When Hugo Chávez was running in his first successful presidential campaign, back in 1998, he was asked point blank in several television interviews whether or not he was a communist. His reply was identical to the one given by Fidel Castro to Princeton University students during his visit to the United States in 1959: “I am a humanist.”
Years later, on consolidating total power in his own hands, Chávez again emulated Fidel and confessed to being “a convinced follower of Marxist-Leninist ideology.”
During his 14-year rule in Venezuela, Chávez followed a strategy of introducing socialism in stages. The first stage entailed obtaining total control of all institutions of the Venezuelan state. Thus, during the first four years, he concentrated his efforts in changing the Constitution, packing the Supreme Court, installing soviet-style political commissars in army units, and changing the national identity card and the electoral system to ensure his reelection through manipulation of voter-rolls. During this stage, Chávez was not interested in antagonizing the private sector or the business community. He had enough on his plate, and knew he could not tackle all enemies at once.