Venezuela's Hugo Chavez: Despot, or Democrat?

A revolution challenging the underpinnings of American economic and political hegemony has emerged in Latin America. At its center sits the Bolivarian movement of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. Photographer Andrew Cutraro and reporter Guy Taylor explore socio-political realities on the ground to assess the basis of Chavez's appeal and the challenges he is yet to face. Leading up to Venezuela's Dec. 3 presidential election, Taylor and Cutraro looked under the skin of a cult of personality surrounding Chavez and his government's aggressive relationship with mass media in Venezuela. Women faint when they meet Chavez. Men create stampedes to keep up with his caravans through impoverished cities. His fans are wowed by what they call a rare, God-given charisma and genuine commitment to channeling Venezuela's vast oil revenues toward the poor.

But his critics say he's a global-media-savvy psychological warrior and rising socialist dictator. Taylor and Cutraro also examined structural changes to government being pushed by Chavez, including the recent formation of thousands of community councils. His backers say they put power at the grass-roots level and represent the revolution's future. Critics say the councils are bent on replacing capitalism and the existing municipal government with a counterproductive, chaotic system of cooperatives.

Chávez Marches On

A small crowd gathers at six each evening on the steps outside a dilapidated high school in one of Caracas's many impoverished barrios. With the sun dipping in the distance, middle-aged women arrive with their daughters. A few old men stand smoking cigarettes. One guy with tattoos on his arms labours up in a wheelchair and two rugged-looking characters help him ease it down the steps. The whole scene feels like something out of a Hugo Chávez infomercial.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Saint or Dictator?

A new president was sworn into office today in Mexico, after much uncertainty after a disputed election. On Sunday, President Hugo Chavez is running for re-election in Venezuela. Reviled in the United States, but in his own country Chavez arouses passion in supporters as well as opponents. What are the chances of the man who called President Bush "the devil" in a speech to the United Nation?

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Oil Fuels Chávez's Economic Shift

Alberto Robles stood beneath a street lamp whose yellow glow hung over a corner of the barrio where he has lived his whole life.

Robles, 36, pointed to a steep hillside dotted with lights nearby where a block of crumbling shacks was recently replaced by sturdy houses. It's a shining example of grass-roots government at work, he said.

Chavez is Potent Force

Women faint when they meet him. Men create stampedes to keep up with caravans he leads through impoverished cities where prior generations of leaders have not dared tread.

"When you see him in person, it's something that cannot be explained," said Susana Fonseca, craning her neck for a better view of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as he worked his way through a mob of admirers here earlier this month.

"We've never had men like him in our history," said Fonseca, 43, a public accountant.