Our Man in Caracas

The first installment of WPR International News Editor Guy Taylor’s series for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was published on Saturday. Guy reports on the potent force of Chavez’s cult of personality in Venezuela:

CARACAS, Venezuela — Women faint when they meet him. Men create stampedes to keep up with caravans he leads through impoverished cities where prior generations of leaders have not dared tread.

“When you see him in person, it’s something that cannot be explained,” said Susana Fonseca, craning her neck for a better view of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as he worked his way through a mob of admirers here earlier this month.

“We’ve never had men like him in our history,” said Fonseca, 43, a public accountant.

. . .

Images of Chávez are posted all over Caracas, showing him holding children or standing among admiring throngs of supporters. His photograph hangs everywhere, from lampposts in the city center to the corrugated tin walls of shantytowns on its outskirts.

Comparing Chávez to former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Medina calls the Chávez phenomenon “the classic Stalinist cult of personality typical of any dictatorship.”

What’s different about Chávez is that he is not portrayed as an almighty figure who can do no wrong, but as a man of the people whose mistakes actually become part of his appeal. . . .

The second main story in the series, “Oil Fuels Chavez’s Economic Shift,” reports on how Chavez uses oil revenues to build his political base:

In what backers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez call a defining moment for his self-described revolution toward “21st-century socialism,” thousands of community councils have been formed across Venezuela, becoming the central link between the nation’s huge oil profits and its vast population of poor people seeking a better life.

Critics say the councils are havens of communist-style ideology geared toward replacing capitalism with a counterproductive, chaotic system of cooperatives bent on replacing existing municipal governments.

But Chávez, expected to be re-elected in national elections on Sunday is forging ahead. . . .

Finally, see Guy’s SLPD articles on Chavez’s civilian militas and his weekly TV talk show, “Alo Presidente.”

Guy and photographer Andrew Cutraro have been in Venezuela since the beginning of November reporting on the runup to the Dec. 3 elections there. Their trip is sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis reporting. See their project page on the PCCR Web site.

While in Venezuela, Guy and Andy have also been filing regular reports for our blog. For links to all of Andrew Cutraro’s photo features, see his WPR author page.

And Guy’s blog posts from Venezuela are listed as the most recent articles on his author page.

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