As Bart Jones said on his C-SPAN talk on Hugo!, all governments have their positives and negatives, and Chavez’s is no different. Since 1998, Chavez has been attacked by liberals, conservative, Neo Conservatives, and New Democrats alike.
Last week I began reading Hugo!: The Hugo Chavez Story From Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution, by Bart Jones. Honestly, Bart Jones book has been one of the better ones I have read in the last 5 years. It gives a wonderful context of Hugo’s humble beginning, his passionate populism, and US involvement into Latin American affairs. As Bart Jones correctly states, the book reads like a movie.
Today I would like to focus on some of the changes that occurred in Chavez’s time in power. One that may catch some by surprise is Venezuela did not have universal suffrage until Chavez got into office. If you were in the military you could not vote. In fact the right wing opposition attacked Chavez for this change and argued it demonstrated Chavez’s desire to militarize society.
Prior to Chavez taking power, Venezuela had been cited as one of the worst countries in the world for its treatment of prisoners. Chavez implemented the radical idea that the accused should remain free until convicted by a court of law. Up until that time prisoners were in prison for ten or twenty years before even being charged with a crime.
While in the military under the so called Democratic regimes (our heroes), Chavez and his fellow soldiers were ordered into poor communities with orders of shoot to kill. These mass killings often went on in the U.S.’s name of fighting communism and drugs. One of the first things Chavez did as president was send soldiers into the streets to help build houses, run health clinics, and teach young children. Again the right wingers saw this as Chavez militarizing society and him becoming more authoritarian. What is so interesting is why liberals and Neo Crybabies never seem to get uptight about the pre-Chavez Venezuela.
On the domestic front education was in crisis when Chavez took over. Venezuela is a country where the minority upper middle class send their children to private schools, while the overwhelming working class majority go to the public schools.
Venezuela’s public school system was in a state of collapse when Chavez took over the presidency. Schools lacked books, paper, and pencils. Paint peeled off walls. Ceilings leaked. Classrooms overflowed with children. The dropout rate was alarming – half the students never graduated high school. One in ten never made it through elementary school. Many teachers and principals just showed up when they felt like ity. Nationwide strikes often shut down schools for weeks. Even when they were open the level of instriuction was questionable.
When Chavez took office (neo-liberal policies) the school fees were so high it discouraged a large percentage of students from going to school.
One of his first acts was banning the registration fee many public schools improprly charged parents to enroll their children. The first yerar the fee was eliminated an estimated 400,000 children who should have been attending school, but were not, signed up…The second year that figure gre to a total of 1,000,000.
In his first two years of office he created 500 Bolivarian Schools (charter schools). These schools operated for 8 hours a day in contrast to the four hour shifts of most public schools. These Bolivarian Schools offered breakfast, lunch, snack, free uniforms, and books. Education spending rose from 3.3 percent of GDP in 1999 to 5.2% of GDP in 2001. Teachers salaries were doubled and libraries were filled with books.
Not to shabby for an authoritarian, socialist, dictator.