The Hugo Chavez Show

Controversial, bombastic, he believes he is destined to change Venezuela and the whole of Latin America. Who is Hugo Chavez? And where is he headed?

AIRED: November 25, 2008 | 1:24:37


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Committed to raising public awareness.

>> NARRATOR: Tonight on Frontline...

>> How are you, Fidel?

>> NARRATOR: He calls Castro his idol...

>> Very well, thank you.

And you? Very well.

>> NARRATOR: ...and the United States an enemy.

>> He's convinced George Bush goes to bed

thinking of ways to assassinate Hugo Chavez.

>> NARRATOR: To his followers, he is Venezuela's hope.

(people shouting)

To his critics, he as at worst a dictator, and at best,

a master of the media.

>> (singing in Spanish)

>> He sings, he can be funny.

He can seem buffoonish.

He obeys none of the rules for what is expected

of a head of state, or, for that matter,

a public official on television.

>> NARRATOR: Is he a real threat to America...

>> Venezuela's selling about 1.5 million barrels per day

of crude and products to the United States.

>> NARRATOR: ...or is he his own worst enemy?

>> Despite many billions of dollars of oil wealth, we see,

in fact, that most of Hugo Chavez's revolutionary programs

simply have not worked.

>> NARRATOR: Tonight on Frontline,

who is Hugo Chavez?

>> NARRATOR: Flying into Caracas, we were worried.

The idea was to do a story about Venezuela--

about oil and politics

and its controversial president, Hugo Chavez.

But we'd been told that we should not expect

to meet with him.

We needn't have worried--

President Chavez, we found out, was everywhere.

>> NARRATOR: The president can always be found

on his weekly television show, Alo Presidente.

(music playing)

>> NARRATOR: Every Sunday,

President Chavez talks to the people.

He lets them in on all his plans, memories,

secrets and pet peeves.

Every week from a different place,

every week a different subject-- even if to the uninitiated ear

it sometimes all sounds the same.

It's not what we would call a presidential address.

In fact, it's not easy to explain it at all.

>> (translated): Well, in the first place, it's a show.

That's how it's advertised in the press, as a variety show.

(cheers and applause)

>> He obeys none of the normal ground rules

for what is expected of a head of state,

or, for that matter, a public official on television.

(singing in Spanish)

>> He tells stories about his youth; he sings.

It starts when the president decides it starts

and it finishes when he's ready to finish.

It has no timetable.

>> It has a rough script,

but it's basically the president improvising.

>> (translated): Five hours go by.

He is entertaining, affecting, confronting.

He always keeps the tension.

>> Chavez is easily caricatured, because he is-- he can be funny,

he can seem buffoonish on his Hello Presidentes.

He sings, he... gets involved in wordplay, he goes on too long.

He does all of these things in public.

He's probably the world's first virtual president

in the age of the communication revolution.

>> (singing in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: Hugo Chavez started his program on March 2, 2008,

at 11:00 in the morning with a song.

He walked the empty streets of Caracas

with his Minister of Interior and the mayor of the city.

>> (singing in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: This week's program was about security--

or rather, the lack of it--

in the city of Caracas, and it went on calmly for two hours.

Then, at 1:00, he began complaining about Colombia

bombing a guerilla camp in Ecuador the day before--

killing an important Colombian guerilla fighter, Raul Reyes.

>> NARRATOR: He then made it clear what he thought

of the president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe,

who ordered the bombing.

>> NARRATOR: In fact, Chavez thought that President Uribe

was so objectionable, that at around 1:50

he ordered a surprised general to send ten battalions of troops

together with tanks and fighter jets to the Colombian border.

(cheers and applause)

>> (translated): He is very impulsive,

dominated by his tongue.

So he comes out with things that he has to take back.

>> NARRATOR: Teodoro Petkoff was a minister

in the former government.

Once a Communist, he's now the editor

of a left-wing paper called Tal Cual.

>> (translated): One day he said,

"We're going to get out of the International Monetary Fund."

Someone-- I don't know where he got the courage-- said,

"President, if we get out of the monetary fund

"the public debt is going to be $30 billion,

and we have to pay the next day and we don't have the money."

Well, he never talked about it again.

(music playing)

>> NARRATOR: As for the "war" he'd declared on Colombia,

five days later at a Latin American summit,

everybody shook everybody's hands.

The "war" was over.

We arrived in Venezuela well after Chavez had announced

his intention to turn his country

into a model of socialism for the 21st century.

(cars honking)

The revolution was not easily apparent--

new cars stuck in heavy traffic,

and people in the heart of Caracas shopping and shopping.

The president did not seem to approve.


>> (translated): Which one of all the Chavezes we know

is most authentic?

I don't have an answer.

It's becoming harder to say,

because Chavez is a myth in progress.

He's entering into mythic territory.

I think he sees himself as being different.

He wants to be a legend.

>> NARRATOR: Chavez grew up in Barinas, on the llanos--

the plains.

(yelling in Spanish)

The llanero is the cowboy of Venezuela.

>> (translated): The llanero is a man on a horse--

he's a man who really lives on his horse.

The plains are the center of almost all our legends

and myths.

The llanero likes stories and he likes to construct mythologies.

Chavez is a classic llanero

in the way he talks,

how he combines truths with half-truths.

It's a little like the genre made popular by Garcia Marquez--

magical realism or fabled history.

>> NARRATOR: Rafael Simon Jimenez,

a former vice president of the Parliament

until he broke with Chavez, grew up in Barinas

and knew the Chavez family well.

(music playing)

>> (translated): Chavez likes the classic instruments

of the llanos-- the cuatro, the maracas, the harp.

(music playing)

Chavez became the center of the life in town

because he organized the parties.

He organized the dances-- a typical man of the llanos.

>> NARRATOR: Politics was not part of his life.

>> (translated): He always had a liking for baseball--

the most important Venezuelan sport.


>> NARRATOR: He was talented,

and dreamed of becoming a famous pitcher.

But at 20, he gave up that dream and joined the Army.

There he met a small group of officers

who were interested in politics.

One of them was Jesus Urdaneta.

>> (translated): Our friendship began a long time ago,

when we were in the military academy,

and that's where what is called

the Bolivarian Movement was born--

as a group of young military men who set up goals

based on the problems of the country.

>> NARRATOR: They called it the "Bolivarian Movement"

after their hero, Venezuelan-born Simon Bolivar--

liberator of South American republics from Spanish rule.

They said they wanted to now liberate their country

from years of corruption and inequality.

(people shouting)

>> The poor of Venezuela streamed out of the shantytowns

on the outskirts of the capital after hearing of price rises

in transport...

>> NARRATOR: On February 27, 1989, Caracas erupted.

It was the culmination of years of a declining economy,

government corruption and increasing poverty.

It was called the Caracazo.

>> (translated): We, the armed forces,

were sent to quell the situation--

all the anarchy that was going on.

It was very hard on us, very sad,

because as members of the armed forces,

we had to put pressure on the Venezuelan population

in coercive ways.

It was a very important event for us

in terms of beginning to think about taking power.

We realized that all the roads were barred

and that there was no possibility of change.

It was all closed; that the only possibility was to rise up.


>> NARRATOR: Three years later, they did.

With a few officers, they staged a coup

on the night of February 4, 1992.

Urdaneta was to the southwest of the capital,

while Chavez was in command of the forces in Caracas.

It lasted one night.

In the morning, Chavez suddenly surrendered.

>> NARRATOR: He had one condition.

He wanted to go on the air, he said,

and send a message to his comrades to put down their arms

in order to stop the bloodshed.

>> NARRATOR: The short speech electrified Venezuela.

>> (translated): A man who didn't sleep that night--

who just had a military failure--

he starts greeting the people as if it were a program--

"Good morning to everyone."

There was something different; something special.

>> (translated): Chavez took responsibility for the coup,

admitted the defeat

and then outlined his intention for the future:

"Por ahora"-- for now--

"we have failed, but we are not giving up the battle."

This came like rain on dry soil.

>> NARRATOR: Urdaneta was shocked and mortified.

>> (translated): I was holding my position

when it came on television

that he was calling for the surrender.

For me, it was treason.

I thought, "How is it possible that yesterday we hugged

"and promised to fight till the end,

then Chavez surrendered so easily?"

For me, it was a great disappointment--

something I never expected.

>> (translated): Chavez failed militarily-- totally.

He's the only one of the leaders who failed.

But he triumphed in the media.

The public Chavez who was born was not born

out of a military or political victory,

but out of the ratings.

So if anyone is aware of the importance of the media,

it is Hugo Chavez.

>> NARRATOR: Chavez and his co- conspirators were held in prison

for two-and-a-half years without a trial,

until a new president took office and dismissed the case.

They were released in March 1994.

Chavez's family was waiting.

So were his fans.


He clearly seemed like a potential leader--

but what were his politics?

>> (translated): He left prison with the old theory

of the traditional left in Venezuela--

that to get to power and change the system,

you had to take up arms.

>> NARRATOR: Luis Miquilena was a well-known political figure;

a former Communist leader who believed

that changes could be made in a democratic way.

He had visited Chavez in prison and was impressed.

Now he gave him a political education.

He also gave him a warning.

>> (translated): If Chavez wanted a radical revolution,

Cuban style--

or was thinking of installing a communist government--

that would not be possible in the democratic system

of Venezuela.

>> (translated): This, I think, is fundamental,

because Chavez still believed

in the possibility of a military solution.

He was very rigid

and he felt that elections were not the way to go,

and Luis Miquilena convinced him.

>> (translated): Of course,

someone with the political instinct of Luis Miquilena--

who had spent 40 years in political battles--

was very qualified from this point of view.

>> NARRATOR: Nedo Paniz, an architect who was sympathetic

to the attempted coup--

and who had given Chavez a room in his house after prison--

had some doubts about Chavez, but he deferred to Miquilena.

>> (translated): He said, "This man has charisma.

He had penetrated the consciousness

of the Venezuelan people, and so bringing and introducing him

to the political arena can be beneficial to us."

(people shouting)

>> NARRATOR: So under the tutelage of Miquilena,

Chavez became the voice of the young military generation--

ready to give up their arms in search of new, democratic paths.

He understood the power of mass media.

>> The elections of 1998 happened in a moment

very difficult for Venezuela.

The prices of oil had gone down to historic lows.

People radicalized-- they wanted something new, something fresh.

And they found in this man a radical discourse.

He said he would get rid forever of the old elites.

>> NARRATOR: With Miquilena as the architect of his campaign,

he ran as the outsider;

the non-politician in a country

which had come to distrust politicians.

The media loved him, and he loved them back.

>> (translated): All the media supported him.

They gave him huge amounts of newspaper space

and hours on television.

(cheers and applause)

>> NARRATOR: He won big.

On February 2, 1999,

the former insurgent walked with his supporters

to Miraflores Palace.

The country that Chavez inherited

had the largest conventional oil reserves

in the western hemisphere,

a rich country with a poor society.

There were millions who lived in abject poverty.

The main challenge of the new government

was to share the oil wealth with the poor.

It was not an easy task

in a country as polarized as Venezuela.

>> Caracas is a city where there are nice homes

like the one we're sitting in, and then, if we had a view,

we would look out to hilltops covered with shacks

where people live miserably.

And that's the reality here.

The democratic majority in Venezuela lives in shacks,

and therefore the populist message

and revolutionary message of Hugo Chavez

holds a special kind of appeal to those people.

>> Raoul! Raoul!

>> NARRATOR: Francia Urbina is poor,

but she feels she has a mission.

>> (translated): What do I believe?

That dreams will become a reality--

these dreams that every Venezuelan has,

because there are many others like me.

I know that these dreams will become a reality.

>> NARRATOR: Francia is a neighborhood leader.

She keeps her Christmas lights on, she says,

to commemorate the time she had no lights.

She is involved in all of the community's problems--

no electricity here, no water there.

>> (translated): I'm a social worker;

a social worker who helps all the communities.

I'm involved everywhere, even nationally.

I have influence in city hall.

I have a green light so that I can help those who need it most.

>> NARRATOR: Among other things, she runs a soup kitchen.

Every day, she and some helpers cook meals

for the neighborhood poor.

She is now paid by the government,

but she had done it before without pay

and says she would do it again if she had to--

for the people, and, of course, for Chavez.

>> (translated): I love him!

I love him from top to bottom to the sides.

My children get angry with me.

"Why do you always wear everything red?

Red boots, red cap, red shirt?"

Since the 11th, I started dressing like this.

(people shouting)

>> NARRATOR: The Once, the 11th of April 2002,

is a date no one in Venezuela can ever forget.

It was the beginning of an attempt

to overthrow President Chavez.

The tensions between Chavez and his opposition surfaced

in his third year of office.

In November 2001, Chavez had pushed through

49 laws by decree.

Two of the most important were the oil law,

which doubled the royalties paid to the government,

and the land reform law, which allowed expropriations.


>> Overnight, the opposition went from a loyal opposition

that criticized Chavez but accepted his presidency

to aggressive protests on the streets.

And shortly after that, they were calling for his overthrow,

and that led into the coup.

(people shouting)

>> NARRATOR: An estimated half a million people

marched towards the presidential palace.

Francia and her friends were watching on television.

>> (translated): We were at home and we had very strong doubts.

Almost all the media that were against

the Revolutionary Process

were saying incoherent things, things that weren't true, lies.

>> NARRATOR: The independent television stations

who had once supported Chavez were now vehemently against him.

When violence erupted, they gave voice to the opposition

against the president, now holed up in the palace.

>> NARRATOR: Chavez's speech,

which was meant to reassure the population,

was promptly contrasted with a split-screen

showing the violence in the streets.

(people shouting)

By Friday, the president was said to be isolated,

detained and taken from the palace by members of the army

who had turned against him.

There were rumors that he had agreed to resign.

The Inspector General of the Armed Forces

announced it on television.

"We asked the president to resign.

His resignation has been accepted."

Pedro Carmona, a wealthy businessmen,

was installed as interim president.

All public authorities were dissolved.


There were strong rumors that the opposition had the blessing,

if not the help, of the United States.

Francia and her friends were frantic.

>> (translated): We took to the streets.

We couldn't take it anymore.

We went on foot, unarmed, with only our hearts on our sleeves.

"Where is our president? Where is Hugo Chavez Frias?"

>> (translated): Everybody was going for--

how can I tell you?-- for a cause.

It was the president.

We left the doors open.

There were no thieves, no looting.

Here, everybody was for the leader.


>> NARRATOR: On Saturday, the tide turned.

The army-- already divided-- was having second thoughts,

while the people of the surrounding shantytowns

were streaming toward the palace,

calling for their leader.

>> (translated): When we saw the military helicopters

on the roof of Miraflores, they had the flags!

And we said, "It's true. It's our president!"

>> NARRATOR: 47 hours after the attempted coup began,

the army flew Chavez back to the palace,

where the people were clamoring for him.

>> (translated): We want to see Chavez!

We want to see Chavez! We want to see Chavez!

That was so impressive, from the heart.

>> (translated): People-- adults, old people,

the paralyzed, the blind-- it was the people.

The people had put him there,

and the people will keep him there.

(cheers and applause)

>> NARRATOR: Chavez was back. He was conciliatory.

>> NARRATOR: But the main issue had not been resolved:

the wealth of the country,

the distribution of the oil revenues.

The oil industry, nationalized in 1976,

was managed by Petroleo de Venezuela, known as PDVSA--

a state company which was identified

with the country's elite.

It was PDVSA's management that led the opposition

in the attempted coup, and they still wanted Chavez out.

He would need all the help he could get.

He found it in an unlikely place.

>> (speaking in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: Wilmer Ruperti is one of

the richest men in Venezuela.

He is an oil man,

yet he is the one who came to the president's aid

in his moment of crisis.

>> I was working more or less 13 to 14 years in PDVSA.

My friends were from there.

But you cannot be over the country,

you cannot be over the government,

you cannot be over the people who are elected democratically

in order to satisfy the needs of the population

that was very poor.

PDVSA made a mistake-- a big mistake.

>> NARRATOR: In December 2002,

PDVSA decided to shut down.

90% of the employees-- workers and executives-- went on strike.

They were supported by the country's big businesses

and unions.

>> They felt they were so powerful--

because they were the ones in control of the oil company--

that they kept on thinking that he would fall the following day,

and the president did not fall.

>> NARRATOR: The president held on-- barely.

The strike went on for days, then weeks.

The ports looked ghostly.

The ships stood still.

Oil couldn't go out, gasoline couldn't come in.

Other parts of the economy suffered.

Most factories had to shut down, multinational operations closed.

Little by little, the country was paralyzed.

Wilmer Ruperti decided to help the president.

>> Everybody in PDVSA was against the president.

I have many friends in PDVSA.

I told them not to do it, and nobody cares.

Nobody cares at that moment about my opinion.

And I say, "Well, I'm sorry, but I have to be against you.

"You are my friends, but, besides that,

I cannot accept that situation."

>> NARRATOR: He used his contacts and influence

with the shipping companies to rent tankers and ferry gasoline

and oil in and out of Venezuela.

>> What I did was bring the vessels needed in Venezuela

to be loaded and bring the gasoline as well

to be consumed by... by the people.

>> NARRATOR: Once the oil began to flow safely,

the other tankers joined in.

The back of the strike was broken.

As for Wilmer Ruperti, he did well for himself.

He was decorated by Chavez, and went from having one tanker

to having 19-- from being an unknown businessman

to an oil magnate.

He is said to have made his money

because of his close relations with the government.

He denies it.

>> My relation is a standard relation with the government.

25 years ago, I start my business in oil,

and I am maintaining myself in oil.

>> (speaking in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: The press calls him a Boligarch,

one of a new class of wealthy oligarchs

rising on the back of the Bolivarian revolution.

They print allegations of questionable deals

and undue profits.

He says he doesn't care.

All he wants now is to do what he enjoys most:

write and listen to poetry,

believing that the best is yet to come.

>> Yes, we are going to do something better.

We are going to be a better country, thanks to Chavez.

>> NARRATOR: Things were not better for PDVSA.

It was payback time for Chavez.

The old company was decimated.

>> 20,000 people-- 50% of the personnel of the oil institute--

was dismissed.

They brought around 30,000 people, new people,

without any knowledge at all.

They don't produce the oil they were producing before,

they are not refining the same amount of oil

they were refining before

and they are doing a lot of things

which don't have anything to do with the oil sector.

>> PDVSA is an instrument of the government--

not only the government; PDVSA is an instrument--

a direct instrument, unconditional instrument--

of the president, of Hugo Chavez.

>> Chavez can use that money for political purposes

outside of Venezuela.

When Chavez goes to any place

and he promises $100 million or $50 million,

that money comes from PDVSA.

And that money again comes from United States,

and comes from other countries, because you pay for the oil.

>> NARRATOR: 60% of Venezuela's 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 Ecuador;

Evo Morales of Bolivia;

and, most of all, Fidel Castro of Cuba.


Determined to realign 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.

>> NARRATOR: The ideas were worthy and generous--

healthcare, education, training programs called misiones.

People with no work skills were paid to be trained

and helped to a job, socialist-style.

>> NARRATOR: On March 29, 2007,

Chavez celebrated that year's graduating class

from the program Vuelvan Caras-- "Turn Around."

>> NARRATOR: After a year of training,

these graduates received certificates

and government loans to set up their textile cooperative.

>> NARRATOR: Nucleo Endogeno, in the west of Caracas,

is a cluster of cooperatives recommended to foreign visitors.

It was founded in 2003.

There were 220 workers in the textile cooperative

when it started.

Today, there are 105-- all women, mostly single mothers.

Their average salary is $240 a month,

and 75% of the work is ordered by the government.

But other cooperatives are not that lucky.

Three years ago, Maria Moreno and her colleagues

also graduated from Vuelvan Caras

and also established a textile cooperative.

The machines are clean and ready,

but most of the people are gone.

There were 59 of them three years ago;

now, there are less than ten.

>> (translated): When the cooperative began,

the government gave us work, the same as the misiones.

But afterwards, they no longer gave us any resources or work.

>> NARRATOR: They only make about $150 a month.

Maria Rengifo says that after three years in the cooperative,

she still doesn't make enough money to live.

>> (translated): I am among the poorest people in Venezuela.

The president has to know, in order to form a cooperative,

we have to have income.

>> NARRATOR: A major problem is that they know almost nothing

about business.

>> (translated): At no time did they teach us

how to develop a business, how to keep going.

>> NARRATOR: Without marketing experience,

they are waiting for the orders to come to them.

>> (translated): If there's no more work-- busted!

In Venezuela, we say that-- busted--

without friends and without money.

So I say that the President Hugo Chavez Frias, Venezuelan,

has to advocate for the cooperatives.

He has to know what's going on.

Why aren't they working?

Why aren't they producing?

Why isn't there anything to produce?

>> (translated): This is a society that has no auditing.

There's no idea how much money is being spent.

We don't know the real results of cooperatives--

what they produce or don't produce.

We know only what Chavez himself tells us.

>> NARRATOR: But Chavez doesn't tell--

and perhaps doesn't even know--

what's really happening in his programs.

In October 2007, the first stage of an ambitious housing project

in a place called La Suiza was completed.

(cheers and applause)

It was celebrated on Alo Presidente.

>> (speaking in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: The Minister of Housing

introduced the project as part of a plan

called The Grand Caracas.

>> (speaking in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: The Minister of Mines expressed the gratitude

of the community, who, for the first time,

had access to decent housing.

He proclaimed the houses "awesome."


The president was delighted.

>> NARRATOR: They toured the interior of the houses

and praised the attention to details and workmanship,

but the man who had built seven of these houses

wasn't there to celebrate.

>> (translated): They budgeted $5,000

for building each house.

It was such a low amount

that the other cooperatives simply left.

That price for a construction of this size

was something no one even wanted to consider.

But we are responsible and we are good workers,

so we stayed and we did the job.

We built seven houses.

>> NARRATOR: Benito Cardozo, master builder,

founded a small cooperative in 2004,

which included his wife and daughter.

The project at La Suiza was their first commission.

They had high hopes.

>> (translated): Of all the cooperatives,

we were the only ones that stayed.

>> NARRATOR: They are still proud of the fact

that they were the ones who had hung on.

They stayed on, but they were left in a financial hole.

>> (translated): The president said that when you begin work

you must be paid half, and when you finish, the other half.

But now, all these months later, they still haven't paid us.

>> NARRATOR: Six months after the broadcast,

we went to look at La Suiza.

Not a single new house had been completed,

and the work on the nearby project seemed,

for the moment, at least, abandoned.

With all the country's wealth, the question is,

why does it seem so difficult to make things work?

>> (translated): This is the question we are all asking.

The government is very inefficient.

Remember, Chavez did not come to power

at the head of a party,

which had been solidified for years,

with a capable leading elite

that had studied the country's problems.

He came at the head of an amorphous mass,

which he picked from left and right--

military and civilian.

So, of course, when they did away with the old elites

who had governed us for half a century,

they substituted improvised, incompetent, unformed teams,

and this is the result.

>> NARRATOR: As for the president,

he never stops looking for solutions.

Hearing him tell the story, he was flying over a piece of land

in the mountains to the north of Caracas

when he realized that it could be turned into a new city--

a socialist city.

>> NARRATOR: He devoted his Sunday program on July 22, 2007,

to the new city and the eventual relocation of the people there.

The first residents to be moved, according to the plan,

would be from Federico Quiroz,

a shantytown in the north of Caracas.

Nelson Mora is an activist in the barrio.

He firmly believes in the president and his policies.

>> (translated): We are very proud

to have a president who is identified with the people

and wants to help the masses,

including a whole variety of people

who had been excluded for 40 years.

And we want to help the president.

>> NARRATOR: But as he talked and met with people

in the neighborhood,

he found that many of them were not ready to relocate

to the new city.

>> (translated): We have people with degrees--

lawyers, accountants, politicians--

people that were born here and still live here.

>> NARRATOR: The more Nelson listened,

the more he felt that he had to speak up for his community.

>> NARRATOR: He attended Alo Presidente,

nervous but determined.

>> NARRATOR: Gathering his courage,

he tried to tell the president

that most of the residents of Federico Quiroz

would not agree to relocate, and if he, the president,

had been told otherwise, he had been deceived.

>> NARRATOR: The president barely heard him out.

>> NARRATOR: He couldn't have been deceived.

There was no way.

Where did he get that idea?

>> (translated): At that moment I felt bad.

I closed my eyes and felt tears.

And I said,

"My God, why does the president treat me like this,

the commander in chief, the leader of this process?"

>> NARRATOR: "I suspect," he said,

"that Nelson Mora might be defending other interests."

In other words, he was an infiltrator,

because here he was attacking and throwing stones

at everybody, at Alo Presidente, at Chavez,

at the ministers, everyone.

>> (translated): There is a paradox here.

The freedom of expression exists.

Even though the president attacks us constantly,

we do have freedom of expression

because we are not afraid of the president and his bluster.

The people who do not have freedom of expression

are his supporters.

>> NARRATOR: This was a lesson learned by Eleazar Diaz Rangel,

the editor of the most popular paper in Venezuela,

Ultimas Noticias, one ofChavez's most staunch allies.

But in February 2008,

Ultimas Noticias came outwith a front-page headline

that public healthcare was in a coma.

Almost immediately, Chavez was on television.

>> (translated): Chavez attacked the editor

on television for 50 minutes--

scolding him and the owners of the paper,

questioning their ethics.

He made sure that everyone understood

that he was attacking his staunchest ally, a heavyweight,

the most respected journalist in Venezuela.

>> NARRATOR: When we asked Diaz Rangel his reaction,

he defended the president.

>> (translated): People don't like criticism.

It's human nature.

And since the president is always criticized

by the opposition, when he hears criticism from his own side--

even with no bad intention-- he looks at it in the same way

as if it is said by the opposition.

>> (translated): No one dares to voice

the slightest criticism of the government,

not even Diaz Rangel.

So the message to his followers was,

"If I do it to Rangel, who is the editor

"of one of the most popular papers in Venezuela,

who is my friend, I am capable of doing it to others."

And he has.

>> NARRATOR: Chavez has made over 130 changes

to his cabinet in the last nine years.

>> NARRATOR: January 2008 was the sixth major reshuffle.

>> NARRATOR: They would all become familiar to the people

through their required weekly participation

in Alo Presidente.

>> You can't be a member of the team who says,

"You know what, I don't want to go to Alo Presidente

"this week, I've got serious things to do

down at the ministry."

Can't say that, because the next thing that happens is that,

you know, they change the locks on your office door and,

you know... (laughs)

...your desk is cleared.

>> I once asked a minister what he felt about being forced

to listen to Chavez's speeches for five and six hours

at a time, and he just grinned and he said, "No comment."


>> NARRATOR: Many of the ministers only see the president

at the broadcasts, where they have to come prepared

for any question thrown at them on live television.

>> NARRATOR: Some make it, others don't.

>> (translated): We have seen how the ministers

tremble at the possibility of being questioned

during the show, something the president will do.

>> It's created a kind of hothouse atmosphere

where people feel like they're walking on a tightrope.

They feel exposed and vulnerable.

There is, in Chavez, a recognition of this.

I think he... he likes that situation.

>> NARRATOR: Chavez may like it that way,

but his officials often emerge devastated.

>> NARRATOR: Three hours into a generally calm program

in Barinas, his home state,

Chavez launched into the subject of unused lands.

No one would come out unscathed.

>> (translated): The president's Sunday show

becomes not only a place where decisions are made,

but a place where decision-making is exhibited--

showing how the president makes the good decisions

while the ministers make mistakes.

>> (translated): It's a mechanism,

a device to keep the president from bad decision-making.

Those who always appear guilty of the mistakes

are the ministers, who are judged by the president

in front of 15 million viewers.

>> NARRATOR: An abject apology

and promises to do better met with the audience's approval.


>> (translated): They are seals applauding.

It's people who only pay attention to what the boss says.

"Applaud him, praise him, but never contradict him."

>> (translated): I see left wing old friends--

irreverent, fighters-- sitting there like perfect idiots.

That's a painful spectacle.

>> NARRATOR: There was one old fighter

who wouldn't play the game--

the old mentor, the one who shared with Chavez

the early dreams of an enlightened socialist democracy,

and who warned him of the dangers ahead: Luis Miquilena.

>> (translated ): I separated from him

and would not accept any sort of reconciliation.

Each time he crosses another line.

Each time he becomes more distant from me.

More and more he is denying what he once offered the country,

denying what he promised to Venezuela,

this country of ours that has been subject

to one of the most spectacular frauds known in history.


>> NARRATOR: After Miquilena departed,

the one person who Chavez admired

and listened to was Castro.

Chavez had been to Cuba after he was released from prison.

(music playing)

Then he went back as president in 2000,

with his wife at his side.

He made a speech at the University of Havana.

Journalist Jon Lee Anderson was in the audience.

>> Fidel, Raul and the other members of the Cuban politburo

listened in rapt attention to Hugo Chavez

as he spoke about his plans,

about his hopes for revolutionary union

in the Americas, for a new kind of...

of relationship between developing countries and the...

the great powers of the world.

Fidel was probably thinking to himself,

"Where was this kid 30 years ago when I needed him," you know?

Oil rich, willing to build revolution,

willing to turn Venezuela into an ally of isolated Cuba.

But there, you know, there...

there it was beginning to happen.

>> NARRATOR: Miquilena, who was still supporting Chavez

at that time, had been worried about Chavez

trying to imitate Castro.

>> (translated): I told Chavez,

"You can't do what Castro did after the Sierra Maestra--

"you can't do that after an election.

These are totally different situations."

(music playing)

Chavez did not have a clear idea of the difference

between a revolution and a social transformation,

with different changes and reforms

that the country really needed at that time.

>> NARRATOR: They were united by ideological affinity,

hostility towards the U.S. and affection for each other.

>> Chavez broke the mold in terms of, kind of, regard

and respect that most Latin American leaders paid to Fidel.

It was clear that he looked to him as a...

as a mentor, as a kind of philosophical soul mate--

as someone he truly admired as a hero, in an almost boyish way.

>> NARRATOR: In his first few years,

Chavez hardly mentioned the "Empire,"

as he now calls the United States.

But as his friendship with Castro grew,

his rhetoric became more and more incendiary.

>> (translated): Chavez is in urgent need of an epic.

He doesn't have an epic story,

and I think it pains him very much.

Chavez didn't get to power by toppling a dictator.

He hasn't been invaded by anyone.

He's yelling at Bush to see if he gets a response.

He needs great enemies,

because you can't maintain such high verbal temperature

and keep saying, "I'm a great revolutionary"

if you are not dangerous.

>> And he's absolutely convinced that--

or appears to be, anyway--

you know, that George Bush goes to bed every night

thinking of ways to assassinate Hugo Chavez.

>> It's only a matter of speeches.

Big speeches, nothing happens.

You know why?

Because Venezuela is selling

about 1.5 million barrels per day of crude and products

to the United States.

Most of the crude oil which goes to the United States

is heavy crude.

That heavy crude is processed in some special refineries

in the United States, and that crude cannot go to other places.

Then Chavez cannot cut the supplies to the United States.

If Chavez cuts the supplies to the United States,

he will remain in power few weeks.

>> NARRATOR: The relations with Castro became even closer.

Seeing the two together in the media became routine.

They were seen in official meetings,

unofficial meetings and celebrations.


Then there were the agreements: Chavez gave oil,

Castro gave good advice, experts, doctors

and key security forces.

>> Cuba today is by and large subsidized by Venezuela.

>> How are you, Fidel?

Very well, thank you.

And you? Very well.

>> NARRATOR: It is a rare Sunday

when Chavez does not mention Fidel in his broadcast.

No matter the subject of the day, he calls out to him.

>> How are you, Fidel?

How are you, Fidel?

>> NARRATOR: Why he greets him in English is not clear,

but it's obvious that Castro is never too far from his mind.

>> Chavez has essentially saved Fidel Castro's revolution

on the very eve of his death.

I mean, Fidel can go more or less peacefully

into the night knowing that at least for some years more--

as long as Chavez is alive-- Cuba will be all right.

>> NARRATOR: Chavez makes sure that Castro knows that.

He gives him a signed copy of the painting he made

when he was in prison and sings the song

that as a youngster he used to sing about Che Guevara.

(cheers and applause)

>> NARRATOR: Unlike Fidel, Chavez had to deal

with a democratic opposition.

(speaking in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: By 2004, they had gathered

over three million signatures for a petition

to recall the president,

as permitted by the constitution.

>> (speaking in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: The opposition lost.

Then, to their horror, they saw their names and details leaked

to the internet, effectively circulating as a blacklist.

Jobs were lost, careers ruined.

It was a warning not to oppose the Bolivarian Revolution.

Two years later, with his new social programs underway,

Chavez rallied his supporters and won his reelection.

>> He won by the highest percentage

of any presidential election since democracy began in 1958,

so that there was this feeling that he was invincible.

>> So I think, at that moment, Chavez says,

"I have a solid support, I've been here eight years

and people agree with me," which I think is true.

People agree that they like this kind of democracy,

this participatory democracy.

They agreed that the money that comes in through oil

must be distributed for social policies,

that the missions are doing their job.

People voted, I think, for that.

But Chavez had in his head something else besides that,

and that idea that he has, he begins to develop it in 2007.

>> NARRATOR: The idea was a further turn to the left,

to be carried out through a reform to the constitution.

He also found an opportunity to silence

one of his most vociferous critics:

RCTV, Radio Caracas Television.

>> NARRATOR: In the spring of 2007,

Chavez announced that the 20-year broadcast license

for RCTV would not be renewed.

He made no secret of his feelings.

>> (speaking in Spanish)

>> Chavez saw RCTV as a political opponent.

His supporters saw it as the channel on which

they saw their soap operas in the evening.

And the fact that Chavez was able to close that down

without taking into account the needs and wishes

of the ordinary people seems to have started people thinking,

"Well, maybe this man is not necessarily this...

you know, Chavez is not necessarily on our side."

(people chanting)

>> NARRATOR: The closing was widely unpopular

and became a cause for university students,

who took to the streets in the name of freedom of speech.


Ignoring the protests--

which were reported all over the world--

Chavez went on with his main agenda:

the constitutional reform.

>> NARRATOR: The "essence" of his reform,

according to the president,

was a transition towards a 21st century socialism.

The slogan was "Popular Power."

(cheers and applause)

69 articles were to be modified,

some of which would make fundamental changes

to the constitution.

>> NARRATOR: The most controversial changes

dealt with strengthening the state's involvement

in the economy and centralization of power

in the hands of the president,

who would have the right to be reelected indefinitely.

>> NARRATOR: That Sunday, the show was attended

by members of the international press.

>> NARRATOR: Rory Carroll is a journalist for The Guardian,

a liberal British newspaper.

He was attending Alo Presidente for the first time.

>> Suddenly, the TV cameras turn on to me,

and I can see myself on the TV cameras,

and I'm aware that I'm actually on live Venezuelan TV.

>> Well, then he asked me what's my... what was my question?

Stupidly-- and it was stupid on my part--

I hadn't actually prepared one, really.

So I had to kind of think fast.

(speaking Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: Rory's question was about the reform--

why the president wanted the right to be elected indefinitely

while not granting the same rights

to the 23 state governors.

>> INTERVIEWER: Good question.

>> Yeah, I mean, a fairly straightforward,

almost banal question, really.

But, of course, the answer was extraordinary.

>> So the answer started off with the cynicism

my question had betrayed--

the cynicism not just of me, personally,

but also the cynicism of the fact... of what I represented.

And certainly I represented Europe.

>> NARRATOR: He wanted to know Rory's opinion about royalty.

>> NARRATOR: Rory replied that he was both Irish

and republican, so it wasn't a system that he wanted to defend.

He also added, modestly, that it didn't really matter

what someone like him thought.

>> And then he kind of looked around

at the people to go like,

"Did you hear what he said? Did you guys hear what he said?"

And at this point, my heart sank, and I was thinking,

"Oh, God, now what's going to happen?"

Because I was thinking, "What did I say?"

>> NARRATOR: An hour and a half into the show,

he came back to answer Rory's question

about why the president and not the governors

would have the right to repeated reelection.

>> NARRATOR: This time, he was more direct.

This was the way he wanted it, his own political concept.

>> NARRATOR: For the next few weeks,

he would continue to campaign for the reform.

>> (singing in Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: He was in love, he sang, with the reform.

In love with the motherland.

In love with the revolution and in love with people.

But many of those people, his people, were hurting.

There were long lines in the government food store, Mercal,

which sells price-controlled goods.

With the high inflation and shortages of basic foods,

there was not much to buy.

In the meantime, subsidized foodstuffs were carried

across the porous border to Colombia,

where they could be sold for a large markup.

A tank of gas bought in Venezuela for 12 cents a gallon

could bring a fast $50 profit a few steps away in Colombia.

And there was the problem of safety.

Caracas has had the second highest murder rate

in all of the Americas,

and the numbers are growing every month--

as are the numbers of armed robberies.

Bars help sometimes, but not much.

>> (speaking Spanish)

>> NARRATOR: "I put up the bars for protection,"

said the pharmacist.

"Have there been robberies?"

"Every week."

Chavez has been criticized

that he won't address the problems of crime.

He denies it.

>> NARRATOR: In the meantime,

there have been kidnappings and murders,

especially in the border towns.

There were over 2,000 kidnappings

in the last nine years, almost all for money.

Porfirio Davilla is a veterinarian.

Two years ago, his father, a farmer,

stepped out of his house in the morning and didn't return.

The family received calls asking for hundreds of thousands

in U.S. dollars, which they didn't have and couldn't get.

Then the calls stopped.

The father never came home.

>> (translated): And in all this time,

we didn't get one call or support from any politician

or anyone who should be responsible for our security

in an official manner.

We are only ciphers, numbers, statistics.

It gives me great pain to tell you on international television

that Venezuela is not ours.

Venezuela has been transformed into a region of crime,

a region where life is worthless,

where there are 100,000 homicides a year,

and we are not even at war.

1,600 kidnappings, and we are not at war.

Our government is socialist,

but it's the poor who are unimportant.

They don't assassinate the rich; they assassinate the poor.

>> It's shocking to come into Caracas nearly a decade on

and see that most of what Hugo Chavez was railing

in anger about-- being left with, you know,

a failed society, misery, insecurity,

unequal distribution of wealth-- is still here.

That despite, surely, thousands of hours of speeches

and many billions of dollars of oil wealth

pumped into the economy, we don't see huge changes.

We see, in fact,

that most of Hugo Chavez's revolutionary programs--

his inventions to ameliorate and alleviate

the social ills at home-- simply have not worked.

>> NARRATOR: Francia will have none of that.

>> (translated): It's a lie.

Look here, my friend.

If it were not for Chavez, things would be much worse.

I'm not a learned person.

I'm not educated.

I was taught by the streets.

I was trampled on.

I was used.

But my president taught me to value myself, to love myself.

We have never had a president like President Chavez.

He is the best, the very best.

>> (translated): I believe that history will have to acknowledge

that Chavez has turned the social question

into the great Venezuelan theme--

the most important issue of the country.

In the 20 years before Chavez, the terrible impoverishment

that took place in this country,

until 60% of the people were poor,

simply disappeared from the radar

of the political parties that had governed Venezuela

for half a century.

Chavez rescued the hidden pain of an impoverished country

and put it on the table.

And today, in any political discourse--

commercial, cultural or any other--

the theme of poverty is essential,

thanks to Chavez.

>> NARRATOR: It was voting day for the reform--

the reform that would allow Chavez

to be reelected indefinitely.

The two sides were hopeful.


The race was tight.

Then, surprise-- Chavez lost.

The margin was small-- officially less than 2%--

but for him and his supporters, it was huge.

It was the first loss he had ever suffered.

Chavez accepted the defeat

and comforted his crestfallen followers.

>> NARRATOR: But then, after two days of celebration

by the opposition, Chavez reappeared on television,

grim and angry.

>> NARRATOR: He was not about to give up.

Just as he had done once before, he would prevail.

>> NARRATOR: After the defeat, the signs saying "Por Ahora"--

"For Now"--

sprang up all over the city,

trying to revive the magic that got Chavez to the presidency--

but there was a difference.

The first time, it was taken as a promise;

now, it seemed more of a threat.

The nation's decision will stand, he said,

but only por ahora, for now.

>> There's more to discover about Hugo Chavez

on Frontline's website,

where you can watch the program again online in English

or in Spanish...

>> (speaking in Spanish)

>> an interview with the film's producer, Orfa Bikel...

>> (speaking in Spanish)

>> ...explore her interviews with Chavez's associates

and others who have closely observed Chavez

over the years...

>> ...oil rich, willing to build revolution...

>> ...rid forever of the old elites...

>> ...thinking of ways to assassinate Hugo Chavez.

> ...and then join the discussion about this program


>> NARRATOR: Next time on Frontline...

>> Baby boomers will be facing a very different retirement

than their parents.

>> NARRATOR:'ve saved...

>> I just throw the money in the pot and hope it grows.

>> NARRATOR:'ve invested...

>> I thought when he retired it was going to be a lot different.

You know, money-wise.

>> NARRATOR:'ve dreamed of retiring.

>> One of your biggest problems

is you're all going to live too long.

>> It's the end of retirement.

>> NARRATOR: "Can You Afford to Retire?"

Next time, on Frontline.

>> Frontline is made possibleby contributions

to your PBS station from viewers like you.

Thank you.

With major funding from

the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Helping to build a more just world.

And additional funding from the Park Foundation.


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