15 kilometers—nearly the entire length of Caracas—involved 2.5 million demonstrators. Other estimates said that the number of demonstrators was closer to several hundred thousand.
Chavez’s 1992 coup attempt aimed to topple an immensely unpopular President Perez. Many held Perez responsible for the killings of hundreds, if not thousands, of Venezuelans in the aftermath of riots that occurred in 1989. The riots and subsequent killings by police and military forces are known in Venezuela as the “Caracazo.” Chavez has made it a habit of celebrating the anniversary with large marches to Avenida Bolivar, the capital’s largest avenue.
This past week Chavez has been holding one major speaking event after the other, where he has been announcing a variety of new government programs. At a speech celebrating his seventh anniversary in office, last Thursday, Chavez announced a 15% increase in the minimum wage, bringing it up to $220. Normally increases to the minimum wage are announced by Chavez on May 1, the international workers’ holiday, but Chavez said this time the raise would be moved up.
Also, during Chavez’s weekly television program Alo Presidente, Chavez announced a new model for the National Public Healthcare system. Chavez said $449 million will be used to upgrade and improve 43 hospitals with the help of Cuban doctors and medical advisors.
The Venezuelan President said, “I have these resources, but these efforts have to be made as fast as possible. I am asking for efficiency and speed to manage these funds.” Amongst other things the money will be used to buy more than 30,000 pieces of new medical equipment.
The role that housewives play in the economy and the nation also needs to be rewarded said Chavez. Beginning this summer, 200,000 poor homemakers will each receive roughly $200 (372,000 Bs) a month.
Chavez said, “These mothers work a lot, ironing, washing, preparing food, cleaning and bringing up kids.” More money has been set aside for the project and the number of beneficiaries could quickly rise above half a million.
Which women would receive the money would depend on several conditions. These include marital status, how many children they have, their living conditions and already existing levels of family support.
The measure is an outgrowth of Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, whose article 88 specifies that the constitution recognizes household work is economic activity that produces wealth and well being. Also, according to this article, since it is economic activity, homemakers have the right to a pension.
During the Saturday march Chavez also addressed Venezuela military preparedness, saying that the country needs, “1 million well armed men and women, including the reserves, to defend the country.” This figure is lower than the 2 million he has said he wanted in the past.
Venezuela is about to receive 100,000 Russian Kalashnikov rifles. Chavez said a lot more weapons need to be bought to defend Venezuela properly, so that it could defend itself in case of a U.S. invasion. Above all, said Chavez, his supporters would have to be united in the face of this principal “enemy of the Bolivarian revolution.”
Also in conjunction with the commemoration of the 1992 coup attempt, Chavez announced that his former comrade in the rebellion, Francisco Arias Cardenas, would soon be joining his government. Arias Cardenas was a close supporter of Chavez’s up until shortly before Chavez’s 2000 presidential campaign, when Arias ran against Chavez for the presidency. Ever since Chavez’s defeat of the 2004 recall referendum, though, Arias has indicated that he would consider supporting Chavez once more.