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Comandante: Hugo Chavez's Venezuela

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In the aftermath of Hugo Chávez's death, the inside story of his life, his Venezuela, and his legacy.

Hugo Chávez was a phenomenon. He has been compared to Napoléon, Nasser, Perón, and Castro, but the truth is there has never been a leader like him. He was democratically elected, reigned like a monarch from a digital throne, and provoked adoration and revulsion in equal measure. Future historians will study his rule for what it says about the early twenty-first century. How did ...

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Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela

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In the aftermath of Hugo Chávez's death, the inside story of his life, his Venezuela, and his legacy.

Hugo Chávez was a phenomenon. He has been compared to Napoléon, Nasser, Perón, and Castro, but the truth is there has never been a leader like him. He was democratically elected, reigned like a monarch from a digital throne, and provoked adoration and revulsion in equal measure. Future historians will study his rule for what it says about the early twenty-first century. How did a charismatic autocrat seduce not just a nation but a significant part of world opinion? How did he make people laugh and weep and applaud, as if on command? And how did he continue to stay in power despite the crumbling of Venezuela?

When he first came to power in 1999, Chávez promised a democratic revolution to transform his country. In Venezuela and elsewhere, he became a symbol of hope and freedom for his people. Yet in his thirteen years as president, Chávez seized control of the hugely lucrative Venezuelan oil industry, consolidated government authority under the presidency, allowed basic government functions to wither, jailed and excommunicated political opponents, created a personality cult, and courted Castro and Ahmadinejad, all while occupying much of Venezuela’s airwaves with his long-running television show, ¡Alo Presidente!

In Comandante, acclaimed journalist Rory Carroll breaches the walls of Miraflores Palace to tell the inside story of Chávez's life and his political court in Caracas. Based on interviews with ministers, aides, courtiers, and citizens, this intimate piece of reportage chronicles a unique experiment in power, which veers among enlightenment, tyranny, comedy, and farce. Carroll investigates the almost religious devotion of millions of Venezuelans who still regard Chávez as a savior and the loathing of those who brand him a dictator. In beautiful prose that blends the lyricism and strangeness of magical realism with the brutal, ugly truth of authoritarianism—a powerful combination reminiscent of Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Emperor—Rory Carroll has written a cautionary tale for our times.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Marie Arana
…a riveting exposé…nowhere is Carroll's portrait more fascinating than in his account of Chavez winning the presidency in 1999, his subsequent, ubiquitous presence on television and his careful fashioning of Chavismo…at its best, [Carroll's] book is deeply informative, a sprightly chronicle of Venezuela's dizzying journey under its Comandante…Here is a lively portrait of a new Latin American genus: the democratically elected caudillo.
The New York Times Book Review - Jonathan Tepperman
Comandante provides an impressively well-researched and readable portrait…Carroll's book should serve as a useful reminder of what el Comandante did and didn't achieve, how he got away with it and the danger of statesmen-as-showmen whose promises are too good to be true.
Publishers Weekly
A democratically elected despot; a revolutionary whose main priority is winning campaigns; a showboating clown; a feared tyrant. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, soon to enter his 13th year of rule, is a mass of contradictions. In this incisive portrait of a histrionic ruler who brooks little criticism, Carroll, the Guardian’s Latin American bureau chief, captures the tragic absurdity of life in a country flush with petrodollars but where many go without adequate health care, and where “Out of Order” signs are switched out for ones promising “Socialist Modernization” as broken-down elevators languish. The book starts with a closeup look at the comandante himself, then successively pulls back the lens on the sycophants who serve as his ministers and advisers, then on the decaying society outside the presidential palace. Chávez runs the country on whims, one week expropriating famed jewelry stores because they stand on the square where Simón de Bolívar was born, another week enthusiastically launching a public health program only to let it flounder. And all this on national TV, where the president’s show Hello, President can run up to eight hours each day. Meanwhile, disastrous economic policies have left the country mired in inflation and shortages, with a creaking infrastructure and shuttered factories. Readers who know Chávez mainly for his anti-U.S. bluster will find some surprises in the true-life black comedy surrounding this mercurial leader. Agent: Will Lippincott, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Loved and admired, hated and despised, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is the century’s most polemical figure. From a failed coup in 1992 to his first election as president in 1998 and his years in power since then, Chávez has been the face of his oil-rich nation. In nationalizing the oil industry, the leader of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution ensured that he would be a target of American interests. Chávez survived strikes, a CIA-backed coup, and an overwhelming constitutional rejection in 2007. Carroll (former chief, Latin American bureau, Guardian) gained access to those within and outside of the comandante’s inner circle; his portrait of both Chávez and Venezuela is remarkable, adding dimension to the president’s routine portrayal in the U.S. press. The view from the Miraflores Palace, Chávez’s government headquarters, contrasts sharply with the hovels of poverty-stricken Venezuelans, most of whom still support Chávez and his reforms—he was reelected in October 2012. Carroll predicts a Venezuelan future possessed of a dim economy from oil dependency, price controls, and corruption.

Verdict A most welcome and valuable addition to the body of work on Hugo Chávez.—Boyd Childress, formerly with Auburn Univ. Libs., AL

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A journalistic view of life in Venezuela under the Hugo Chávez regime. "An eagle does not hunt flies," Chávez once remarked by way of refusing to debate a challenger for the Venezuelan presidency. That, according to former Guardian Latin American bureau chief Carroll, is one of el presidente's terser comments. Indeed, a constant of life in the South American nation is Chávez's seemingly unbroken presence on TV, "every day for hours at a time, invariably live, with no script or teleprompter, mulling, musing, deciding, ordering." Other leaders, particularly of a totalitarian bent, have made masterful use of the media, but few with Chávez's devotion to the practice. Moreover, as if from the pages of Machiavelli, Chávez has layered himself in swaths of bureaucracy on the principle, it seems, that buying loyalty by way of jobs is a good way to win votes. Carroll is not an admirer, at least not an uncritical one, but he acknowledges Chávez's well-tuned political skills; even if the elections are carefully engineered, Chávez is, after all, democratically elected. On first coming into office, he also amended the constitution to extend human rights guarantees, protect the environment and give a host of benefits to working people--along, as it happens, with increasing the power of the president and the length of the term. When Chávez, a cross between Simón Bolívar and Fidel Castro, is brought up at all in the American media, it is usually as a bogeyman, so the author's evenhanded view is welcome. "Utopia is realizable," insists Chávez. It may not have arrived yet in Venezuela, but it's interesting to watch from afar. Carroll provides a useful primer on a little-known regime.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594204579
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/7/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,048,431
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Veteran journalist and former chief of the Latin American bureau for the Guardian, Rory Carroll has covered war zones, survived a kidnapping in Iraq, and reported on the transition to full democracy in South Africa. Now in California, he was stationed in Caracas for the research and writing of Comandante. His wife is a native Venezuelan.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 15, 2013

    This is a superbly narrated account of the time in which Hugo Ch

    This is a superbly narrated account of the time in which Hugo Chavez governed in Venezuela. Rory Carroll writes with a captivating style that makes it difficult to put the book down. He approaches the topic as an observer of power rather than the typical admirer or detractor of the cult of personality. He shares well researched and meticulously gathered insights that paint a vivid picture of the folly that governed the so called revolution.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2013

    Insightful details on Chavez's Venezuela

    As in real life, Chavez is both everywhere and nowhere in this book. He has no real permanence or substance in the narrative; he only makes sporadic appearances, and yet his shadow drives all. This book really covers those in the continously shifting inner circles and their relationship between Chavez and the need to provide adult governorship to Venezyuela. Excellent research and the author's ability to get people to open up is impressive. If you want to understand Venezuela, this is a must

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2013

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