Gearing up for campaign, Chavez boosts spending
CARACAS, Venezuela—President Hugo Chavez is launching new social programs including hikes in pensions and a $100-a-month cash payment for needy children as he prepares for his re-election bid next year.
Chavez announced Tuesday that the government would increase pension payments to more than 200,000 retirees through a newly created "mission" program.
A day earlier, he launched a program to benefit the South American country's poorest children, whose parents will receive $100 per child every month to help them makes ends meet. He calls that program "Mission Children of Venezuela."
Such programs have helped Chavez cement support among the poor who are his electoral base. His government also runs adult education programs and free neighborhood medical clinics staffed by Cuban doctors.
During Tuesday's event, Chavez boasted that his government has increased spending on social programs since he was first elected in 1998.
Luis Vicente Leon, who heads the Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis, said he interprets the new social programs as an indication that more spending increases are likely in the coming months as Chavez prepares to seek re-election in October.
"We can expect a campaign underscored by money," Leon said in a telephone interview.
The newest programs will cost an estimated $3.7 billion, Chavez said. And he said that in January he will unveil a new program to fight unemployment called "Mission Knowledge and Work."
Chavez's popularity has hovered around 50 percent in recent polls.
His ability to raise government spending has received a boost from China, which has agreed to lend Venezuela about $38 billion in exchange for oil shipments. Chavez said one $4 billion Chinese loan will go toward building public housing.
In typical style, Chavez also rallied his supporters dancing and singing along with a band.
Leon expects Chavez to make more public appearances as he seeks show Venezuelans he is vigorous and capable after his struggle with cancer.
Chavez, 57, had a tumor removed from his pelvic region in June and underwent four rounds of chemotherapy. He has repeatedly said that he is now cancer-free.
A coalition of opposition parties plans to hold a primary election Feb. 12 to choose a unity candidate to challenge Chavez in the Oct. 7 presidential vote.