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Venezuela Marks 10 Years of Chavez Government


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has hosted a summit of leftist leaders to celebrate 10 years of his socialist government. Experts see mixed results for the Chavez government during the past decade.

The presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and other regional leaders traveled Monday to Caracas for a parade to celebrate Mr. Chavez's 10 years in power. Foreign delegates praised the Venezuelan leader for his efforts to combat poverty and improve living conditions for many Venezuelans.

Speaking to thousands of supporters in Caracas, the Venezuelan leader said his revolutionary government has produced many improvements for the people.

He said if one compares Venezuela with the country 10 years ago, it is clear that drastic changes have taken place.

Most agree that Mr. Chavez has made great improvements in living conditions, especially through public health, education and job training programs.

Venezuela expert Dan Hellinger of Webster University says many Venezuelans have been helped under Mr. Chavez.

"The most successful programs have been in literacy and healthcare. There is no doubt about that," Hellinger said.

Many experts say Mr. Chavez has relied on soaring global oil prices to finance his social agenda and strengthen his government. To that end, Mr. Chavez has expanded state control over the oil industry, and increased the nation's dependence on foreign oil sales.

Analyst Patrick Esteruelas of the Eurasia Group in New York says the government's heavy reliance on oil revenues poses its own problems.

"What this has created essentially is a monster that will be extremely hard for President Chavez to control, particularly as oil prices take a serious dip," Esteruelas explained. "He is in a position where he is going to have to meet high political expectations despite having less revenues to do so."

Esteruelas says the recent dip in oil prices has hurt Venezuela especially hard, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in government revenue.

Chavez launches effort to consolidate power

Critics often accuse the Chavez government of passing reforms in an effort to concentrate power in the president's hands.

Professor Hellinger says Chavez's strong leadership style has rallied attention to social problems and the importance of political participation. But he says the socialist reforms must become part of the government to be successful.

"Eventually if this experiment is going to work, it has to be institutionalized in a form that goes beyond his immediate charisma, charismatic authority," Hellinger said.

Will Venezuelans vote to end term limits?

One of the biggest challenges still awaits Mr. Chavez. Later this month, voters decide whether to approve his proposal to end term limits for elected officials. The president says he is not ready to leave office when his current term expires in 2012, because there is much work to complete in reforming the government.

Voters already rejected a similar measure during a 2007 referendum on a broad package of constitutional reforms. Polls are mixed on whether Mr. Chavez will prevail in the upcoming vote.

Patrick Esteruelas says the president has staked his political future on the vote.

"Chavez is not somebody who easily abides by the concept of strong checks and balances on the executive. Should he lose again, I think it is a loss he will not easily walk away from," Esteruelas said.

Mr. Chavez has been campaigning heavily before the ballot. Voters will have to judge the past decade in Venezuela to decide whether to give Mr. Chavez another chance at re-election.

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