Hugo!: The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution

Hugo!: The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution

by Bart Jones
     
 

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Ruling elites in Venezuela, the United States, and Europe, and even Hugo Chavez himself though for different reasons, have been eager to have the world view him as the heir to Fidel Castro. But the truth about this increasingly influential world leader is more complex, and more interesting. The Chavez that emerges from Bart Jones's carefully researched and documented… See more details below

Overview

Ruling elites in Venezuela, the United States, and Europe, and even Hugo Chavez himself though for different reasons, have been eager to have the world view him as the heir to Fidel Castro. But the truth about this increasingly influential world leader is more complex, and more interesting. The Chavez that emerges from Bart Jones's carefully researched and documented biography is neither a plaster saint nor a revolutionary tyrant. He has an undeniable autocratic streak, and yet has been freely and fairly re-elected to his nation's presidency three times with astonishing margins of victory. He is a master politician and an inspired improviser, a Bolivarian nationalist and an unashamed socialist. His policies have brought him into conflict with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and major oil companies. They have also provided a model for new governments and social movements in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. When in December 2006 Chavez declared at the United Nations that "the devil came here yesterday ... the President of the United States," it was clear that he was intent on challenging the most powerful nation on earth, in conscious imitation of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar.

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Editorial Reviews

Alexandra Starr
Jones provides a superb description of the economic inequities that helped create the conditions for a populist such as Chavez to come to power.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

While opinions of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez vary tremendously on a global scale, there are few defenses of him available in the United States. This biography by Bart Jones, a former AP correspondent from Venezuela, attempts to level the ground. Without taking a political stance, Jones provides a nuanced account of the Venezuelan leader's life, creating a portrait that is, if not sympathetic, certainly more balanced than previous ones. For example, when Chávez characterized President Bush as the devil at the U.N. in 2006, most American news sources presented it as a crude and clownlike gesture. According to Jones, Chávez is hardly just a jester, but uses vulgarity to remind his friends and his enemies of his humble beginnings, as well as to win a tremendous amount of publicity. Jones's precise and entertaining account moves smoothly through Chávez's beginnings up to his current position, making Venezuelan history accessible. (Sept. 4)

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Kirkus Reviews
An American reporter who spent eight years in Venezuela puts the country's controversial president in the context of its cultural and political history. This ambitious first book begs inevitable comparison to Hugo Chavez (August 2007) by Venezuelan journalists Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka. Jones' effort covers much of the same ground: Chavez's boyhood in the countryside; his military career; the failed 1992 coup that introduced him, via a television address, to the nation; prison time and release; an election victory over a beauty queen rival (no small feat in Venezuela); the foiling of a 48-hour coup against him; and the growing antipathy toward the United States in general and George W. Bush in particular. Jones includes some background material not provided by the Venezuelan authors, such as Chavez's brief experience working with a group of indigenous people, but none of it is critical; in fact, his conclusions give his take on Chavez much more of an "authorized" feel. For instance, Jones supports Chavez's claim that the United States directly aided the attempt to remove him and rejects the idea that the president might try to impose a Cuban-style communist government on his country. Perhaps the most striking disparity between the two books, however, is the emphasis placed here on the notion that dark-skinned, mixed-ancestry Chavez is a mold-breaker in a racist society whose "light-skinned elite" have traditionally not shared power. What Marcano and Tyszka call Chavez's "magical appeal" to the working class is explained by Jones as simply due to the fact that he is the first president physically to resemble many of its members. While allowing that Chavez does have, byall accounts, a "messianic" streak, the author also endorses his innovative social programs without major exception. Offers a somewhat ponderous view of Chavez as the driven, dedicated inheritor of Sim-n Bolivar's mantle.
From the Publisher
“A refreshing departure from the ideologically charged tracts that tend to dominate the debate about Chávez.” – The (London) Sunday Times

Hugo! “is a book fully willing to do what American journalists mostly have avoided, which is to take Chávez seriously as a product both of local problems and of Latin American revolutionary traditions . . . It is also the most comprehensive of the available books on Chávez.” – Newsday

“Essential reading for anyone interested in understanding global – as well as Latin American – politics.” – The Tribune (UK)

"... stands as the most authoritative and best-researched among the new crop of studies.... The compelling story of Chavez's rise ... is scrupulously gathered and expertly assembled by Jones. He offers insight into the passion for justice...Jones also excels in providing sufficient historical context to understand Chavez's ideological formation." — Marc Cooper for Truthdig.com

"To understand Venezuela today you have to understand Venezuela B.C. - Before Chavez. . . . It is that rancid economic and political landscape that forms the backdrop of Chavez's rise. And it is masterly charted . . . in Bart Jones' comprehensive new biography.
Hugo-biographers too often resort to either stultifying hagiography or gratuitous demonization . . . Hugo! mark(s) an even-handed departure from that routine. . . . (Jones) displays an expert appreciation of the local milieu that formed Hugo's personality . . . One merit of Hugo! is that it cuts through the hysteria of the Chavez 'threat' to offer a . . . level-headed assessment. . . . Jones' well researched look at Chavez's vast social programs suggests a politician more motivated by common sense than communism." — Tim Padgett at Time.com

"Jones describes the story as 'straight out of Hollywood.' Indeed, I lost sleep two nights running because I just couldn’ t put the book down. I also was so engrossed in the two chapters about the 2002 coup that I got on the Washington, DC metro heading in the wrong direction and was in the suburbs before I became conscious of my surroundings. Despite the novel-like action pace of the book, it is meticulously researched with 55 pages of references and an extensive index. . . . Bart Jones is an ethical reporter who may come off as pro-Chavez because he is imposing objectivity in an area where the reporting has been so biased as to distort reality to the breaking point. Jones believes that both the opposition and the supporters of the Bolivarian “process,” as supporters have come to call it, have legitimate points that deserve to be discussed. One of his goals was to make that possible by writing a book which upholds the best standards of unbiased reporting. In the process he writes a 'page-turner' that will captivate and educate the reader. This book belongs on the New York Times bestseller list and in the hands of every intellectually curious US adult who questions the right of the United States to rule the world." — Chuck Kaufman

"Chávez's rise has a made-for-Hollywood quality. . . . Jones provides a superb description of the economic inequities that helped create the conditions for a populist such as Chávez to come to power. . . . As Hugo! points out, mainstream press coverage is often hostile to the Venezuelan president. . . . Where Jones truly excels is in his observations of Venezuelan society and the outsized role oil has played in molding the national character." — Washington Post (cover review)

"Jones's book is thoughtful, comprehensive . . . the best in the bunch." — The Boston Globe

"Without taking a political stance, Jones provides a nuanced account of the Venezuelan leader's life, creating a portrait that is, if not sympathetic, certainly more balanced than previous ones. Jones's precise and entertaining account moves smoothly through Chávez's beginnings up to his current position, making Venezuelan history accessible." — Publishers Weekly

"This first major English language biography of Hugo Chavez is a masterful achievement that finally puts this crucial Latin American figure of the early 21st Century into context within Venezuela, within Latin America, as well as internationally. Bart Jones has gotten hold of great detail and anecdote, and portrays a colorful leader in times of crisis, rising from low military rank to the zenith of national power, as Venezuela and its people — and Chavez himself — begin to take charge of the country's terrific oil reserves and to flex national muscle on the world stage. An important work for our era —Chavez will in all likelihood cast a long and significant political shadow in the Western Hemisphere for the foreseeable future, and we need to understand this complicated figure as events unfold." — Amy Wilentz

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780099520528
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/28/2009

Read an Excerpt

Hugo Chávez and I were sitting alone on the second floor of the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela. It was close to midnight on April 30, 2007. Venezuela was minutes away from making a small bit of history by taking majority control of four multi-billion dollar oil projects in the eastern Orinoco River basin from international companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron Corp, Conoco and Total. Like many of Chávez’s moves, the oil takeover was controversial. His detractors claimed it was another step in creating a totalitarian dictatorship modeled after his mentor in Cuba, Fidel Castro. His supporters responded that he was proudly re-establishing national sovereignty over a strategic natural resource where for years foreign companies had enjoyed a virtual tax holiday. I had a privileged bird's-eye view of Chávez coordinating the takeover. We were alone on the patio from 11:10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. – prime time for the president. It was my second interview with him in two days – a rare opportunity to spend time with a man flooded with interview requests. The conversations that night and the previous one amounted to nearly four hours. We covered a lot of territory, from Chávez’s impoverished childhood to the 2002 coup in which he was almost killed…and at least one sensitive topic he had never spoken about publicly before and I feared might bring the interview to an abrupt end. — From the Preface

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