The social programme of the Bolivarian Republic

Frente Continental de Mujeres

Going against the current of predominant trends, the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution consecrates rights of citizens to health and medical care, as well as other social rights, while increasing state responsibility. In the context of social development, the new Republic promotes enhancing the standard of living through common and supportive action, and encourages people to have a sense of inclusion and belonging through political, economic and social participation.

Venezuelaunderwent a social uprising in February 1989, in response to an economicadjustment programme. The repressive measures taken to deal with the so-called“Caracazo” ended the lives of hundreds of citizens, but in 1993, thePresident of the Republic was constitutionally deposed. Meanwhile, that sameyear, the financial collapse started with the fall of the Banco Latino. Theeconomic crisis worsened from 1994 onwards and by August 1995, 18 of the 41private banks had been intervened and 70% of the deposits were managed by theState. Venezuelan banks became increasingly involved with foreign banking and bythe end of 1998 foreign banks were among the main shareholders of Venezuelanbanks. During his second term in office (1995-1998), President Rafael Calderasuspended constitutional guarantees on real estate, private property and tradeand placed restrictions on trips abroad, the right to hold meetings, andimmunity against arbitrary arrests. When Congress lifted the restrictions, theexecutive branch reinstated them to prevent capital flight and speculation.

In1997 the executive branch promoted the adoption of a reform project includingprivatisation of key industrial sectors, but because of pressure and politicaldisagreement, the legislature prevented its adoption. Meanwhile throughout the1990s, various social forces gathered around a new project for the country,seeking a participative and inclusive democracy; Venezuela entered into aqualitatively different process in December 1998, with the electoral triumph ofCommander Hugo Chávez Frías.

TheBolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Withthis new government, the Bolivarian Republic was initiated, on the grounds of a“just and peace-loving society”, of “Law and Justice”. This wasconsecrated by law a year later (1999), when the people adopted the BolivarianConstitution by referendum. Its ultimate aim is to re-foundthe Republic in order to establish a democratic, participatory and protagonistsociety, multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural, in a federal and decentralised Stateof Justice, consolidating the values of freedom, independence, peace,solidarity, common good, territorial integrity, social harmony and the rule of  lawfor this and future generations; ensuring the right to life, work, culture andeducation, social justice and equality without any discrimination orsubordination whatsoever; promoting pacific cooperation among nations andconsolidating Latin American integration in accordance with the principle ofnon-intervention and self-determination of the peoples, the universal andundivided guarantee of human rights, democratisation of international society,nuclear disarmament, ecological balance and juridical environmental goods as acommon heritage of humanity that cannot be relinquished.”

Inthis Revolution, the market continues to play an important role, but with thepresence of a strong State that regulates it and an organised community thatcarries out social monitoring. The people do not delegate their sovereignty, butare organised to exercise it fully in a “participatory and protagonistdemocracy”.

Thecentre of the new government’s attention is fighting poverty. Accordingto studies made by the Centre for Studies on Growth and Development of theVenezuelan Population, poverty was concentrated in the IV and V strata,representing 39.3% and 40.7% respectively; furthermore, the middle class wasgoing through a process of impoverishment, reaching 11.9% in 2001. Accordingto the UNICEF report,[1]the top 20% of households received 52% of the total income while the lowest 40%got only 13% of the total during 1990-1997.

Unemploymentis likewise addressed. According to the National Institute of Statistics, therate of open unemployment has decreased significantly, dropping from 15.3% in1999 to 12.8% in 2001. Therate of inflation droppedfrom 29.9%in 1998 to 12.3% in 2001, which means a considerable reduction in relation tothe 1996 level, when it rose to 106%, thehighest in the region.[2]

Povertyand joblessness continue to scourge Venezuelan society, and the government hasborne them in mind when designing economic policies. However, the lack ofpolitical will to invest by a major part of the private sector, flight ofcapital abroad, the low productivity that still prevails, and the tax crisis of2002 (related to the drop in oil prices during the first half of the year) haveall had a negative impact on the government’s financial disbursements,employment and inflation.


Thegovernment has allocated considerable amounts to social expenditure, which rosefrom 34.7% in 1998 to 38.5% in 1999 and stayed at this level until droppingslightly in 2001. There has been a progressive and sustained increase in socialpublic expenditure as a percentage of the GDP, going from 7.8% in 1998 to 9.0%in 1999, 10.7% in 2000, and 11.8% in 2001, as shown in the Integrated System ofSocial Indicators for Venezuela in 2002.[3]

Theimplementation of the Bolivarian Republic is expressed through various concretemeasures, such as:

·        Theelimination of any payment for enrolment in State schools.The development of a programme of totally free, full-time Bolivarian stateschools, with morning and afternoon snacks, lunches, sports, supervisedhomework, programmes for cultural development, substantive improvement of thefacilities and special attention to the quality of education. Between 2000 andDecember 2003, 3,000 similar schools will have been created with positive impacton enrolment, continuation of schooling, and the children’s improvednutrition.

·        The development from 2002 on, of the Public Pre-school Programme toinsure access for all children, whatever their economic condition. According tothe 2001 Report of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, growth ofannual pre-school enrolment increased from 2.8% in the 1998-1999 school year to8.5% in the 1999-2000 school year, reaching 800,885 students, while for the2000-2001 period, there were 835,074 students, with a growth rate of 4.3%.

·        The implementation of a public programme for the construction of decenthousing, aimed at poor communities, increasingly incorporating the organisedcommunity in the design, execution, assessment and follow-up.

·        The programme for rural aqueducts and technical water boards (drinkingwater and sewage) in poor urban and rural communities with the sameparticipatory methodology mentioned above. According to the 2000 Report on HumanDevelopment in Venezuela, prepared by the Central Office of StatisticalInformation (OCEI) and the United Nations Development Programme, 91% of thepopulation has access to these services. Communities who find deficiencies inthis service organise themselves to resolve the situation, following theprinciple of sharing responsibilities between the State and society.

·        The implementation of the Land and Agrarian Development Law which aims atimproving food sovereignty, democratising the right to productive land forworkers and farm workers, and providing technical and financial support. In thearticles of this Law, priority is given to women who are heads of households.

·        The implementation of the Fisheries Law that seeks, among other things,to protect artisan fishers from the depredating action of the large trawlingcompanies that not only damages the economy of artisan fishers but also affectssea beds.

·        The implementation of the Decree Law developing the constitutional rightsof our aborigines to their languages, the respect of all ethnicities andcultures, and the right of every person to have a decent life built on work,education, justice and equity.

·        The development of a public micro-financing system based on solidarity,discipline in work, sharing of knowledge and state-society co-responsibility.This system has led to the establishment of the Women’s Development Bank, theBank of the Sovereign People and the Fund for the Promotion and Development ofMicro-finance. These micro-finance institutions were set up to fight poverty andachieve the goals that were agreed on at the Millennium Summit Meeting.

Thenature of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is also manifest in the“Strategic Plan for Health and Social Development 2000-2006”, which hasserved to guide government action in this area, despite the obstacles that mustbe overcome in implementing major changes that damage the interests of powerfulgroups. The introduction to this Plan states: “Inthe framework of the new Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Constitutionestablishes as citizens’ rights, the right to health and medical care,similarly to a series of social rights. In this respect, the interventions (bythe Ministry of Health and Social Development) are to be aimed at satisfyingthese rights with equality of opportunities and equity… The new social andhealth policy in the context of social development promotes the enhancement ofthe standard of living based on common and supportive action, a sense ofinclusion and belonging, through political, economic and socialparticipation.”[4]

Thisintroduction is followed by these general objectives:

·        To guarantee health and social development as a right and responsibilityof the State.

·        To develop public health and social development policies aimed atenhancing living conditions and environmental quality.

·        To guide public health and social development policies to achieveefficiency in the healthcare system, increasing access to services and reducinginequity.

·        To orient public health and social development management towardguaranteeing user satisfaction and enhancing the quality of care.

·        To generate a sustainable process of social development that includesintegration and social growth.

·        To overcome social, cultural, economic and political exclusion,showing results that are qualitatively and quantitatively higher than theinitial situation.

·        To reform and modernise the health sector.

·        To promote active citizen participation in problem solving.

·        To strengthen and implement the decentralisation process through thetransfer of the administration of outpatient clinics, dispensaries, ruralmedical centres and national public hospitals (including those of the VenezuelanSocial Security Institute), and through the execution of social or politicalprogrammes to benefit the states and municipalities.[5]

Theprinciples that are to guide policy-making are as follows:

·        SocialParticipation.This principle assumes that public exercise is not limited to the government,and is aimed at the consolidation of legitimate and formal fora for citizenexchange and expression. This implies redistribution of power as collectiveproperty to include traditionally excluded social subjects and enabling problemsolving through the active participation of citizens in decision-makingconcerning social development and health.

·        Equity.Thisprinciple assumes equality in health care and social development and givespriority to actions and services for improving health and living conditions ofat-risk individuals and groups. It aims at consolidating social justice in orderto make the human development of all citizens possible.

·        Universality.Thisprinciple guarantees the social rights established for all Venezuelans, throughthe application of policies aimed at enhancing the quality of life, as allpeople have the right to health protection.

·        Gratis.Thisprinciple guarantees comprehensive health care and social development at no costand without distinctions of any nature.[6]


During2002, the process of building the Bolivarian Republic has been severely attackedby sectors adversely affected by the non-privatisation of basic industries(especially the oil industry), the sound use of land and marine space, and theemphasis on human development and sustainability of natural resources. Theseattacks have ranged from the coup d’étaton 11 April 2002, to the implementation of a series of economic, political andconspiratorial measures at the end of 2002, attempting to remove the Presidentof the Republic from office. The social forces again have a major role to play.As they did in April 2002, in an organised way and from the streets, the peoplehave managed to recover and restore the President to office in an alliance withthe Constitutional Armed Forces. With sustained and organised action people areseeking to guarantee this space of real advocacy within a participatorydemocracy and to maintain constitutional and democratic order while defendingthe social improvements achieved so far.[7]


[1] UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children, 2001.

[2] Central Bank of Venezuela. Report by the Historical-Statistical Information Service. Caracas, 2002.
[3] Ministry of Planning and Development, Caracas.
[4] Strategic Plan for Health and Development 2000-2006. Caracas, 2000, p. 1.
[5] Ibid., p. 2.
[6] Ibid., p. 3.

[7] EDITOR’S NOTE: Chávez promoted measures to take control of the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) nominally in possession of the government, but in fact slave to international operators. The managers of the company promoted a general strike on 9 April 2002. Following a large demonstration, where government partisans confronted the opposition, a group of the latter, comprising the business community and the military, removed Chávez from office, took him to an island and deprived him of his freedom, keeping him incommunicado. A new president was sworn in on 12 April. He dissolved parliament and, ignoring the Constitution, called for general elections to take place within a year. On 14 April, troops that were loyal to the legitimate government handed power back to Chavez. In October, a group of high-ranking armed forces called for “civilian and military disobedience,” and in December, political polarisation increased. The Organisation of American States has called on Venezuelans to reach a “constitutionally democratic solution and an electoral solution”.

The authors appreciate the cooperation of the Documentation Centre and the Unit of Assessment of Social Impact of the Development Bank for Women, Venezuela.