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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,

Chavez uses "Alo Presidente" show in order to connect directly with people and their issues at all the cities. He exposes solutions and empowers people to work on them. He alerts and informs people of internal and global issues. He spreads cultural roots from every region using its music y traditions.

The world is interested in changes happening in Venezuela. This show uses the media, TV or Internet, to present the good and the bad as it is happening, the program is not edited. I suppose there will be soon a show about the big achievement launching "Simon Bolivar"satellite.

I would like FRONTLINE to make a documental about Dr. Abreua's music revolution in Venezuela. Harvard University just gave the Quincy Jones Prize, on Nov. 13, 2008, to Dr. Abreu and Dudamel for bringing classical music to underprivileged children. (http://www.ny1.com/content/ny1_living/89244/quincy-jones-presents--q-prize--at-time-warner-center/Default.aspx). The Deutsche Welle DW-TV has the film The Promise of Music (http://www.promise-of-music.com/index_e.html). Dudamel will be music director of Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009. I just saw in TV the National Press Club with the Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop. Topic: "Creating an Innovative Society Through Arts-Based Education" Event Date: Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 12:00pm. She proposed to follow Venezuelans example in USA.

David Sprayberry
Chandler, AZ

Dear FRONTLINE,

Chavez seemed at the beginning wanting to make the poor his first priority, however after almost 10 years in power, and with oil revenues extremely high, he still has not been able to reorient his state priorities to benefit the poor. When the oil revenues were very high his finance Minister ignore the provision for the social fund created to relocate income to antipoverty programs, and direct resources were taken away from the poor even as oil profits were increasing.

Most health and human development indicators have shown no significant improvement beyond that which is normal after this oil boom. Actually the income inequality has worsened in these ten years.

This hypothesis that Chavez is good for the poor does not fit the facts. There is a large gap between what Chavez preaches and the reality of his policies. With Chavez the size of the state has increased dramatically, government expenditures have al most doubled, has nationalized key sectors, and there has been a deterioration of property rights. Yes there have been misiones which have concentrated on the direct provision of health, education, and other public services to poor communities, however official statistics have shown no signs of a substantial improvement in the well being of ordinary Venezuelans and actually in many cases there have been worrying deteriorations. For instance, a careful analysis of trends in infant and neonatal mortality shows that the rate of decline is not significantly different from that of the pre-Chavez period.

In my opinion Chavez has not delivered, and his dreams of helping the poor have been smashed by his desire to give priority to his corrupt politicians.

Clara Bonhomme
Ottawa, Ontario

Dear FRONTLINE,

When I read in this PBS post, Americans and Canadiens greeting and celebrating Chavez, as well as wishing they could have a Chavez in their own country, I honestly feel shame on you. Only people that have lived this tragedy happening in Venezuela today can have an opinion, and your opinions are just the product of media, not facts. Yes, the Chavez media (over 9 TV channels, including 2 international). You Pro-Chavez Americans and Canadiens are the best proof that this Frontline documentary is not lying, is not purposely changing the reality. How an inept, dishonest and assassin who happens to be President of Venezuela can convince people miles away that he is certainly doing something positive in his own land? By brilliantly managing the media. Thats the Hugo Chavez Show....just a show that you, naive people, believe.

Chvez is still in power for 2 simple reasons: because we Venezuelans lost track of our morality and love Chavez' corruption, and because many of venezuelan are in starvation, so he uses the petro-dollars to buy their souls with some food in exchange for loyalty. Without petro-dollars, Hugo Chavez would have passed to history as the worst, most inept and destructive President in the history of Venezuela.

Everything is a dream manufactured by him.

Caracas, Venezuela

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was very dissapointed in Frontline's piece on Chavez. While there were many strong elements, it rehashed some anti-Chavez propaganda. Worst of all, it does not give context to the refusal to renew the RCTV license.

RCTV was absolutely central to the coup attempt against Chavez in 2002, and remained unrepentant. In fact (as you can find in the documentary "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"), a talk show featured various officials from RCTV and the military coup leaders patting themselves on the back about how well their "plan" went to oust Chavez. If NBC or CBS had been involved in overthrowing a democratically elected US president, what do you think would happen to those stations? Far worse than what happened to RCTV. They were given several years to reform, but did not. The people (as administered by the government) own the public airwaves in Venezuela, and it would have been absolutely shocking if they had renewed the license given the treason committed by this reactionary station. Further, there are many, many stories of people who have been brought into the political process by Chavez's movement, and who have for the first time in their lives access to education and health care. These were only touched on in passing. Chavez has very large flaws, and those should be pointed out, but ethical journalism requires that you give a more unbaised view.

Steven Higginbotham
Houston, Texas

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

for more context and details on the shutdown of RCTV and whether it was justified read that section of journaliset Phil Gunson's interview on this web site.

Dear FRONTLINE,

The fact that the newest political party in venezuela- the PSUV, won a majority in the first elections it participated in, can give you the idea about "the venezuelan people hate Chavez". No they do not. They still believe in him despite the fact of inappropreate management of his cadres. But if Hugo wants to win in the future, he sure needs to accept criticism from members of the party. Like almost all western documentaries on Venezuela this one also represents mostly the views of the opposition.Venceremos!

Jordan Kutiyski
Sofia, Bulgaria

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you PBS and Frontline for a wonderful documentary on Chavez. The program was direct, honest and showcased the reality of Venezuela.

As a young professional Venezuelan expat living in the US it amazes me how many Americans admire and speak wonders of him. This program will help enlighten and educate the naive American public to the dismal reality of Venezuela, a country in the hands of a dangerous madman.

Liz A
Los Angeles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

This is one of the best documentaries I have seen regarding the current situation in Venezuela. Being able to provide and accurate and objective perspective is difficult, but I believe you successfully and eloquently illustrated both sides of the spectrum. I wanted to add a short remark to one of the comments made at the end of the show. Your guest mentioned that historians should recognize that Chavez was able to bring back to Venezuelan politics the issue of inequality and poverty. I believe he actually made inequality one of the most important political issues in the entire region. Unfortunately, his philosophical approach, the lack of qualified personnel managing the countrys finances and his foreign policy adventurism had a negative effect on his mission.

Interesting enough is that next door, in Colombia, the situation is completely different. This country, with almost twice the population of Venezuela, with limited oil revenues, affected by drug trafficking and with one of the highest rates of murder per capita at the beginning of the century, has been able to evolve, develop and improve the standards of living of its population at an astonishing rate. At the head of this fundamental change in Colombia is President Uribe. It will be really interesting if FRONTLINE could produce a documentary about Colombia under Uribe. This will provide a better overview of the continent and will definitively contrast with Chavezs documentary.

Thanks again and keep the good work.

James Husserl
london, London, UK

Dear FRONTLINE,

The Alberto Barrera statement that Chavezs overblown rhetoric is a result of his need to compensate for not having an epic story is pretty odd considering that Chavez came from a rural family, attempted a coup, became a popular leader, was elected, survived US supported economic sabotage and a coup attempt, a recall vote and was reelected by the highest margin ever.

The attempted military coup was supported by the US. Sadly this film only says that some say there may have been involvement, quite disingenuous.

Closing RCTV was a bad move, lacking is an explanation of why he did it. It was because they had advocated for the overthrow of the democratically elected government. So how would that go down in the US? What would Bush and Chaney have done to a media organization that had actively supported a coup attempt? I agree it was the wrong decision, but it' s not an outlandish one for a political leader. In that same vein, Rory gets a ridiculous answer from Chavez, this is not unique for a politician, more helpful and interesting would be an explanation of this systematic effect of government in silencing the press, ie. This is a universal problem, see how the Venezuelan government does it too . . . .

The only proposals of the referendum discussed were allowing reelection and executive powers. This is just following the hyped story that was echoing in all the US news coverage of the referendum. Whether or not one agrees with it, there is a tradition in Venezuela of granting exceptional executive powers to allow a president to transform institutions, so not too unusual there. Permanent reelection? Yep I think its a bad idea, so did the Venezuelans. Too bad the substantive economic and political proposals of the referendum were ignored. Considering the likes of Pat Robertson who advocated for his assassination and the nonsense that Chavez is a dictator, (dictators dont lose votes), why no critique of the misinformation that has been fed to us by our media?

In Bikel"ss interview [published on the web site] she states, "And since the U.S. never showed any respect for Latin America, there has always been resentment towards the U.S." Too bad this helpful context was lacking from the film. Overall I feel this film very clearly highlighted the oddities and blowhard moments of Chavez, but almost completely avoided the political questions that have undoubtedly been brought to the fore and are of greatest consequence to the Venezuelan people.

Craig Carpenter
Boston, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have been traveling to Venezuela regularly since 1984. I've married into a Venezuelan family and watched their lives and political views evolve since Chavez came to power. They are divided, but most, even if they supported him originally, have now turned against him. They are thoughtful people and I respect their opinions, whatever they are.

I thought the documentary was a balanced a piece of reporting. I note that many people here disagree.

What fascinates me is that most of the Chavez supporters in this discussion, are people who do not or have not lived in Venezuela, people to whom Chavez is a populist abstraction, someone who is not afraid to be publically hostile to the United States and the Bush administration. You go, dude!

But the important thing to consider is not that but what kind of President is Chavez for Venezuelans. Has he served them well? Listen to those who have lived there.

Alisa Delgado said this, "There's freedom of expression, certainly, but at your own and very real, risk." Consider carefully those who describe losing careers and savings after protesting against Chavez or voting no on the 2004 referendum. I have personally watched family and friends live through this.

Those who support him from afar, in the imperfect democracies of North America would not likely tolerate such corruption and abuses of power in their own government, nor suffer quietly under the crushing inflation and devastating crime that Venezuelans must live with every day.

In theory, parts of the Chavez experiment are good, like the Barrio Adentro program and the cooperatives. But in their corrupt and inefficient execution, they have failed to lift Venezuelans out of poverty and they may eventually risk bankrupting the country.

I hope I am wrong, but sadly, failure seems likely to be his Presidential legacy.

Robert Freedman
Seattle , WA

Dear FRONTLINE,

The documentary about Hugo Chavez is fair, well documented, objective and illuminating. I don't understand those Americans that censor critics of Chavez in the US on the basis that "only Venezuelans know what is best for them". As a Venezuelan I think the world has to know what is really happening in Venezuela. Even more so considering the great efforts and huge amounts of money the Venezuelan government spends promoting the virtues of the "revolution" abroad.

We should get past the recalcitrant relativism of thinking that Democracy is good for Americans but not so for Venezuelans. No people chooses to live subdued. Democracy and liberty are good for all people.

Tucson, Arizona

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear PBS, How could you? How could you fund and promote a man like Hugo Chavez to give him the platform that he desires to spread communist propoganda against the West! HOW COULD YOU! Words will never speak what you should hear, and if I don't tame MY words, this will never get published. Chavez is a master at gathering support from developing nations to unite against West! His own people hate him, but he has become more of a mythical figure to those who struggle and he will continue to undermine anyone that allies with the US-> YOUR OWN COUNTRY WHERE FRONTLINE LIVES AND OPERATES! How could you be so blind.

Richard Parker
Los Angeles, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think what's been said in criticism about this program has already made my point for me. I have problems with Chavez but the elite media in our country will always pick and choose which men to be their enemy.

The US has supported and funded, even to this day, far worse than Chavez, such as the Colombian regime, and you'll never see a Frontline show as critical on US allies as you see on official enemies.

But as you see from these responses, this type of journalism will never go unquestioned again. We have a truly democratic medium right now called the internet.

Sloover Sloover
Liberty, NC

Dear FRONTLINE,

Why do so many democrats in this country tend to support mad dogs and other communists? Perhaps they should go live there on a pernament bases.If Socialism / Communism is so great, why do so many people from those countries try like hell to leave them and come here. And why do some many people want to turn the US of A into a copy of these countries.

Hones John
Reno, Nevada

Dear FRONTLINE,

The best part of this program was to see examples of Chavez's Sunday TV programs.

What I missed most in this documentary was attention to this oil-rich but oh-so-anti-imperialist country's foreign policy, that is, its constant meddling in other countries' affairs. Was there any discussion of the recently uncovered evidence that Chavez has funded and assisted Colombia's FARC in its campaign of kidnappings, drug trafficking, and endless violence in efforts to overthrow a government that has committed no similar crimes against Venezuela?

Or what about his numerous gambits--some open, some clandestine--to influence political outcomes in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua? Is U.S. meddling abroad the only meddling abroad that gets Frontline's concern?

Holt Ruffin
Mill Valley, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Very good program. A couple of comments1) You mention that Chavez doubled the oil royalties with the enabling law. That is true but the oil income tax was reduced so the net government take set in that law was reduced (for oil prices above $20). It is true that private oil operators had lower taxes set contractually, but the law of 2001 initially did not apply to them. Only in 2004 those contracts started being reneged on.

2) It is very important to understand Chavez presidency in terms of three variables: oil income, expenditures, and presidential popularity. From 1999-2003 oil income was relatively low and in fact Chavez lost a lot of support due to the economic decline that ocurred.

In 2001-2004 his popularity fell to about 35%. In contrast starting in 2004 oil prices and income went up dramatically as well as expenditures on social programs, as a result Chavez popularity increased espectacularly.

Good selection of interviews, missed the lack of more respected academic viewpoints from Venezuela and the US.

Palo Alto, CA

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posted november 19, 2008

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