Who he is: Hugo Chávez is the 56th and present President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1999. Following his own political philosophy of Bolivarianism and "Socialism for the 21st Century," Chávez has concentrated on employing socialist reforms in the nation as part of a social project known as the Bolivarian Revolution, which has seen the execution of a new constitution, participatory democracy and the nationalization of numerous key industries.
Chávez became a career military officer and, after becoming discontented with the Venezuelan political system, something that he saw as dishonest and undemocratic, he founded the secretive Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 in the early '80s. They worked towards toppling the government. In 1992, after the Democratic Action government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez ordered the vicious suppression of protests against spending cuts, Chávez led the MBR-200 in a failed coup d'état against the government, for which he was imprisoned.
After two years of incarceration, Chávez founded a social democratic political party, the Fifth Republic Movement, and was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. Chávez quickly introduced a new constitution, which increased rights for marginalized groups, and reformed the Venezuelan government. He was re-elected in 2000. During his second presidential term, Chávez introduced a system of Bolivarian Missions, Communal Councils and worker-managed cooperatives, while also nationalizing various significant industries. The opposition movement argued that Chávez was eroding representative democracy and becoming progressively more dictatorial. They tried to remove him from authority through a failed military coup in 2002 and a recall vote in 2003. In 2005, Chávez openly declared his devotion to socialism and was again elected into power in 2006.
A vocal detractor of capitalism and, in particular, neoliberalism, Chávez has been a prominent challenger of United States foreign policy. Affiliating himself strongly with the socialist governments of Fidel and then Raúl Castro in Cuba, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, his presidency is seen as a part of the leftist "pink tide" spreading through Latin America. He has supported Latin American and Caribbean teamwork and was influential in setting up the pan-regional Union of South American Nations, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, the Bank of the South, and the regional television network TeleSur. A highly contentious and divisive figure both at home and abroad, Chávez's political influence in Latin America led Time Magazine to include him among their list of the world's 100 most powerful people in both 2005 and 2006.
Chávez describes his political stance as Bolivarianism, a philosophy developed by himself and heavily influenced by the writings of Simón Bolívar, a 19th-Century general who led the fight against the imperialist Spanish establishments. Along with Bolívar, the other two primary influences are Simón Rodríguez, a philosopher who was Bolívar's teacher and adviser, and Ezequiel Zamora, the Venezuelan Federalist general.
A leftist since his days at the military academy, since becoming president Chávez's political position has moved further left, refusing capitalist leftist dogmas like social democracy or the Third Way and instead embracing socialism. Chávez has promulgated what he calls "socialism for the 21st Century": establishment of liberty, equality, social justice and solidarity. He has hinted that it is markedly dissimilar from state socialism, exemplified in the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. As a part of his socialist ideas, Chávez has highlighted the role of participatory democracy, implemented through the foundation of the Venezuelan Communal Councils and Bolivarian Circles.
Background: Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was born on July 28th, 1954, inthe home of his paternal grandmother, Rosa. His parents were working lower middle class schoolteachers who lived in the small village of Los Rastrojos. The Chávez family was of mixed Amerindian, Afro-Venezuelan and Spanish descent. They lived in poverty and, as such, Hugo and his brother Adán lived with their grandmother Rosa, whom he would later describe as being "a pure human being... pure love, pure kindness." She was a devout Roman Catholic and Hugo was brought up into the faith. Chávez has related that he and his brother "were very poor children but very happy" and that "at her side, I got to know humility, poverty, pain, sometimes not having anything to eat. I saw the injustices of this world."