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A Day-Long Look into the Mind of Hugo Chavez

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A Day-Long Look into the Mind of Hugo Chavez

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A Day-Long Look into the Mind of Hugo Chavez

A Day-Long Look into the Mind of Hugo Chavez

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Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez hosts a daylong television show on Sundays, when he announces new policies, talks about issues of importance to his countrymen, and issues his latest broadside against his nemesis: the United States.

BRIAN NAYLOR, host:

National leaders frequently make use of the airwaves to communicate with their constituents. President Bush follows an Oval Office tradition by recording a weekly radio address. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez sets a somewhat higher bar for himself with a live television broadcast that dwarfs the weekly American presidential efforts. From Caracas, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE McCARTHY reporting:

It takes President George Bush just five minutes to deliver his weekly radio message each Saturday.

(Soundbite of radio address)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Al-Qaeda believes that American can be made to run again. They are gravely mistaken. America will not run, and we will not forget our responsibilities.

McCARTHY: By contrast, Venezuela's commander in chief, Hugo Chavez, takes to the airwaves each Sunday for up to seven hours.

(Soundbite of music)

McCARTHY: His broadcast, "Alo Presidente," usually features the 51-year-old soldier-turned-socialist head of state at a desk delivering a monologue. But last week, the TV host cum president plunged into health clinics in a high-gloss production.

(Soundbite of "Alo Presidente")

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: The stars of this show, Cuban doctors here by the thousands administering to Venezuela's poor, a testament to the ties that bind Chavez to his elder comrade, Fidel Castro. Chavez is using his country's massive oil revenues to fund social programs such as the new health facilities inaugurated this day. Generous in his praise, easy with affection, there is a charisma here that puts people at ease and willing to bare their deepest emotions. One young mother, Marlie(ph), paralyzed in a sporting accident, pours out her story.

(Soundbite of "Alo Presidente")

MARLIE: (Spanish spoken)

President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): (Spanish spoken)

MARLIE: (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: `It's so difficult to be paralyzed in a second,' she tells the president, who bends over her like a priest hearing confession. `I can imagine,' Chavez quietly murmurs. She tells him she does not want the rehab center staff from Cuba to go home.

But it's not all talk. Chavez performing a sonogram gives new meaning to `hands-on leader.'

(Soundbite of "Alo Presidente")

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: Roaming the wand over the washboard stomach of a young girl with intestinal pain, Chavez remarks to the attending physician, `I need to take a course.' That didn't stop him from diagnosing moments later that the teen is in perfect health.

(Soundbite of "Alo Presidente")

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: Maria Gabriella(ph), the girl on the gurney, tells Chavez she's never had care like this before. `This is your right,' he lectures her. Che Guevara, the Argentine doctor-turned-revolutionary, is invoked throughout the show as a model for the young.

"Alo Presidente" is Chavez's bully pulpit and required viewing for the media. The Venezuelan leader is as likely to announce the expulsion of a displeasing diplomat as he is to greet the mother of a local governor spotted in the live audience.

(Soundbite of "Alo Presidente")

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: As he praises allies, he scorns his nemesis, the US government, blaming it for saying that poverty in Venezuela is increasing. `Absolutely false!' he roars. Alluding to the tense takeover of large farms here, he tells his countrymen private property is not sacred.

Daylight fades, and with it the stamina of his audience. Ministers and military brass stifle yawns as the camera pans the crowd. Five hours into the show, even the president glances at his watch, but faces sag.

(Soundbite of "Alo Presidente")

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: `The afternoon is fresh!' he perkily announces. `Let's talk about other things.' And he does--for two more hours.

(Soundbite of "Alo Presidente")

Pres. CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Caracas, Venezuela.

NAYLOR: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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