The Hugo Chavez Show

The Life & Times of Hugo Chávez


Oil is discovered in Venezuela.


Venezuela approaches Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia about forming an oil cartel.

July 28,1954

the plains of the llanos

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is born in a small town in the state of Barinas, which is located in the Venezuelan plains -- the llanos. Its people love to tell stories, construct mythologies and fables. Being a llanero explains a lot about Chávez -- see biographer Alberto Barrera's interview.


Punto Fijo Pact -- The country's three largest parties agree to a power-sharing system, excluding rivals from extreme left and right wings. It may allow Venezuela to avoid the coups that will plague many Latin American nations in the 60's, but it also facilitates corruption and prevents new political movements.


OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] is created. Venezuela is one of its founding members.

Feb. 18, 1983

Economic collapse culminates in Black Friday. The Venezuelan goverment devalues currency and sets restrictions on sale of dollars.

December 1988

Carlos Andrés Pérez is re-elected president of an economically depressed Venezuela. He cuts spending to secure an IMF loan.

Feb. 27, 1989

"El Caracazo" -- Caracas erupts in riots following a rise in bus fares. Hundreds are killed. The riots are the culmination of a declining economy, government corruption and increasing poverty.

Feb. 4, 1992

chavez on television after the surrender

After a failed military coup against President Pérez, Chávez is one of many arrested. But he makes a speech on live TV that electrifies the country and overnight becomes the face of the rebellion.

March 2, 1992

Chávez gives an El Nacional interview and says he and Simón Bolívar -- the Venezuelan-born leader who liberated South American republics from Spanish rule -- were the authors of the coup. Why Chávez is obsessed with Simón Bolívar -- see biographer Alberto Barrera's interview.


President Pérez is ousted on charges of corruption.

Feb. 2, 1994

Rafael Caldera takes office as president for the second time.

March 26, 1994

After two and a half years imprisoned without trial, charges against Chávez and his co-conspirators in the '92 coup are dismissed by President Caldera.

Dec 3, 1994

Chávez visits Cuba and Fidel Castro meets him at the plane.

July 6, 1995

Venezuela's Congress approves the first foreign investment law, allowing PDVSA, the state company managing Venezuela's oil industry, to team up with multinational companies.


Oil prices reach a historic low -- $10 per barrel.

Dec 6, 1998

Venezuela's economic crisis helps Chávez win the presidential election with 56 percent of the vote. He promises to draft a new constitution and rid the country of the old elites.

Feb. 2, 1999

chavez on inaguration day

Chávez becomes president of a polarized country -- it has the largest conventional oil reserves in the Western hemisphere, but 50 percent of its people live below the poverty line. He proposes "Plan Bolivar 2000" for road building, housing and other social reforms. The impact of the social programs? -- see journalist Phil Gunson's interview.

May 23, 1999

Chávez's live broadcast, Aló Presidente, premiers as a radio show on Sundays at 11 a.m.

June 1999

Chávez visits the U.S. He throws the opening pitch at a Mets baseball game and rings the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

July 1999

The pro-government Patriotic Pole party wins 95 percent of seats in a dispute for the National Constituent Assembly. The assembly drafts a new constitution.

Dec. 15, 1999

71 percent of voters endorse the new constitution.

July 30, 2000

A new election is held, triggered by the new constitution. Chávez gets 60 percent of the vote and 60 percent of National Assembly seats go to the pro-government party.

Aug. 27, 2000

Aló Presidente becomes a live TV show. What it's like to be at his TV show -- read journalist Jon Lee Anderson's comments.

November 2000

The National Assembly approves the Chávez-backed Enabling Act, authorizing him to rule by decree for one year.

Late 2000

chavez and castro

Venezuela begins providing Cuba with 53,000 barrels/day of oil, paid in part with medical services, drugs and equipment. Venezuela becomes Cuba's biggest trade partner. The Chávez-Fidel relationship -- see journalist Jon Lee Anderson's analysis.

January 2001

Chávez claims to have proof of an international plot to murder him. He never reveals any details.

Jan. 20, 2001

First anti-Chávez protests begin -- middle-class teachers and mothers object to a proposal to rewrite history textbooks. Chávez talks tough in response, but eventually backs away from the proposal.

Nov. 10, 2001

With the Enabling Act due to expire, Chávez issues 49 socialist decrees, viewed by many as anti-business. One of the 49 decrees founds Mission Zamora -- land reform.

Jan. 24, 2002

Luis Miquilena, Chávez's old mentor who shared with him the early dreams of an enlightened socialist democracy, resigns as Minister of Interior because of Chávez's attacks on opponents and his refusal to impose serious leftist economic reforms. What has he done for the poor? -- see Teodoro Petkoff's comments.

February 2002

Chávez appoints a new board of directors for the state oil monopoly PDVSA.

April 4, 2002

PDVSA building

PDVSA management begins a strike protesting the new leftist board of directors.

April 7, 2002

Chávez fires seven top PDVSA executives on Aló Presidente.

April 9, 2002

Trade unions and business groups call for a general strike to protest Chávez's oil-board move.

April 11, 2002

Strike violence leaves 17 dead and hundreds injured. Military commanders arrest Chávez and demand he resign. Major media support the strike and present the military coup as a fait d'accompli.

April 12, 2002

Chávez allegedly resigns and Pedro Carmona, president of Venezuelan business association Fedecamaras, takes over. He dismisses the Supreme Court and calls for elections within a year. Chávez alleges to this day that the Bush administration was involved in the ouster, a claim it denies.

April 14, 2002

protests in the streets

Chávez regains presidency after the army has second thoughts and the population of the surrounding barrios stream toward the palace in support of Chávez.

Nov. 16, 2002

Chávez takes over the Caracas police force.

February 2003

A two-month nationwide strike -- called after the Supreme Court rules against holding a referendum on Chávez's rule -- finally ends. Chávez fires 19,500 oil workers and asserts his control over PDVSA.

April 11, 2003

Chávez agrees to abide by the results of a referendum on his rule.

April 2003-January 2004

Chávez launches a series of missions, or new social programs: subsidized groceries, literacy education, health clinics, new homes for the poor, education/training for high school dropouts, and an umbrella program, Mission Cristo, to eradicate poverty by 2021. Critics say the programs are politically motivated: stipends are given to participants according to a system of partisan loyalty. Why it's so hard to solve the social problems -- see Teodoro Petkoff's comments.

February 2004

opposition supporters

The opposition collects 3 million signatures for a petition to recall Chávez, laying the ground for a referendum vote.

May 2004

Chávez signs a new law expanding the Supreme Court from 20 to 32 judges and packs the court with supporters.

Aug. 15, 2004

Chávez claims victory after 60 percent support him in the referendum. The opposition calls the result a "gigantic fraud," but the results are confirmed by international observers.


The Bush administration starts taking a harder line against Chávez, declaring him "a threat to regional stability" and blocking the sale of Brazilian and Spanish planes to Venezuelan armed forces.

January 11, 2005

Chávez signs a decree to begin eliminating large estates and redistributing land.

May 3, 2005

Venezuela's Supreme Court requests extradition of anti-Castro activist Luis Posada Carriles from the United States. Posada is accused of involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73.

Sept. 5, 2005

Land reform takes off as Chávez seizes an idle Heinz ketchup plant in Caicara, Monagas.

Sep. 28, 2005

A U.S. immigration judge rules against extraditing Posada because he faces the threat of torture in Venezuela. Venezuela responds that the United States has a "double standard in its so-called war on terrorism."

Nov. 17, 2005

The Venezuelan-owned CITGO begins donating heating oil to poor Americans through the Citizens Energy program.

Dec. 4, 2005

Chávez supporters make big gains in National Assembly elections after five opposition parties boycott the vote. Only 36 percent of voters cast ballots.

Feb. 2, 2006

Venezuela expels Cmdr. John Correa, naval attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, for espionage. The United States responds by expelling Jenny Figueredo, general secretary of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington.

July 2006

chavez with russian president vladimir putin

Chávez signs a $3 billion arms deal with Russia.

Sept. 20, 2006

Before the U.N. General Assembly, Chávez refers to President Bush. "The Devil came here yesterday," he says. "It still smells like sulfur today." Chávez's statements about the U.S. over the years? -- see Teodoro Petkoff's interview.

Dec. 3, 2006

Chávez wins re-election in a landslide -- 63 percent of the vote.

Jan. 8, 2007

Chávez announces plans to nationalize Electricidad de Caracas and telecom giant CANTV (largely owned by Verizon). Both had been privatized in the 1990s. "All that was privatized, let it be nationalized," Chávez says.

Jan. 31, 2007

The National Assembly grants Chávez sweeping powers to rule by decree for the next 18 months.

March 26, 2007

Chávez announces that 16 large farms have been seized as part of his land reform plan.

May 27, 2007

Government closes the anti-Chávez RCTV by not renewing its license. Demonstrations follow, both for and against the move. The closing of RCTV -- see journalist Phil Gunson's analysis.

June 26, 2007

Chávez decrees that projects in the last private oil fields in Venezuela must now be 60 percent state-owned. American companies ConocoPhillips, Chevron and ExxonMobil, Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and France's Total are all affected. ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips decide to pull out of Venezuela as a result.

Aug. 15, 2007

Chávez proposes amending the constitution to remove the term limits on his presidency, among other reforms.

Sept. 23, 2007

The 295th broadcast of Aló Presidente runs over 8 hours, a new record.

Dec. 2, 2007

headline announcing the defeat

Voters turn back a referendum to reform the constitution that would have expanded Chávez's presidential powers. It is his first electoral defeat. Why his popularity was eroding -- see Rafael Simón Jiménez's comments.

July 31, 2008

On the last day of the 18-month period of rule by decree, Chávez pushes through 26 laws, some of which mirror the rejected constitutional changes. He also announces his intention to nationalize the Spanish-owned Bank of Venezuela.

Aug. 5, 2008

The Venezuelan Supreme Court upholds a ban on 270 candidates deemed unfit to run in the Nov. 23 state and municipal elections. The vast majority of banned candidates are from the opposition.

Sep. 26, 2008

Venezuela and Russia announce a new oil consortium, and Russian gives Venezuela a $1 billion military loan.

Nov. 23, 2008

Chávez's term will end in 2013. However, gubernatorial and mayoral elections will be held this day throughout Venezuela and the democratic opposition hopes to win big. More on the opposition's agenda -- see Teodoro Petkoff's comments.

posted november 19, 2008

the hugo chavez show · dvd/transcript · credits · site map
FRONTLINE series home · privacy policy · journalistic guidelines

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
main photograph © corbis, all rights reserved