Last December page A-27 of the New York Times displayed a picture of a very American-three story house complete with Christmas adornments and a welcoming open door. Above the house sat a caption in big bold letters, “How Venezuela is Keeping the Home Fires Burning in Massachusetts.” Yes, that’s right, Venezuela, a country most Americans could not pick out of a Latin American lineup a year ago is beating its chest in the New York Times.
Now people from Quincy, Massachusetts to Chicago’s barrios know the name Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, and many consider him a good and generous man who wants to help them pay their winter heating bills. This positive image of Chávez has emerged despite the fact that the U.S. government vehemently hates him, and the truth that as a leader, he floats somewhere between good, amusing and at times extremely divisive. Since Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. government’s visible failure to respond to the needs of its own people, Venezuelan officials have waged a large-scale public relations effort to sell their country as the new super power on the block.