President Hugo Chavez is a divisive character — on the international stage and within Venezuela. After 10 years in power Venezuelans and the world are reviewing his record and asking themselves, what has Chavez done for Venezuela? What has he done for the poor?
Although Chavez's government and the main opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era), may argue about the numbers and results of Chavez’s social programs, it goes undisputed that Chavez has placed a new emphasis on aiding the poor. The focuses of Chavez’s missions include; widespread free health care, soup kitchens, and literacy and education programs. The government reports lowering extreme poverty from 42 percent in 1998 to 9.5 percent today and a 50-percent decrease in unemployment, reports the BBC.
These numbers are impressive, but highly contested. The opposition has disputed these statistics, saying they are inaccurate because the government’s collection methods do not hold to international standards. Other issues include opposition reports of hospital closings, an increase in human rights abuses, and high inflation and crime rates. In fact, according to The Christian Science Monitor the inflation rate is 31 percent and food prices have risen by 50 percent in 2008. Inflation may be starting to outstrip salaries and could reverse some of the good achieved through Chavez's programs. In addition, Chavez’s critics insist they have been blacklisted, unable to work in the public sector or access passports and national ID cards.
Two BBC video interviews underscore the widely differing experiences under his presidency.
On February 15 the citizens of Venezuela will vote on whether to amend the constitution to abolish term limits on the presidency and other government offices. This vote will be the latest gauge of how people feel about Chavez and the success or failures of his programs and administration.