[AP's Ian James spends a day driving across the plains of Venezuela with Hugo Chavez. For James, underneath the fiery persona is a man who both firmly believes in his
vision and is shrewd enough to know how to sell it. Chavez sees the
world in black and white and casts himself as crusader, a role that is
at once genuine and expedient. He truly empathises with the common
people of Venezuela, but it is also vital for him to hear their cheers,
be their hero and feel the power.]
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's silhouette is seen as he speaks to the crowd after holding talks on energy cooperation with his Panamanian counterpart Martin Torrijos at the start of his two-day visit to Panama, June 22, 2006. Credit : Jorge Silva/Reuters
Chavez Views Presidency As Epic Struggle
Sunday September 23rd 2007
MANTECAL, Venezuela (AP) — Hugo Chavez is driving across the plains of Venezuela, raving about a Hollywood film in which the enslaved hero rises up to challenge the emperor of Rome.
"'Gladiator' — What a movie! I saw it three times," the president tells an Associated Press reporter traveling with him in a Toyota 4Runner, along with his daughter and a state governor. "It's confronting the empire, and confronting evil. ... And you end up relating to that gladiator."
The parallel is unstated but clear. To Chavez, the United States is the empire, and he is the protagonist waging an epic struggle to bring justice to the oppressed of Venezuela and the world.
In the eight years since he took office, Chavez has emerged as Latin America's most visible and controversial leader, electrifying leftist movements internationally while controlling a vast source of oil. Labeled a threat by the U.S. government, he captured the world's attention a year ago at the U.N. General Assembly by comparing President Bush to Satan — and he is likely to be just as defiant if he returns as scheduled to the U.N. this week.
Underneath the fiery persona is a man who both firmly believes in his vision and is shrewd enough to know how to sell it. Chavez sees the world in black and white and casts himself as crusader, a role that is at once genuine and expedient. He truly empathizes with the common people of Venezuela, but it is also vital for him to hear their cheers, be their hero and feel the power.
"Vamonos," Chavez bellows to his entourage in the hotel lobby. "It's a beautiful day."
Chavez gets behind the wheel, seatbelt off, and the motorcade sets out on a road trip through Apure state. He is visibly relaxed to be back in these southern plains, where he was once stationed as a soldier.
"Listen to this song," he says suddenly, turning up the volume on the stereo. It's a pasaje folk tune by Eneas Perdomo, a favorite from his childhood. He repeats the lyrics — "I remember the harp with tenderness like a watercolor painting..." — then raises his voice an octave and sings: "Apure is always Apu-u-u-re."
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