Tag Archives: hugo chavez

Dogs and Politics: Bolívar, Nevado, and Chávez

Because of my experience with Angostura bitters I’ve been looking into other nooks and crannies of Simón Bolívar’s life. One of the more interesting parts of his legacy is the history of  his dog Nevado (Snowy). Like most things related to Bolívar, the story is connected to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Statue of Bolívar's two companions, Nevado and the Indian Tinjaca. Plaza Bolívar de Mucuchíes, Mérida, Venezuela.

Nevado was a Mucuchí. Mucuchíes are fluffy white Andean dogs that sometimes have a little splash of black, tan, or gray; and they’re pretty much localized to the Mérida region of Venezuela. The breed was started 400 years ago when Augustine missionaries first brought Pyrenean Mastiffs with them to the Andes. Apparently those friars were surprised to find a Andean dog of similar temperament and looks already there when they arrived, so they did the obvious—they breed the two together. (That’s the obvious thing to do, right?) The end result was the Mucuchíes, which are popularly known as a lovable breed of hard-working dogs. They are also the national dog of Venezuela and a kind of national symbol for the country.

Bolívar’s Mucuchí pup Nevado was given to him by the people of Mérida during the leader’s fight for the liberation of Venezuela from Spanish control. Legend has it that Nevado was a faithful companion to Bolívar and even ran alongside Bolívar’s horse when he went into battle. Ultimately the poor thing was killed during the Battle of Carabobo in 1821, which was a decisive win for Bolívar and a key victory leading to Venezuela’s independence. Many memorials exist today in Venezuela dedicated to Nevado and his roll in the liberation of the country, and the dog’s story is a rich part of Venezuelan history. But the Mucuchíes as a whole have seen better days. More and more the breed has been bred with larger dogs such as St. Bernards, making it harder and harder to find a purebred Mucuchí these days. Enter Hugo Chávez.

Recently Chávez gave government backing and funding to the Nevado Foundation (named after Bolívar’s dog of course), an organization that has been trying to bring the breed back from the brink of extinction. Chávez is crazy for all things Bolívar. He sees himself as the ideological son of the liberator. He changed the official title of the country to the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” in 1999. And he even likes to give a copy of Bolívar’s sword as gift to distinguished guests, as he recently did for Russian Tzar Godfather President Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. So backing a group named after Bolívar’s dog was probably a no brainer for the South American leader.

While the Nevado Foundation, which operates a breeding kennel for the dogs just outside of Caracas, only has about a dozen pups at the moment, now with the backing of Chávez’ government, they have high hopes. According to Nevado Foundation President Walter de Mendoza…

We want [Mucuchíes] to be known all around the country as a breed and as its historical legacy. We would like to have Mucuchíes even outside Venezuela. One of the plans we have is to have at least a couple of them in each embassy around the world as a symbol of our country.

source: PRI

And I’ll be the first in line to pet one!

March Madness : Some Spanish Basketball Terms

Whether you call it baloncesto, básquetbol, or basketball, March is usually a pretty crazy month for the sport treated liked a religion in my home state of Indiana. In particular, the NCAA’s annual men’s championship tournament usually draws the attention of the majority of Americans during this time of year. And on the professional side, the NBA tries to spread passion for the game into the Latino and Hispanic market every March with Noche Latina, a celebration of Latin heritage held throughout the month at various NBA arenas.

Now the NBA’s efforts should come as no surprise. Almost every major sports league in the United States is tripping over themselves to draw in Hispanic and Latino fans. But considering the NBA’s almost fourfold increase in the number of Spanish, Hispanic, and Latino players in the league over the last couple of years—from 5 to almost 20—perhaps they are on to something. The Dallas Mavericks, for instance, have the first NBA player ever drafted from Mexico on their roster, Eduardo Nájera. And there are currently five Argentinians playing on various NBA teams. So one should expect that the total number of players from the Spanish-speaking world will continue to go up. In this month’s NCAA men’s tournament, for instance, the #4 seed in the Midwest Region, the University of Maryland Terrapins, are led by Greivis Vasquez, an important NBA prospect from Caracas, Venezuela. Hmm….I wonder who Hugo Chávez‘ favorite player in the NCAA is right now?

Vocabulario:

el tablero : backboard :: la canasta : basket

la red : net :: el aro : hoop

la cancha : court :: la línea de banda : sideline

la línea de tiro libre : free-throw line

la línea de tres puntos : three-point line

el balón : ball :: el jugador de baloncesto : basketball player

lanzar : to throw :: tirar : to shoot

saltar : to jump :: marcar : to cover

botar : to dribble :: bloquear : to block

Cocalero : A film by Alejandro Landes

I was greatly disappointed by this film. The trailer intrigued me and reviews like the following post from Netflix made me jump to rent it.

This film provides an opportunity to witness the road to the presidency of an unlikely candidate in Bolivia. The filmmaker’s access to Evo Morales and some of his supporters and allies provides a window into a political process that is both organic and extremely organized and hierarchal. The power of community organization seems to outshine education, money, even ideology. The film also shows us the lives of women and men who live off of coca production, whose business has become more profitable as a result of the US crackdown on cocaine production. This relative profitability is also a powerful political tool to rally farmers behind this candidate.

The problem is that Cocalero is actually quite different from this description, in my opinion. Yes, the film does show Evo Morales, the first fully indigenous president elected in Bolivia, during his first successful presidential campaign. But we don’t get any insights into the man really, nor do I think the political process in that country is shown in any detail. Most of the film is either Morales in down moments like getting haircuts, playing ball, swimming in the river, etc. or scenes of rural coca workers in the field or his party’s political events with little to no context. So for this viewer, I was often lost. Why is he speaking to this group? What group is this? What are the politics here? It’s really a shame, because the story of Evo Morales is an interesting one, and he’s tightly connected to figures like Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. I’d like to know more.

Often contemporary documentary filmmakers like to remove any outside authoritative voice from their films: no narrator or textual description. Subjects are left to shape the narrative of the film, which is the case with Landes’ movie. I think it stems from a fear that is a byproduct of postmodern criticism, which has tried to swing an intellectual pendulum away from ethnocentrism, male-oriented narratives, Western ideology, and the director-as-character phenomenon (think Michael Moore). Personally, I think it often leads to failure. In Cocalero, for instance, the filmmaker perhaps tries to hint at criticisms of Morales by briefly (very briefly) showing a Catholic priest talking about unionist tactics, a scene of Morales ditching an event in the indigenous community, and another at a voting instruction class at the union. But the scenes felt thrown in. I kept wondering what Landes was trying to say. Why are these here?

Well, I’ve got another film about Bolivian politics in the aughts on order, Our Brand is Crisis. I have high hopes.

Dancing Bears and Acrobats? Not in this Hugo Chávez Show

Loving Hugo Chávez’ bit from Auto-Tune the News #9 made me go back and watch an old episode of PBS’ Frontline I first saw last year. “The Hugo Chávez Show” documents Chávez’ rise from the military ranks and idealism of the Bolivarian movement to become President of Venezuela, all the while dancing like frenemies with the media. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in South America, international politics, or media history. Here’s a preview…

The program, which can be viewed in its entirety here in either English or Spanish, pays particular attention to Chávez’ weekly television program Aló Presidente. AP is an unusual show in many ways. First of all, it has no definite ending time. Chávez basically just talks and talks for however long he wants—usually around five hours. Mostly it is unscripted, so you never know when President Chávez is going to switch topics, a fact that has his cabinet on pins and needles throughout the program. Often Chávez will call on one of them out of nowhere—they’re all expected to attend each taping in its entirety—and grill them about the finer points of the Venezuelan state. Give the wrong answer and you might find yourself out of a cabinet post the next day. The location of the show also often changes. So you might as easily get Chávez preaching from a stage as singing in the streets of Caracas or taking a helicopter tour of a construction site.

(Chávez breaks into song.)

All this continues to be relevant for the Americas. Take the most recent flare up over the Falkland Islands, which the Argentines call las islas Malvinas. If you haven’t heard (which wouldn’t be surprising if, like me, you live in the sexy pork obsessed United States), a British oil company has started drilling operations near the islands recently. This lit up the Argentine government. While the islands are considered part of the United Kingdom by many governments and the vast majority of the islands’ inhabitants, Argentina has made claim to them ever since its independence from Spain. This led to a brief but nasty war in 1982 between Britain and Argentina that still simmers. Meanwhile, fellow South American Hugo Chávez is obvious about his feelings on the topic and uses his television program as a pulpit: Give them back, Queeny; the empire is over. Situations like this make me glad I don’t work in international relations.

Hugo Chávez (Auto) Tuned In

I hope you’re familiar with Auto-Tune the News…because it’s brilliant. A fun little side project by The Gregory Brothers, ATN consists of short videos that the band makes by running various politicians, celebrities, talking heads, and themselves through Auto-Tune software, which is a meant to correct pitch in song recordings. The process brings out the inner singer in folks like President Obama, Katie Couric, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and any number of Fox commentators and congressional members, as well as showcasing the sometimes ridiculous nature of political speech and commentary. My favorite is #5 (the following video), which was stuck in my head for months last year after it first came out. “It’s the sm-o-o-o-o-ke!”

But somehow I missed #9 until today, and boy was there a hole in life without it. The video starts with none other than Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez laying down a melody and displaying some fine air guitar. While Chávez is known for his often hours-long Sunday address/television program Aló Presidente, which currently has an archive of almost 350 episodes, I had no idea he had such a beautiful auto-tuned voice!