After he took office on Feb. 2, 1999, Chavez called for a new constitution, and an assembly filled with his allies drafted the document. Among various changes, it lengthened presidential terms from five years to six and changed the country’s name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
By 2000, his increasingly confrontational style and close ties to Cuba disenchanted many of the middle-class supporters who voted for him, and the next several years saw bold attempts by opponents to dislodge him from power.
In 2002, he survived a short-lived coup, which began after large anti-Chavez street protests ended in shootings and bloodshed. Dissident military officers detained the president and announced he had resigned. But within two days, he returned to power with the help of military loyalists amid massive protests by his supporters.
Chavez emerged a stronger president.
He defeated an opposition-led strike that paralyzed the country’s oil industry and fired thousands of state oil company employees.
The coup also turned Chavez more decidedly against the U.S. government, which had swiftly recognized the provisional leader who briefly replaced him. He created political and trade alliances that excluded the U.S., and he cozied up to Iran and Syria in large part, it seemed, due to their shared antagonism toward the U.S. government. Despite the souring relationship, Chavez kept selling the bulk of Venezuela’s oil to the United States.
By 2005, Chavez was espousing a new, vaguely defined “21st-century socialism.” Yet the agenda didn’t involve a sudden overhaul to the country’s economic order, and some businesspeople continued to prosper. Those with lucrative ties to the government came to be known as the “Bolivarian bourgeoisie.”
After easily winning re-election in 2006, Chavez began calling for a “multi-polar world” free of U.S. domination, part of an expanded international agenda. He boosted oil shipments to China, set up joint factories with Iran to produce tractors and cars, and sealed arms deals with Russia for assault rifles, helicopters and fighter jets. He focused on building alliances throughout Latin America and injected new energy into the region’s left. Allies were elected in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and other countries.