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Story Publication logo November 25, 2006

Please Hold, the President Will Take Your Call



Andrew Cutraro and Guy Taylor uncloak the cult of personality surrounding the Bolivarian movement of...

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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.

Where past Venezuelan leaders faced criticism for ignoring the masses, Chávez appears to relish his impromptu interactions with callers, often hearing their complaints, then directly ordering his Cabinet members from live television to take action.

"The Cabinet rarely meets, it's been substituted by 'Alo Presidente,' said Pablo Medina, a former Chávez backer and Venezuelan senator who now opposes him. Medina claims the show is "a modern way of psychological warfare in a globalized world."

Chávez supporters love it.

"Nobody watched state TV before Chávez," said Eva Golinger, a Caracas-based Venezuelan-American lawyer, who calls Chávez "a leader who is able to make direct human contact with every single person that he meets."

"He's made people feel like they're human beings again," she said. "He wants to hear what people have to say and it's not just oh-shake-your-hand or oh-give-you-a-kiss-on-the-cheek. No, he wants to engage you and know what are your problems, what are your concerns, how's your family, what do you do, what can be done to improve that?"

Most important, Golinger said, "he follows through, which is an unusual characteristic for anyone in politics."

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