Cablegate: Jefe Supremo: Hugo Chavez's Personality Cult

DE RUEHCV #1597/01 2221915
P 101915Z AUG 07





E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/09/2017

CARACAS 00001597 001.2 OF 003

REASON 1.4 (D)

1. (C) Summary. President Chavez and his supporters are
devoting considerable resources to construct a cult of
personality for the Venezuelan president (see Embassy Caracas
website on Siprnet for accompanying photo essay). Flattering
images of the Venezuelan president dominate government
buildings, public works, and government-run media. Chavez
typically appears on all local, non-subscription TV and radio
stations on average three times a week to deliver lengthy
speeches, in addition to hosting his "Alo, Presidente" talk
show on state-run TV most Sunday afternoons. Chavez is ever
trying to position himself in the public's mind as the
political descendant of Venezuelan founder Simon Bolivar as
well as the living embodiment of the "will of the people."
Jetting the globe bearing lucre, Chavez is also endeavoring
to assume Fidel Castro's international mantle as an
anti-American leader. Chavez' outsized personality cult is a
formidable political tool, but also appears to contribute to
Chavez' alternating overconfidence and thin-skinned
narcissism. End Summary.

Here, There, and Everywhere

2. (C) President Chavez has long relied on his personal
charisma and popular image to secure broad political support.
Over the last several months, he and his Bolivarian Republic
of Venezuela (BRV) government have devoted even more energy
and resources to cultivating the Venezuelan president's cult
of personality. Flattering and "heroic" images of Chavez
dominate government buildings, public works, and
pro-government media. For example, the BRV's tax authority
headquarters (SENIAT) in Caracas displays an eight-story
building-wide photo of Chavez hugging a small boy. The
prevailing gold standard for pro-Chavez officials is to run
billboards, TV spots, and newspaper ads showing pictures of
themselves next to the Venezuelan president.

3. (C) Chavez memorabilia is a staple at many informal
Venezuelan street markets. The 25-inch tall Hugo Chavez
action figure depicts the Venezuelan president in either his
military uniform or in his trademark red short-sleeved shirt;
a button triggers the broadcast of a brief recording of
Chavez speaking to a cheering crowd. Chavez wrist watches
feature both the Venezuelan leader in military uniform or in
a business suit adorned with the presidential sash.
Innumerable varieties of Chavez T-shirts are also available
at street markets, as well as posters, statuettes, key
chains, and other "revolutionary" souvenirs.

Chavez on Every Channel

4. (SBU) Chavez delivers televised speeches on average three
times a week, and most of his speeches last a minimum of
three hours. Venezuelan law requires all non-subscription TV
and radio stations, including those privately owned, to air
Chavez's speeches and other government broadcasts whenever
the BRV requests. There have been over 1500 BRV-mandated
broadcasts of Chavez' speeches since 1999, according to
Reporters Without Borders. Minister of Popular Power for
Communications and Information William Lara announced July 17
that the BRV plans to require local cable networks to air
BRV-mandated broadcasts, including Chavez speeches.

5. (SBU) In addition, seven government-controlled television
stations, as well as many more community TV channels and
local radio stations, cheerlead for the Venezuelan president,
his closest supporters, and his policies. Chavez also hosts
his trademark several-hours long talk show, "Alo,
Presidente," most Sundays on a government network. Chavez
experimented some months ago with moving a shorter version of
his show to prime time during the work week, but subsequently
returned to his original Sunday afternoon time slot and
format. The Venezuelan President has broadcast 289 editions
of "Alo, Presidente" since beginning the broadcasts in 1999.
His August 5th broadcast lasted a record eight hours.


6. (C) Chavez and his supporters are also working hard to
promote politically attractive myths about Chavez' rise to
power. Anzoaetegui Governor Tarek William Saab, a staunch
Chavez supporter, has dedicated some USD 500,000 to build a
plaza and scenic overlook in honor of Chavez. The plaza is
on the hill in the small village of San Mateo where Chavez
claims he and a handful of other military personnel first
formed a clandestine "People's Army" in 1977. Chavez is
expected to attend the inauguration of the plaza in November
to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his determination to
"remake" Venezuela. Chavez's hillside pledge conveniently
mirrors Simon Bolivar's claim that while reflecting on a
hilltop in Rome, he vowed to secure Latin America's
independence from Spain.

7. (C) Chavez personally led many of the BRV's well-funded
events to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the April 11,
2002 interregnum. Chavez and the BRV devoted considerable
air time to promote an "official" history of the short-lived
coup, claiming that Chavez never resigned from office but
agreed to be detained by military officers to prevent
bloodshed. At his April 13 mass rally, Chavez blamed the
April 11-13, 2002 events on the United States and called
those days Venezuela's "Bay of Pigs". Similarly, Chavez led
the BRV's overblown efforts in February to memorialize the
failed coup attempt that he led on February 4, 1992 as well
as the February 27, 1989 "Caracazo" rioting that helped
discredit Venezuela's traditional political parties.

Chavez = People

8. (C) The presumption of Chavez and his supporters that
Chavez speaks for the Venezuelan people is a cornerstone of
the leader's personality cult. The Venezuelan president
sprinkles his stump speeches with assertions that only he can
protect the Venezuelan people from domestic "oligarchs" and
the "empire" (United States) and feigns fatigue over the
"burden" of power. By this same logic, he dismisses his
critics as "traitors" or "lackeys" of the United States.
Chavez repeatedly weaves in anecdotes from his childhood on
the rural plains of Barinas and early military career in his
speeches to underscore that he is "one of the people" (and
not a long-serving and ever more powerful sitting president).

9. (C) Chavez exploits his self-identification as the
embodiment of the people to justify many of his most
controversial and anti-democratic measures. Defending his
proposal to amend the 1999 Constitution to eliminate
presidential term limits, Chavez repeatedly claims "the
people want it" (public opinion polls show a majority
oppose). He cautioned small, allied parties questioning
Chavez's effort to forge a single pro-government party that
the votes they received in the December 2006 presidential
election were not for them, but "for Chavez." Chavez said
taking the popular, private Radio Caracas TV network off the
non-subscription airwaves in May and replacing it with TVes,
a state-funded station, would better serve the people (TVes'
low ratings indicate otherwise).

Move Over, Bolivar

10. (SBU) Pictures of Venezuela's independence hero Simon
Bolivar have traditionally dominated government offices, but
Chavez portraits are starting to compete with, and even
supplant, depictions of "The Liberator" in officialdom. Most
notably, Chavez swore in his new cabinet in January in front
of an enormous picture of himself, instead of the traditional
portrait of Bolivar. At the same time, Chavez continues to
stake exclusive claim to the political legacy of Bolivar,
quoting frequently -- and very selectively -- from the
speeches and writings of Venezuela's greatest national hero
to try to attach historical legitimacy to his own ill-defined
"Bolivarian revolution."

11. (SBU) As Chavez radicalizes his own domestic agenda, he
continues to manipulate history further to claim that Bolivar
was a proto-socialist. In addition, Chavez shrouds his
proposal to eliminate presidential term limits with the
historical aura of Venezuela's founder. Chavez began his
second six-year term of office after being re-elected in
December 2006, but he openly talks about remaining president
until 2021, Venezuela's bicentennial, or 2030, the 200th
anniversary of Bolivar's death.

Castro's Heir

12. (C) By dint of a heavy travel schedule and foreign
assistance pledges (many of which go unfulfilled), Chavez is
making considerable efforts to export his personality cult.
Over the last year, he visited the ailing Fidel Castro
several times, trying to position himself internationally as
Castro's heir. Burnishing his anti-American credentials, the
Venezuelan president led efforts to forge close ties with
Iran, Syria, Belarus, and Russia. In Latin America,
particularly in Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, he actively
promoted his "Bolivarian revolution" and ALBA integration
plan as a substitute model of development for "savage

13. (C) While Chavez basks in the international limelight, he
also overreaches and makes mistakes. Chavez went on a March
8-13 "shadow tour" to Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Haiti,
and Jamaica in an unsuccessful effort to upstage President
Bush's March 8-14 visit to Latin America. Chavez's infamous
"Bush is the devil" speech at the September 2006 UNGA grabbed
international attention but undermined the BRV's efforts to
secure a UN Security Council seat, an international stage
that Chavez very much coveted.


14. (C) So far, Chavez has not erected statues of himself or
put his visage on Venezuelan stamps and currency, but it may
only be a matter of time. At a minimum, Chavez and his
supporters can be expected to use the Hugo Chavez personality
cult for political advantage. Chavez is already framing the
upcoming battle over rewriting the constitution as a vote for
or against him, thus shrouding the controversial content of
the proposed changes. But at the same time, Chavez
increasingly appears to be making the mistake of believing
his own propaganda, making him even more thin-skinned and
narcissistic. Chavez, for example, seems to crave public
confrontation with senior USG officials and spends an
enormous amount of time defining and justifying himself in
opposition to the USG. Ignoring Chavez and/or re-framing
Chavez' personal insults with well-reasoned defenses of
democracy and free enterprise continues to pay dividends.
The high road consistently denies Chavez the international
attention and validation he seeks.


© Scoop Media

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