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An American in King Chavez's Court

29 January 2006

Two nights ago I saw El Jefe himself talk to local Venezuelans, forum participants, and various supporters at a well-choreographed event at a stadium on the edge of town. I was sitting in the stands, wearing my handy translation headset, and watching the Chavistas roar in adulation while Hugo Chavez called Bush "Mr. Dangerous." I thought that this would be a excellent time to reflect on my American nationality and contemplate how strange it is to be in a stadium full of people who despise your government. Not that I am the biggest fan of Mr. Dangerous myself, but their was a certain sadness that enveloped me during this proceeding. Why does my government foster such hatred? Ok - scratch that, I know why. Maybe the better question is why do I feel both guilty and irritated at the same time?

I saw Cindy Shehan sitting to Chavez's left, smiling, and returning his doting affection and thought that it has to be one of the strangest sights in the world (Bush sitting to Chavez's left would be the strangest but. . .).  How different is the idea of nationalism in Venezuela and the patriotism in Venezuela? Can we really trust any leader with so much power and blind optimism? Would I have found the anti-imperialist US rhetoric easier to swallow if it came from a grassroots or non-governmental organization? Maybe it is just difficult to believe that a people's revolution could be so entirely dedicated to a single individual. Or maybe, just maybe, I am an ugly American with too much Western cynicism to buy it hook, line, and sinker.

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