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.

Hugo's World

Hugo Chávez's sweeping election win may be read as a simple mandate for the demagogic Venezuelan leader to push on with his plans to transform his country with what he calls "21st-century socialism," designed to empower the impoverished masses with state-controlled oil profits, as described in my article last week. But for the region and the world, his victory could mean much more.

The Fixer

World Politics Watch International News Editor Guy Taylor interviews Jose Orozco (pictured above), a freelance journalist based in Caracas, Venezuela. Orozco is already well-known to the world media who cover Venezuela because he works for many prominent news organizations as a "fixer." Fixers play an indispensable role in foreign reporting, serving as guides and translators, and providing all-important contacts for reporters looking for local stories.

Hugo Chavez -- President and candidate

The populist leader who has often infuriated U.S. officials while cutting a wide swath through world capitals was just as dominant in the frenzied campaigning leading up to his bid for re-election on Dec. 3 -- on television, barnstorming through poor barrios, leaving his supporters enthralled and his detractors enraged. One thing no one disputes is that Hugo Chavez's outsized personality commanded center stage.

Venezuela: The new nationalism

The country's national flag, the posters of revolutionary leaders like Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara, the glee with which politicians and citizens alike poor abuse on Uncle Sam -- all proof that President Hugo Chavez has succeeded in stirring long-dormant strains of Venezuelan nationalism.

Round One: Winning Essays

In March 2008, The Pulitzer Center partnered with Helium to launch its first round of the Global Issues/Citizen Voices Contest. Find the winning essays here.