Venezuela's Chavez Marks 10 Years With Talkathon

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is marking the 10th anniversary of his weekly TV broadcast with a four-day marathon. What began as a regular radio broadcast by the newly elected socialist leader in May 1999 has evolved into him speaking on television for hours at a time.

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There may be no leader in the world as garrulous as Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chavez. He's known for talking on the public airwaves for hours at a time. And yesterday, Chavez stepped it up a notch. He began a live, four-day version of his weekly television show. He will take breaks, but Chavez is threatening to break all existing records for public discourse. NPR's Juan Forero reports from Caracas, Venezuela.

JUAN FORERO: "Alo, Presidente," or "Hello, President," began in 1999 after Chavez took office. It's part talk show, part bully pulpit and all Chavez. He's the host, and only he decides how long he'll talk. In one show, he spoke for eight hours straight. In all of them, he touts his so-called revolutionary government and assails his critics. The United States is his favorite target, a country he says has diabolical plans for the rest of the world.

(Soundbite of music)

FORERO: Yesterday, state television played music and ran images of Chavez from his decade in power. And then Chavez began to talk, sitting behind a desk and surrounded by adoring supporters. It was all designed to commemorate the very first show back in May of 1999.

Since then, Chavez has used the show to announce the state take over of companies. He scolded ministers on air. On a recent show, he even spoke about an embarrassing bout of diarrhea he'd had during the filming of one "Alo, Presidente."

On another famous show, he delivered this message to the man Chavez called Mr. Danger, then-President George W. Bush.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Alo, Presidente")

President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): In my bad English, you are a donkey, Mr. Danger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. CHAVEZ: You are a donkey.

FORERO: Chavez's good friend, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has been a guest. He wasn't on the show yesterday, but Castro took note. He wrote in Cuba's state press that, quote, "Never has a revolutionary made use of the media so effectively. Castro explained that more than 1,500 hours of "Alo, Presidente" had been broadcast, equal to 64 full days.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Alo, Presidente")

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: In the midst of yesterday's show, Chavez waxed on about what he called the most efficient, most perfect machine: the human being, he said. Chavez said we exude energy, and he said it in a fitting locale - an electrical plant in the western state of Zulia. That's an opposition bastion.

As in all his shows, the president used "Alo, Presidente" to entertain...

(Soundbite of TV show, "Alo, Presidente")

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

FORERO: ...singing a short ditty that his father had taught him. He also handed out land titles.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Alo, Presidente")

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: And singled out Julie Rosales. She's among the working class that supports Chavez.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Alo, Presidente")

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. JULIE ROSALES: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: She thanked the president enthusiastically, and blamed Chavez's opponents for trying to take the country to ruin.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Alo, Presidente")

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Chavez listened with a smile, and then thanked her - thanked her for believing in him. And then the show went on. It's due to end on Sunday.

Juan Forero, NPR News, Caracas, Venezuela.

(Soundbite of music)

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