how the world sees america


January 27, 2008 7:42 AM

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Caracas skyline and Sketchers sign.

CARACAS, Venezuela - My twitter says it all: "Clear Night. Sharp city lights. The city opens up through the hills at dawn like its floating in space with stars.”

On my first day here, from its architecture to its people, Caracas strikes me as cinematic. And I wonder: to what extent are views of America here based on personal experience? And to what extent are they based on storytelling?

To get from the airport to the city center, I drive down a concrete overpass through hills that part like stage curtains. Barrios (slums) tumble down their slopes on one side, and on the other scores of concrete highrises block out the ocean view.

The buildings are angular and rather unimaginative. As I move closer, they grow more interesting as I see their peeling facades, their quirkily retro color yellowing and graying. At ground level, small stores sell wares without much order. They advertise baby clothes and Tupperware and ladders all under one roof.

I arrive at 5am, settle down to write, and watch the city wake up from the East where lots of little pieces of glass and trash litter the road, refracting morning light. Journalist Ibsen Martinez comes to meet me, and repeats a common quip: “How can [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez fight America if he can’t pick up the trash?”

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January 30, 2008 10:39 AM

Critical of the U.S. at the Bolivarian University

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CARACAS, Venezuela - At the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, which President Hugo Chavez founded in 2003, the students in Elena Ferrero's English class interview the reporter first.

"Isn't The Washington Post biased against Venezuela?"

"Have you already made up your mind about Chavez?"

"Are you going to write that we're all brainwashed?"

The questions keep coming: Are the FARC terrorists? Who'll win the U.S. elections? I answer as best I can, assuring them I'm a free agent -- not the CIA kind! -- able to write whatever I want.

This satisfies a student named Elvis García, who explains his and his classmates' concern: "America is a threat to Venezuela," he says: overtly, covertly, and through an "international media war to discredit our government."

"The one who writes has the power," he says. That's why Elvis enrolled in the Social Communications course here, which aims to give the right to write back to the people. “We are studying here to protect ourselves, to liberate ourselves from The Empire.”

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February 1, 2008 1:33 PM

General Fortifies Venezuela Against the U.S.

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CARACAS - In 2002, President Hugo Chavez left it to his comrade and friend, General Raul Baduel, to defend Venezuela against external threats – especially threats from the United States.

General Baduel did just that: he achieved legendary status within Chavez's administration in April of that year for thwarting an attempted coup, which both men claim the U.S. government had a hand in (though the U.S. denies this). Baduel says while the coup unfolded, American boats entered Venezuela's waters and U.S. helicopters ran routes in its airspace. He could monitor them "with the same radars the U.S. used to monitor drug trafficking." Baduel’s actions saved Chavez’s regime and kept him in power.

Five years later, Baduel turned against Chavez and his administration. He retired last year from his post as Defense Minister and shocked Venezuela by publicly denouncing Chavez's constitutional referendum, dubbing it another "coup" to consolidate his power and undermine democracy. But even out of military uniform and away from official rhetoric, Baduel still harbors suspicions about the role of the U.S. government in his country.

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February 4, 2008 3:39 PM

Student Leader Says Back Off, Bush

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CARACAS -- Meet Freddy Guevara. He’s twenty-one years old, studies Social Communications at the Catholic University of Venezuela, talks fast, and wears Quicksilver gear. He’s also one of the handful of young leaders to rally 40,000 students across the country to protest the Venezuelan government’s 2007 constitutional referendum.

Entering politics hasn’t been easy for Freddy. He’s been shot by water cannons and tear-gassed ad nauseum. Last week his mother received yet another anonymous phone call telling her that her son will die in a mysterious car crash. And on Venezolana de Televisión, the host of “La Hojilla” (“The Blade”), which President Hugo Chavez calls his favorite TV show, accused Freddy of conspiring with America’s Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow the president.

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February 6, 2008 11:46 AM

The Hyphenated American

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CARACAS - In the parlance of hyphenated identities, Nelson Agelvis would be an 'American-Venezuelan'. He was born in Venezuela, grew up in Kansas City, speaks with an American Midwest twang, and now teaches media studies in Caracas. But he says such labels, and hyphenated identities in general, are "uniquely American."

We listen together to Super Tuesday coverage on the radio of his Ford Explorer. As American pundits ponder the possibility of the "first female president", or "the first African-American president," Nelson wonders aloud if such distinctions cause the U.S. more harm than good.

"In Venezuela," he says, "the media doesn't mention the race or origins" of its subjects, whether they’re Carnaval dancers packing clubs now, or foreign politicians running for president.

"[My students and I] don't fixate on Obama as the first black candidate….And we're really puzzled by the way Americans do,” he says. “It seems to us like a form of racism. Americans don't realize how racist they are….By always discussing race, they just perpetuate their problem."

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send your comments, questions and suggestions for PostGlobal to Lauren Keane, its editor and producer.