Caracas, February 3, 2010 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Yesterday, Venezuela celebrated eleven years since President Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998 on the back of a wave of popular rebellion against neo-liberalism in the Latin American country, signifying for many the beginning of what is referred to as the “Bolivarian Revolution”, a radical social process named after Latin American independence hero, Simón Bolivar.
In a nationally televised speech in the Teresa Careño Theatre in Caracas, Chavez outlined the achievements of his eleven years of government, arguing that the Bolivarian revolution “is here to stay.” “The Venezuelan people are destined to write history,” he said.
Since coming to power with the solid backing of Venezuela’s poor majority, the Chavez government has utilised revenues from the country’s vast oil resources to promote policies of social inclusion, resulting in significant improvements, in healthcare, education, employment and poverty reduction.
The government has also promoted a process of grassroots participation, through communal councils, health and education committees. In the international arena, the Chavez government, together with other leftist governments in the region has promoted a process of Latin American integration and independence from U.S. domination.
These policies have produced a sharp conflict with economic elites in Venezuela and earned the ire of successive US administrations, producing a tumultuous political polarisation over the past eleven years.
Right-wing opposition groups have made several attempts to oust the democratically elected Chavez, including a U.S. backed military coup in 2002 which was subsequently overturned by mass popular demonstrations and loyal military troops, and an oil industry lockout in early 2003 which caused an estimated $20 billion damage to Venezuelan economy. Then in 2005 opposition groups boycotted the parliamentary elections, giving Chavez’s supporters an overwhelming majority and a relatively free reign to implement their policies.
However, as Venezuelans head to the polls for the parliamentary elections in September political polarisation is on the rise again. Yesterday’s celebrations occurred in the context of a wave of violent opposition protests in support of privately owned television station RCTV, which was temporarily suspended on January 23 for violations of the country’s media regulations. RCTV participated in the 2002 coup and has frequently broadcast calls for the government to be overthrown.
Opposition groups claim that the elected Chavez is a “dictator” and that there is no “freedom of expression” in Venezuela, although the majority of the radio, television and print media continues to be privately owned and remains fiercely critical of the government.
Meanwhile, government supporters have also been mobilising in support of the measure against RCTV, arguing that the television station is involved in destabilisation plan against the government.
Gonzalo Gómez, co-founder of the popular grassroots run website Aporrea.org said that RCTV and other private media in Venezuela “distort information, placing it at the service of their ideological hegemony” and that community and social media “shows what is really happening” in Venezuela.
Chavez has repeatedly stressed that it is “essential for the revolution to win a majority” in the national assembly elections, while Venezuela’s notoriously divided opposition says they are working towards a united campaign.
Although Chavez continues to maintain the backing of Venezuela’s poor and working class majority, with a current approval rating of 60 percent, overall support for his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is much lower at 32 percent and frustration over ongoing problems such as crime, electricity shortages, inflation, rubbish collection, and government inefficiency indicated that a victory in the September elections is not assured.
The commemoration also coincided with the official swearing in ceremony of Elías Jaua, as the new Vice-President of Venezuela after Chavez announced his appointment last week following the resignation of former vice-president Ramon Carrizales and his wife, Environment Minister Yubirí Ortega.
During his speech Jaua argued that beyond improvements in social and economic indicators Venezuela has recovered its sovereignty and national dignity as a result of the Bolivarian revolution.
“We have recovered our national sovereignty; Venezuela is now a country independent of any foreign power. Popular sovereignty has been restored,” he said.
Similarly, the new vice president highlighted high levels of popular organization and political consciousness that have developed along with the Bolivarian Revolution saying “National identity has been placed in the memory, in the hearts and the emotions of our people.” He also emphasised that the “creation of popular power” is vital for building socialism in Venezuela.
During the event Chavez also announced further changes to his cabinet, including the designation of architect Francisco “Farruco” Sesto Novás as Minister of Culture, who replaces Héctor Soto Castellanos and Alexander Fleming as Minister of Tourism, who replaces Pedro Morejón.
Farrcuo served in the Chavez government as the vice-minister for culture in the former Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports from April 2003 until 2005 when he was appointed minister of the newly created Ministry of Culture. In June 2008, he was replaced by Soto Castellanos and assumed the Housing and Habitat portfolio, which he led for a short period.
During his previous term as Culture Minister Farruco promoted decentralisation of cultural production and consumption, free access to cultural activities such as theatre and arts and the distribution of millions of free books, including, novels, literature and educational texts, in collaboration with the government’s literacy programs.
Fleming served to date as deputy foreign minister for Europe.
Also, Minister for Public Banking and president of the Bank of Venezuela, Eugenio Vásquez Orellana, clarified that he has not resigned after the majority of Venezuela’s privately owned television, radio and print media, as well as international media, falsely reported last week that he had resigned.