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Hugo Chavezby Cristina Marcano
Synopses & Reviews
He is one of the most controversial and important world leaders currently in power. In this international bestseller, at last available in English, Hugo Chávez is captured in a critically acclaimed biography, a riveting account of the Venezuelan president who continues to influence, fascinate, and antagonize America.
Born in a small town on the Venezuelan plains, Chávez found his interests radically altered when he entered the military academy in Caracas. There, as Hugo Chávez reveals in dramatic detail, he was drawn to leftist politics and a new sense of himself as predestined to change the fortunes of his country and Latin America as a whole.
Portrayed as never before is the double life Chávez soon began to lead: by day he was a family man and a military officer, but by night he secretly recruited insurgents for a violent overthrow of the government. His efforts would climax in an attempted coup against President Carlos Andrés Pérez, an action that ended in a spectacular failure but gave Chávez his first irresistible taste of celebrity and laid the groundwork for his ascension to the presidency eight years later.
Here is the truth about Chávezs revolutionary “Bolivarian” government, which stresses economic reforms meant to discourage corruption and empower the poor–while the leader spends seven thousand dollars a day on himself and cozies up to Arab oil elites. Venezuelan journalists Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka explore the often crude and comical public figure who
condemns George W. Bush in the most fiery language but at the same time hires lobbyists to improve his countrys image in the West. The authors examine not only Chávezs political career but also his personal life–including his first marriage, which was marked by a long affair and the birth of a troubled son, and his second marriage, which produced a daughter toward whom Chávezs favoritism has caused private tension and public talk.
This seminal biography is filled with exclusive excerpts from Chávezs own diary and draws on new research and interviews with such insightful subjects as Herma Marksman, the professor who was his mistress for nine years. Hugo Chávez is an essential work about a man whose power, peculiarities, and passion for the global spotlight only continue to grow.
"'Veteran Venezuelan journalists Marcano and Tyszka have aimed for rare middle ground with a biography that neither extols nor decries Venezuelan president Chvez. The account mostly moves chronologically, presenting details about Chvez's humble beginnings in the Venezuelan plains and his ascent through the military ranks. Chvez's 1992 failed coup attempt is explained in great detail, as is the attempt to oust him in 2002. The authors seamlessly weave in interviews with people who know Chvez well, offering a glimpse into his psychology. The narrative also delves into Chvez's love life, as well as the dynamics of his relationship with Fidel Castro. Though the pace of the book is inconsistent, with some events receiving a surplus of detail while others feel rushed, it's generally smart and well-written, making it a good start for those curious about Chvez, and a treat for those who closely follow the Venezuelan leader and yearn for a less biased overview of his life.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Venezuelans once almost universally held former president Romulo Betancourt, who led their country's transition from military rule in the 1950s, in high esteem. When I visited Caracas last December to cover the presidential elections, however, supporters of Hugo Chavez spoke disparagingly of the politician who used to be called the father of Venezuelan democracy. 'Betancourt was a fake man who gave... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) us a fake democracy,' one voter in the slums of Caracas told me. 'It wasn't until Chavez that we had a president who looked out for us.' In recent years, Chavez has challenged the established order around the world, denouncing President Bush as 'the devil' at the United Nations, lionizing Cuban leader Fidel Castro as a 'father' on a national newscast and embracing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a 'brother' in Tehran. But it is at home in Venezuela where he has truly upended the political system. The poor adore him. The wealthy detest him, his socialist policies and his soak-the-rich rhetoric. After nearly a decade in office, he holds an iron grip on power in the country with the largest proven oil reserves outside the Middle East. Chavez's rise has a made-for-Hollywood quality. His childhood home bore a roof of palm leaves and lacked running water. Classmates mocked him for not wearing proper shoes. On the streets he sold aranitas (papaya sweets) prepared by the grandmother who raised him. Yet Chavez always dreamed big. At first, he wanted to be a professional baseball player. Then, as a young military officer, he confided to a friend that he would be president. Roughly 20 years later, after leading a failed coup and spending two years in jail, he achieved that goal, winning election in 1998. Two biographies offer complementary, rather than competing, views of the Chavez phenomenon. Venezuelan journalist Cristina Marcano and her husband, novelist Alberto Barrera Tyszka, published 'Hugo Chavez' in Spanish four years ago; Random House has just released a clunky English translation. A newer offering is 'Hugo!' by Bart Jones, a Newsday reporter who spent eight years in Venezuela, mainly as a correspondent for the Associated Press. Both books are well reported and offer valuable insight into Chavez's background and motivation. Jones provides a superb description of the economic inequities that helped create the conditions for a populist such as Chavez to come to power. Marcano and Tyszka, meanwhile, focus on the president's psychology, plumbing his strained relationship with his mother and his lust for the spotlight. According to Chavez's former psychologist, he has a need 'to be listened to, paid attention to, admired, even idolized.' His former mistress says he has become so narcissistic and self-involved that she no longer recognizes the man she was linked to for nine years. Neither book, however, can be considered definitive. 'Hugo Chavez' is dated: Readers will be surprised to read such assertions as 'When it comes to the oil business, Chavez does not scream, "Yankee go home!"' given that he booted several U.S. oil companies out of Venezuela this year. Jones, meanwhile, may come across as a Chavez partisan. In some ways, this is a healthy corrective: As 'Hugo!' points out, mainstream press coverage is often hostile to the Venezuelan president. Still, Jones ignores or soft-pedals allegations about Chavez's free spending, womanizing and tolerance of corruption. His inner circle — commonly referred to as the boliburguesia, a combination of 'Bolivarian' and 'bourgeoisie' — has built mansions in the priciest neighborhoods of Caracas, raising questions about how government salaries could finance such extravagance. Where Jones truly excels is in his observations of Venezuelan society and the outsized role oil has played in molding the national character. During boom periods — the late 1970s, for example, and today — some Venezuelans live large. But while black gold may have swelled the national coffers, it has also tied the country's fortunes to an economic rollercoaster and warped Venezuelans' values, rewarding aggressiveness and street smarts rather than a strong work ethic. 'Some people called it the "pinata culture,"' Jones writes, 'where the "candy" or the money from oil revenues spills to the floor after the pinata is broken open and everyone grabs what they can in a free-for-all.' Many poor Venezuelans felt they were never invited to the party. And with good reason: Even as billions of dollars gushed into the country in the 1970s, most lived in penury. The rich, meanwhile, did very well; the country's per capita ownership of private jets is one of the highest in the world. This gross inequity created an opportunity for a man of the people to emerge. As Marcano and Tyszka put it, 'The root of Chavez's power resides in the religious and emotional bond he has forged with the popular sectors of the country.' He calls his social programs misiones ('missions'), and they provide a broad assortment of services for slum dwellers, from subsidized meals to education. That said, Chavez would not have been reelected by a 26-point margin last December if oil prices weren't sky high. The windfall of cash — last year alone, the state oil company's revenues topped $100 billion — has not only shored up goodwill at home, but has expanded Venezuela's influence across the Americas. Its oil shipments to Cuba are a godsend for Castro. Chavez has also spread his petroleum largesse to allies in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. After securing another six-year term last December, Chavez called for the constitution to be amended so he could remain in office indefinitely. The document will almost certainly be tailored to his specifications, and the authors of both books offer predictions of what the next phase of Chavez's presidency could hold. Jones speculates that if Chavez does not open up his immediate circle and allow other, critical viewpoints to emerge, his 'revolution' will founder. Marcano and Tyszka point out that Chavez's most ambitious programs, both in Venezuela and abroad, have been facilitated by the 'sweet cash' from oil exports. For now, he has virtually free rein to nationalize businesses, consolidate power and offer international aid. But Venezuelans tend to be more critical of their leaders when cash is short. Chavez indisputably has forged a strong bond with his country's poorest citizens, but his standing may be more dependent on the price of oil than he would like to admit. Someday, his reputation may suffer the fate of Betancourt's. Alexandra Starr, a former Organization of American States fellow in Caracas, is a 2007 Milena Jesenska fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria." Reviewed by Alexandra Starr, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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This major new biography of the controversial Chvez is an in-depth profile of a new kind of South American leader--a man who is taking a daring place on the global stage with the grassroots socialist movement that is sweeping his native Venezuela. 16-page photo insert.
About the Author
Cristina Marcano is a journalist with extensive experience in the Venezuelan media. She has worked as the chief of international information and the political subeditor for the newspaper El Nacional in Caracas. She currently works as a correspondent for the Mexican newspaper Reforma and as an independent collaborator for El Nacional.
Alberto Barrera Tyszka is a widely read Sunday editorial columnist for El Nacional. In 2006 he won the prestigious Herralde literary prize for his novel La Enfermedad. He is the author of several books and regularly publishes in Letras Libres.
Moisés Naím is a former minister for trade and industry of Venezuela, and is currently the editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine.
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