Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Culture and Politics in Venezuela

In March, 2005, I visited several parts of Venezuela as part of my "adventure" vacation through the West Indies and part of South America. It's impossible to escape politics no matter where one goes, but its particularly impossible for me to escape political discussions, as I seem to constantly be drawn to them and being on another continent with a very different political system was a fantastic opportunity to step away from the ethnocentric American worldview and see the world through the political eyes of people who are far removed from the United States.

Venezuela's leftist President, Hugo Chavez, is a real thorn in George Bush's side for multiple reasons, not the least of which being that he presides over an oil rich country, making doing business with him a virtual necessity. In addition, recent statements from Chavez indicate he believes (or wants his people to believe) that George Bush personally wants him dead, one way or another. Whether or not that's true I honestly can't say although the United States (in particular, the CIA) certainly doesn't have a great track record in dealing with South/Latin America, even in a covert fashion.

Most of the people we came in contact with were quite poor and were hard core Chavez supporters, or Chavistas, as they were known. Even they believed that Chavez had a touch of paranoia but at the same time, most people were skeptical about George Bush and his foreign policy and in particular, the Iraq War. As a result, we came across few American tourists in Venezuela and that made myself and my traveling partner stand out like a sore thumb everywhere we went. People automatically assumed that we were die hard Bush supporters and were surprised to find that both of us were not- and when they found this out, were more willing to speak to us about their concerns about Bush and their attraction to Chavez' populist policies.

Stereotypes aside, there are apparently two main groups in VZ, which is by all accounts considered "third world"- rich and poor. And guess which group is bigger? You got it- the poor. Chavez basically capitalized on this fact and geared his political message to this group after his failed Coup attempt in 1992 (and resulting prison term). His message is a mixed one- on its face its a message of socialism with a strong contempt for capitalism but in practice, some say his populist rhetoric is mostly just that- rhetoric.Below is an article from the Nation.com about Chavez and the apparent inconsistency of being such an oil rich nation with such a weak economy and exstensive poverty.