Hugo Chávez's sweeping election win may be read as a simple mandate for the demagogic Venezuelan leader to push on with his plans to transform his country with what he calls "21st-century socialism," designed to empower the impoverished masses with state-controlled oil profits, as described in my article last week. But for the region and the world, his victory could mean much more.
A collection of reporting from Pulitzer Center grantees featuring international news stories published by media outlets from around the world, as well as reporting original to the Pulitzer Center website.
World Politics Watch International News Editor Guy Taylor interviews Jose Orozco (pictured above), a freelance journalist based in Caracas, Venezuela. Orozco is already well-known to the world media who cover Venezuela because he works for many prominent news organizations as a "fixer." Fixers play an indispensable role in foreign reporting, serving as guides and translators, and providing all-important contacts for reporters looking for local stories.
Last week, Congo installed the winner of its first multi-party presidential election in 40 years: Joseph Kabila is now the leader of the war-torn country.
Mvemba Dizolele describes the Congolese response to their historic elections as 'giddy'. Mvemba is an American citizen who was born and raised in Congo. He talks with Dick about his detention as a young man by the dictator who had employed his father, why he became an American…and what it was like to encounter a pygmy taller than he is.
The populist leader who has often infuriated U.S. officials while cutting a wide swath through world capitals was just as dominant in the frenzied campaigning leading up to his bid for re-election on Dec. 3 -- on television, barnstorming through poor barrios, leaving his supporters enthralled and his detractors enraged. One thing no one disputes is that Hugo Chavez's outsized personality commanded center stage.
The country's national flag, the posters of revolutionary leaders like Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara, the glee with which politicians and citizens alike poor abuse on Uncle Sam -- all proof that President Hugo Chavez has succeeded in stirring long-dormant strains of Venezuelan nationalism.
A small crowd gathers at six each evening on the steps outside a dilapidated high school in one of Caracas's many impoverished barrios. With the sun dipping in the distance, middle-aged women arrive with their daughters. A few old men stand smoking cigarettes. One guy with tattoos on his arms labours up in a wheelchair and two rugged-looking characters help him ease it down the steps. The whole scene feels like something out of a Hugo Chávez infomercial.
Alberto Robles stood beneath a street lamp whose yellow glow hung over a corner of the barrio where he has lived his whole life.
Robles, 36, pointed to a steep hillside dotted with lights nearby where a block of crumbling shacks was recently replaced by sturdy houses. It's a shining example of grass-roots government at work, he said.
Women faint when they meet him. Men create stampedes to keep up with caravans he leads through impoverished cities where prior generations of leaders have not dared tread.
"When you see him in person, it's something that cannot be explained," said Susana Fonseca, craning her neck for a better view of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as he worked his way through a mob of admirers here earlier this month.
"We've never had men like him in our history," said Fonseca, 43, a public accountant.
We stopped our car along the main road that snakes from Kigali, Rwanda's capital, to the country's western region. We were heading to the volcanoes that soar along the northwest border for a story about mountain gorillas and what has happened to their habitat. But the light was good now, streaking through the rainy season's ever-present clouds, and the cameraman I was traveling with wanted to shoot.
A central feature of changes being brought about by President Hugo Chávez is the new, civilian branch of the Venezuelan military called the "territorial guard."
About 100,000 citizens, mainly from poor communities where support for Chávez burns hottest, have joined the guard during the past three years, according to members who participate in weekly training sessions at more than a dozen camps set up around the country.
When Nelson Mandela was released from jail in 1990 and during the subsequent 1994 independence and elections in South Africa, the United States displayed a dramatic commitment to the democratic movement in Africa that has not been in evidence since. That seemed to change, however, with the U.S.-sanctioned arrest of Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, on March 29, 2006, for human rights violations in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Critics say there's no better example of Hugo Chávez's suave egomania than his weekly television talk show, in which he takes calls from viewers across the country.
But they can't argue with the show's popularity.
"Alo Presidente" — "Hello President" — appears on state television every Sunday and typically runs for as long as six hours.
The show is taped from a different location each week, usually at the site of one of the government's social welfare programs, where Chávez appears with a telephone to take calls from viewers.