Venezuela marked the 12th anniversary of President Hugo Chavez’s first oath of office in February 1999 on February 2.
Chavez won presidential elections in December 1998 on a pro-poor program that pledged to break the corrupt, two-party system that had dominated Venezuela since 1958.
To commemorate the occasion, Chavez and supporters held four televised site visits in Caracas. The visits highlighted gains in education, food, health and people’s power that have occurred as part of the “Bolivarian revolution” the Chavez government is leading.
Chavez visited a public primary school in Caracas’s Parque Central with education minister Maryann Hanson Flores. They spoke with teachers, staff and students about Venezuela’s housing emergency before presenting Canaima laptop computers to all second grade students.
Chavez told the students: “There is a lot to celebrate today, but there is still so much to do.
Venezuela’s three-year old Canaima Program distributes mass-produced laptop computers to elementary school children. It has reached more than 437,000 students in 2010 alone, the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN) said.
Chavez visited the local headquarters of the Venezuelan Producer and Distributor of Foods (PdVAL) in Cotiza, northern Caracas.
He announced the authorisation of 478 million bolivars (more than $110 million) to open 1000 new subsidized food stores.
PdVAL is part of Venezuela’s “food mission”, which works to secure food needs at subsidised and regulated prices for all Venezuelans through a state-run supermarket and grocery store network.
“You’re going to see how much we will reduce the price of everything,” said Chavez. He was referring to the overall effect on food prices resulting from government-owned food outlets such as the Arrepera Socialista.
Alfredo Massiar, resident coordinator of the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Venezuela, recently spoke about the advances made in the area of food under Chavez.
“We want to congratulate the Bolivarian government and your President Hugo Chavez on the work you have been carrying out,” Massiar said, “as well as your efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, especially as they relate to food security and sovereignty, a goal for reducing poverty.”
Chavez spoke about the difficulties his government has faced given the sabotage carried out by the United-States-backed opposition. “They [the opposition] made us lose about three years between the coup [against Chavez in April 2002 that was defeated by an uprising of the poor], countercoup and oil lockout [in December 2002 that crippled the economy], and we’ve had to make up for lost time,” said Chavez.
“We have had four presidential elections [since 1998]. And the day they overthrew me [April 11, 2002], we won again because the people returned me to power. That’s a fifth.”
Referring to the December 2012 presidential elections, Chavez said: “And in 2012 we are again going to win. The government must govern by obeying and, whenever you decide to, you can get rid of me.”
Chavez also visited the Ibis Pino Integral Diagnostic Center (CDI) in the impoverished 23 de Enero neighbourhood of Caracas.
The CDI is one of 533 such centres that form part of Mission Barrio Adentro’s nationwide health access program staffed by thousands of Cuban medical professionals attending to low-income Venezuelans for free.
Chavez said more than 55 million free medical consultations have been provided to Venezuelans nationwide as part of the mission.
Magdalena Santiesteban, a Cuban doctor and coordinator of the CDI, said the staff had attended to 6400 emergency room cases since first opening their doors in September.
Chavez said: “After 12 years, today we can at last say we have a national public health care system.
“This is only possible in Revolution. This is only possible with this Bolivarian Government.”
In the evening, Chavez presided over a ceremony at the Miraflores Presidential Palace. “We have gathered here to pay homage to people’s power, the greatest gain of this revolution,” he said.
“Everything has to do with potential and with power. The potential of the people has been converted into power.”
Jose Vicente Rangel, Chavez’s vice president during his first five years in office, said the changes in Venezuela’s political culture and popular participation are “irreversible”.
“I have always considered the greatest achievement of this process to be making the people visible,” said Rangel.
“The people came out of the dark and today find themselves in the middle of the street, and they will not return to the dens where they used to live.”
Venezuelans throughout the country have established more 30,000 grassroots communal councils and are expected to consolidate these popular institutions into 236 communes, the AVN said.
Chavez said: “This didn’t exist before in Venezuela. Now we have the campesino [rural worker] movements, the communes, the student movements, the communal banks, the women, the athletes, and the indigenous.
“Without the collective, I would be worth absolutely nothing — from a political point of view — and the counter-revolutionaries would defeat us.
“We won’t allow that to happen.”
[Abridged from www.venezuelanalysis.com .]