On August 11, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro praised his deceased predecessor, Hugo Chavez, tweeting:
“[I]n 1999, with the swearing-in of Commander Chavez, the road to the profound transformation of the Homeland was illuminated. Historic moment for the beginning of the leading democracy that today we continue to deepen together with the people.”
That claim is false. Venezuela has not been a “leading democracy” under Chavez or Maduro, who has continued his predecessor’s autocratic ways.
During his 14 years as president, Hugo Chavez initiated constitutional and political changes in Venezuela, some of which, analysts say, were power grabs that effectively squelched true democracy and made him a de facto dictator.
After Chavez died in 2013, Maduro tightened this grip on power by further narrowing the space for civil rights and liberties. Economic and social turmoil in Venezuela deepened into a “humanitarian crisis,” according to the United Nations, and global think tanks began ranking its political system as “hard autocracy.”
It didn’t start that way.
Chavez, first elected as Venezuelan president in 1998, won four consecutive elections and ruled until his death. During his first inauguration, Chavez pledged to preside over Venezuela’s democratic transformation. Historians praised him for implementing social and economic reforms, among them the inclusion of the impoverished, indigenous peoples and women in politics. He expanded subsidized food distribution programs and affordable housing for low-income families and made health care accessible to most of Venezuelans.