Thorough, thoughtful biography of Venezuela’s controversial leftist president.
Born of mixed ancestry in the plains area of Barinas, 54-year-old Chávez is “a tropical version of Zelig…adept at blending in,” conclude the authors, a husband-and-wife team of journalists from Caracas. They give the president credit for tireless work and attention to detail, at least early on, but they also quote Chávez’s former psychiatrist, who believes his formidable charm is often impelled by a narcissistic need to be adored. Marcano and Tyszka seem overwhelmed by the many and various explanations volunteered for the president’s occasionally strange behavior, notions and edicts. It’s easy to understand their problem: People who have gotten close to Chávez tend to be sharply divided between those who admire him to the point of adoration and his committed adversaries. The authors number among their sources several of the latter, including at least one former lover and several military officers who conspired with Chávez in his plot to overthrow the government. Planned for a decade, the attempted coup of February 1992 initially appeared to be a disaster; the administration got to the television station first and thus held on to power. Chávez was the first to surrender, and the government made the mistake of allowing him to address the nation, hoping that his co-conspirators would give themselves up without further bloodshed. That address, the authors note, gave Chávez the opportunity to work his charismatic magic on the Venezuelan people. They remembered when he was released from prison in 1994 and in 1998 elected him to the nation’s top office with 56 percent of the vote. Chávez has since survived an attempted coup, two divorces and the ongoing disapproval of the U.S. government.
Admirable search for the facts and insight that are often swamped in Chavez’s turbulent wake.