(Reuters) - Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez took office 10 years ago on Monday. Here are some of the main policies that have defined the anti-U.S. socialist’s decade in power.
Chavez responded to his resounding 2006 re-election by declaring that he was a “21st century socialist” and sharply radicalizing his social reforms.
Over the next year and a half Chavez brought the oil industry under state control and nationalized electricity, telephone, steel and cement companies, spending billions of dollars in compensation to foreign companies.
Chavez’s foreign policy is focused on strengthening alliances in Latin America and supporting the rise of world powers like Russia and China that can counter U.S. influence. He has close ties to U.S. foes like Cuba and Iran, even opening a direct flight from Caracas to Tehran.
He has had mixed results, building an anti-U.S. bloc of poor leftist countries in Latin America and helping to put building economic, military and diplomatic alliances back on the table in the region, but also clashing with the governments of Colombia, Peru and Mexico.
He will find it harder to openly ridicule the United States under President Barack Obama who is generally viewed warmly in Latin America.
After surviving a botched opposition coup, Chavez launched a series of social programs dubbed missions that are his most popular policies.
Free health care in poor urban and rural neighborhoods, expanded access to education, literacy programs for the elderly and cheap food markets are some of the oil-funded programs that made Chavez popular even to some of the middle class.
Chavez, a former paratrooper, has spent billions on retooling Venezuela’s armed forces. Since the United States placed a ban on arms sales to Venezuela, Chavez has bought weapons such as new fighter jets from Russia and other equipment including radar from China.
With many former soldiers holding key government posts, critics say Chavez has militarized Venezuela. They say the spending spree has contributed to an arms race in Latin America, where governments have boosted arms spending in recent years. Chavez says he is simply replacing outdated equipment.
After taking office on February 2, 1999, oil price hawk Chavez began lobbying hard to revitalize OPEC, the oil exporters’ group launched under a Venezuelan initiative in the 1960s. By 1997, OPEC was divided and member countries frequently ignored their production quotas. In 2000, Venezuela hosted the first OPEC heads of state meeting in years. Chavez’s overall influence on world oil prices is debatable, but OPEC is now relatively united and quick to cut production when price drop.
Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, editing by Vicki Allen