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The Hugo Chavez Show

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What do you think of Hugo Chávez, his savvy use of the media, and his plans for Venezuela's revolutionary future?

Dear FRONTLINE,

I wonder why Frontline did not devote a chapter to the U.S. backing of the coup against Chavez using the National Endowment of Democracy as a front to back all opposition to Chavez as well as the military coop attempt, which tried to replace Chavez with someone who would represent U.S. oil interests. This has been documented with published declassified documents in the book, "The Chavez Code".

James Shelton
Richmond, Virginia

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

As is said in the film, there were strong rumors of U.S. involvement and this has been debated endlessly. The question is, what was the level of U.S. approval or participation? We didn't want to get into the role of the U.S. - which gets involved in a lot of unsavory business in Latin America. Investigating this probably deserves a separate program of its own.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched this show on Globovision TV the other night, even as the Station was sanctioned and will possibly face closure as happened to RCTV. Having lived in Caracas for ten years, up to 1987 (pre Chavez) I appreciate that Chavez had a tough job of cleaning up corruption , improving the living conditions of the millions of poor people,and cutting the crime situation. Sadly, despite the billions of oil dollars, all these conditions have worsened.I watched Chavez speak this week on TV, after the elections on Nov 23 rd, and he loudly declared and repeated:"Chavez es el Pueblo".He also announced that he will be running for President in 2012, and that he intends to...no, HAS to govern until he dies.I think it is obvious that things are going to get a lot worse , and that the country will implode when falling oil revenue can`t support the Socialist ideals that Chavez believes in.

Peter Sheppard
Bridgetown, Barbados

Dear FRONTLINE,

In 1959, when I returned to Venezuela from school in the U.S. and looked around me, in Caracas and Valencia, I saw such great differences between "us" (the middle and higher middle class) and the majority of our population that I said to my friends and family: "There's going to be a revolution here very soon".

I never relented in my warnings that mistreatment of the poor would bring a violent uprising. Some cynics told me: As long as there is money to stuff peoples mouths with bills or to send them to Paris to study art and be 'cafe revolutionaries' or to Patrice Lumumba University in Russia, there will be no revolution". I witnessed how the society I was born in, corrupted and eroded the poor's will to work. Venezuelans are not, and were not lazy as some people have implied in these replies. They were taught, convinced, that work was not the way to improve one's way of life.

Socialism is not a Chavez invention, it was there long before I returned from the US. "Democratic", "capitalistic" governments applied socialistic policies which every five years changed the course of the economy. They systematically attacked and extorted free enterprise. An unwieldy and corrupted bureaucracy grew fed by the alternating parties largesse and made it impossible to do business in Venezuela without bribing someone. It created a union movement that was nothing but a mafia that made a living selling off the workers they were supposed to help.

Two parties alternated in "milking" the Venezuelan cow. The government, the educational structure was riddled by ideologues who praised Fidel Castro, not because he created a prosperous country with a high standard of living, but because he stood up to the USA Chvez is nothing but a consequence of all this malfeasance.

After sixty years of corruption and by the time Chavez appeared and made his moves, our poor were ignorant, superstitious, alienated, grossly uneducated and mostly wards of the government or the political parties that promised them deliverance. Chavez, with his green fatigues, his macho pronouncements, his promises, his attacks on the "rich", his rants against the US and his folksy ways was a hit with this mob we created.

Don't deceive yourselves, all this socialistic or communistic nonsense is stuck into the soul of the Venezuelan poor like an Indian arrow. It has barbs that make it nearly impossible to pull it out. I fear that if Chavez is ever ousted before he dies from overeating, he will be substituted by another ambitious demagogue that will continue with the same rhetoric.

Carlos Ferrero
Viterbo, Italy

Dear FRONTLINE,

The buffoonery of leaders is always good material. Though I found the presentation interesting, bringing in a mixture of opinions and stories, I wonder if PBS would dare to a similar piece of the Columbia's Uribe, who apparently sees himself as the savior of his country and seeks a never-ending hold on office, one extension after another. Of course, Columbia is a grimmer story. Labor leaders, community organizers and just plain innocent people are killed regularly.

Uribe himself is not without the smell of the death squads. Then there is Bush himself, the embracer of all the behaviors that my high school Communism versus Americanism book told me were the domain of the other side: torture, lies, walls, secret police and prisons, etc.

Orlay Plummer
Riverside, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline, I thought the Hugo Chavez Show was fascinating. It highlighted how little I knew, despite avid readership of leading U.S. newspapers (Wash. Post, NY Times, etc.) and magazines, of political events in Venezuela. Years ago we had Venezuelan friends of the diplomatic corps (embassy/OAS), linked to the pre-Chavez administrations. If I learned nothing else from this program, it is that waste and corruption in Venezuelan government adminsitration remains constant regardless of which political faction is in control. Sincerely,

Scott Blair
Washington, DC

Dear FRONTLINE,

To all the critics of this program:

Did you actually watch it?

Before you attack the integrity of the last, best hope for investigative journalism in America you might want to pay attention to the segments with Chavez droning on for hours on his self-aggrandizing television show. You might find in him the ultimate megalomaniac - castigating his ministers in order to deflect any criticism that his failed policies have wrought, in one instance even ordering one of his generals to send troops to the border of Columbia. All the while, Venezuela suffers from gross mismanagment and despotism under his administration. The fact that he spends up to five hours in vivo every Sunday should be proof enough that he is not serious about effecting any real change, and instead is more interested in self-promotion and a delusional vision of his importance in the world.

Shame on all of you who would fail to look past the most obvious truths of this segment in order to fall into bickering over your own paranoia about the "left-wing" media. You fail to recognize that Frontline far and away surpasses the standards of journalism, all the while doing it in an unbiased and objective manner that the 24-hour infotainment cycle could never hope to achieve - not that it desires it.

Joe Mancinik
Washington, DC

Dear FRONTLINE,

This was a great program that showed what is really going on in Venezuela. However, the airing of this show will be confounding to the right wing media, as PBS is always accused of having a left wing bias.

This program was anything but flattering to the definitely leftist Chavez regime, and really shows the true nature of PBS in presenting fair and unbiased documentaries.

Tony Nacelewicz
Indianapolis, IN

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have been studying and writing about Venezuela since my first visit there in 1978 and published several scholarly books and articles on the country. I understand just how terribly polarized the country around the figure of Chavez, and I applaud responsible criticism of some of his words and actions. This was not responsible.

I associate Frontline with high standards of jounalistic excellence. I did not expect so one-sided a view of Hugo Chavez so reliant on the views of the opposition. If nothing else, you should have consulted the most complete and in-depth biography of Chavez -- HUGO!, by former AP journalist Bart Jones. I would also recommend the incisive, not entirely flattering view presented in the recent documetary on the 2006 election, PUEDO HABLAR?

Invoking Phil Gunson as an unbiased authority on RCTV is like citing Bill O'Reilly as an unbiased observer of PBS's NOW.

You baldly deny that the living conditions of the poor in Venezuela have improved over Chavez's tenure in office. May I suggest you consult the United Nations Development Program for some documentation? Yes, Chavez's approval rating reflect to a significant extent the feelings of poor Venezuelans that they finally have someone who speaks for them. But he is not all talk -- there is plenty of substantive reason for their support as well.

I hope you took note of the posting here that advocated Chavez's assassination. By feeding the notion that he is an unbalanced demagogue, you help bring out this kind of sentiment and feed the polarization that Venezuela certainly does not need.

Daniel Hellinger
St. Louis, MO

Dear FRONTLINE,

History will tell how Venezuelan missed the opportunity to invest oil revenues into developing the country. As long as Venezuela is ruled by ideology and symbolism, the country will not develop and transform itself into a modern society.

The tragedy lies on mismanaging vast oil revenue resources in the last ten years due to lacking serious implementation of public policies and political consensus with other sectors of society to build a vision of the country.

The second most important tragedy is the one lived by the most vulnerable members of society who trusted Hugo Chavez to change their socio-economic fate and have clearly been disappointed. As Venezuelans, our challenge ahead is how to transition the country from a terrible political practice of hate and division and a majoritily-improverished population during times of a decadent oil industry.

Alexis Lozada
Pittsburgh, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think that your documentary was very good and well informed; nevertheless I think is missing a lot. To begin with: From a Venezuelan point of view, Chavez has never loved Venezuela really. From the beginning he has just been power sick.

His first month in power Venezuela went through one of its worst natural disasters in decades, the Vargas landslides, till this day Vargas is exactly the same as 1999.

Chavez refused international help, and has just left its people to die of poverty. Chavez does not believe in progress, educated people, well nourished or taken care for, he has done a lot this past 10 years to prove it, instead he believes in terrorist such as Fidel, Colombian Guerilla, Libyan, Iranian and Iraqi terrorists; he has paired up with the most corrupt, governments in the world, beginning with the most populist governments in South America; and once again hes made a big effort to prove this in the past 10 years.

We now live in the 2nd most dangerous and violent country in the world, and we are not at war; we now live in a country that never before had to make lines to obtain basic foods such as coffee, sugar, meat, or poultry, cooking oil, grains, all which we were big producers of; Now we live in a country were never before had racial differences, maybe tough economical differences, but not racial differences, now we do; we now live in a country that is align with terrorist from all over the world, where we have the biggest rates of kidnappings, of violent crimes, of poverty. We now live in a country where its educated, well prepared citizens, rather go be waiters, bartenders or car washers in other countries than stay here and be doctors, lawyers, architects, petroleum engineers, for which they spent their past 10 years preparing for.

So it is sad for me to hear Venezuelans or people from other countries saying that Chavez is not so bad, and his "socialist" experiment is worth something.

In fact, I could assure you that he hates Venezuelans; he has done everything with his new gained power and richness to guide Venezuela through a path of misery, poverty, tragedy and depression.That is NOT what we were only 10 years ago.

Claudia Chapellin
Caracas, Venezuela

Dear FRONTLINE,

First and foremost, as a journalist I understand the difficulties that can arise in conducting interviews or even shooting footage, thus, I believe FRONTLINE produced a good piece considering the government did not accept interviews or at least accept to give their point of view.

So, for those who say that it is a biased documentary you should askyourselves why the government didn't take part in interviews. I don't think it is biased, on the contrary, it depicts the crisis Venezuelans are living on a day-to-day basis and anyone who wants to debate that should just more there and experience it for themselves.

Secondly, I would like to see those who are in favor of Chavez provide some critical analysis of his behavior. Do you think, in a psychological way, that any person who can speak in rhetoric for more than 7 hours does not suffer from some kind of psychiatric problem? I invite any psychologists to give their opinions on the personality of Chavez.

Thirdly, and this is something brought up in the spanish section of the discussion, there are many similarities between the practices of Chavez and Hitler. For this, I would like to know for those who are in favor of Chavez if they think that Hitler was a good leader for Germany and if the West was wrong in highlighting him as a dictator?

Why don't you who are in favor of Chavez critique or analyze the constant "cadenas" where Chavez has all the power to get on all the media tv/radio without any discretion? Nobody talks about the fact that a few weeks ago, considering Venezuela has suffered greatly because of the rains, when it was raining nonstop for hours and the media were providing information to their audience about what streets to avoid or to be aware of an overflowing river in the capital as well as downslides in different sectors, Chavez got on "cadena nacional" to show how he was joining forces with the president of the "Socialist Republic of Vietnam" while Venezuelans were in grave need for the most important information at that time, which was to saveguard their lives from the overflowing rain.

How about the fact that in the elections for the referendum of the constitution the country voted NO, yet through his habilitating power Chavez introduced 26 of the laws that were rejected in the referendum. Now, after the regional elections Chavez is targeting those governors of the opposition labeling them as fascists. Shouldn't he be the first to preach an inclusive discourse instead of continuing to separete Venezuelans between the opposition and those who are with the revolution? He has already given the green light to his political party--PSU--to begin the process for introducing a referendum for the indefinite election of the president. Nobody comments about that either and these are things that are going on today, yet the world continues to view Chavez as a democrat.

I ask you: do elections equal democracy? If so, you could argue that because Adolf Hitler was elected by his people, he was a democrat and thus in the 1930s through mid 40s Germany was a democracy?

I am open to discussions.

C MW
Barcelona, Spain

Dear FRONTLINE,

Venezuela is a rich country full of poor people. Basically because there is not culture, no justice and there is a lot of corruption.

I am a lawyer in this country and I know Chavez has interfered justice more than any other politician did in the past twenty-five years. Talking about corruption, you can see military personnel buying half a million US dollars houses while they make twelve hundred US dollars a month. In this rich country, every poor man or woman has the dream to become rich in not time, Chavez is not different; he is just another poor man living his dream. He also knows that ignorant people could support him in power while he gives them hope, thats it.

Only HOPE will keep him in power and that is why I want to congratulate you for the title you used in your TV production, it could not be better. It is a Show to keep himself in power, so he can continue living his dream.

Rafael Falcon
Caracas, Venezuela

Dear FRONTLINE,

Hugo Chavez is definately a savvy political leader but reading some of the comments posted hear i am appalled. Why it is that so many people have a problem with frontline taking a long hard look at the Chavez presidency is beyond me.

Do any of you really think that PBS targeted Chavez because he claims to represent the impoverished? Hugo Chavez doesnt come out of this frontline episode looking very good, not because PBS is somehow biased, but because his presidency has been a failure.

He has restricted free speech and controlled elections and has failed consistently to provide the social relief he was elected for. I am not saying that necessarily makes him any better or any worse than any other south american leader, nor am i saying that south america is better off under the boot heel of american economic imperialism that has long controlled that half of this hemisphere, but he is not some grand romantic revolutionary figure to idolize. He is just a man, and whatever his intentions, his presidency has taken away freedom and solved nothing.

He has brought poverty to the forefront of politics which is admirable, but he has done very little to solve that poverty. Keep up the good work frontline, you are the most investigative and un biased news program on television.

Phoenix, Arizona

Dear FRONTLINE,

"60 % of Venezuela oil is bought and paid for by the US, money that helps Chavez subsidize Central American leaders who are HOSTILE to US policy in the region."

Wow, now thats one hell of an example of PBS fulfilling its role as a propaganda ministry for the US government. All of leaders mentioned besides Morales, the US has helped orchestrate coups against them. Overall the program is an example of the horror of American liberals, which entails a fake attempt at being "fair" but excluding or manipulating information whenever it suits the needs of the state. Examples of this are the statement above and more importantly the shoddy description of the US backed coup in 2002, which interestingly there was a documentarian on the spot who shot footage of the whole coup and counter-coup.

The name of the film is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and you all can watch it online - http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5832390545689805144

Zaid Khalil
New York, New York

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

The full narration section the writer mentions follows:60% of Venezuelas oil is bought and paid for by the U.S., money that helps Chavez subsidize Central American leaders who are hostile to U.S. policy in the region Among them: Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Rafael Correa of Equador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and most of all Fidel Castro of Cuba.Determined to re-align his country away from the United States, Chavez has forged alliances with countries like China, made arms deals with Russia, and embraced Iran. But a good chunk of the money would go towards his socialist vision at home.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Even though this Frontline program shows a lot of the tough realities that Venezuelans go through, it falls short. I was raised in Venezuela and lived there for 21 years. I left that country 8 years ago to start a new life in the U.S.

Any person that is foreign to Venezuela and has not lived there, and that agrees with Chavez's policies is either a communist, extremely naive, or simply demented.

Any Venezuelan that lives abroad and that agrees with Chavez's policies is a communist and traitor.

If this sounds too harsh, you are too thick to understand.

As a matter of fact, just today (30/Nov) Chavez threatend (once again) to stay in power by "opening the floor for debate" on a change in the Venezuelan constitution (shocker!) so that he can stay in power... Recall the "Por ahora..." signs? (For now...).

Glorious will be the day that Chavez is out of power... for good!.

Marcus Fleckenstein
Crofton, MD

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a Venezuelan. Not a rich Venezuelan, nor a poor one. When I moved to the United States five years ago, wanting a better future for my American wife and my Venezuelan kids in a democratic country, I started been called a "Brown" person. This due to a very basic way of thinking that believes people can be categorized only as white, black, or the in between "brown. But I hope some of you know there is a bigger gamut of in between races and colors.

Chavez has tried to do a similar categorization, and sadly some of you think alike. There is not only left and right, nor Bush or Chavez. I voted Obama (yes, I am a citizen now) last November, and I am against Chavez. I think some socialism is beneficial for Latin-American countries, and yet I believe Chavezs socialism is badly flawed.

Some of you believe resources in Latin-American should be distributed equally among its inhabitants, but are you willing to share your American richness as well in this fair distribution? As you can imagine, it is better to teach how to fish than it is to give a free fish. Paradoxically, distributing all wealth equally creates a bigger chaos and increases poverty, not the opposite.

Lastly, I was firmly against voting for Hillary because, had she won, only 2 families (the Bush and the Clinton) would have ruled the US for two decades. The best wealth Americans have is their democracy, although many give it for granted. Glory to George Washington, who did not want to rule this country for more than 2 presidential periods, and shame to Chavez who wants to rule forever.A proud and brown Hispanic,

Antonio Molina Rivas
Columbus, Wisconsin

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posted november 19, 2008

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