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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Hugo Chavez!
I just got back from hearing Chavez speak outside the Casa Miraflores in downtown Caracas. It was quite an event. The Chavistas (Chavez supporters) showed up an hour before the speech. Lots of flags, signs, street vendors, singing, chanting, and more. Since our group has already been on TV and to a couple of Chavista events already, many people recognized us. Theyīre all glad to have norteamericanos come to Venezuela and hear Chavez.

Several speeches and lots of music led up to Chavezīs appearance. When he arrived, there was all sorts of cheering and flag waving. He started his speech leading the crowd in singing some national hymn or anthem which lasted about ten minutes; Chavez has a nice singing voice. As you can probably imagine, he is very dramatic and powerful as a speaker. The crowd adored him. We were pretty close to the stage, and it was pretty crowded. People kept coming up and shaking our hands and talking to us, telling us how great Chavez is. It seems like maybe a bit too much of a cult of personality. Heīs absolutely adored by the Chavistas and detested by the opposition.

Four people in our group were given press passes and allowed onto a high platform where they could take pictures. Basically they just said they were Americans, and the security people gave them passes. They really want us to take the Chavez message back to the U.S.

All in all, an amazing experience. It was great to be there!

Earlier in the day, we toured Caracas by van, and then were given a very nice tour of the national assembly building (it has a nicer name that I canīt recall right now). They gave us a nice tour of the chambers, and gave us nice bound copies of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999, of which the Chavistas are very proud, and apparently with good reason. When we were in the balcony of the main assembly chamber, several leading Chavista politicians came and talked to us--very engaging and funny. We later saw them being interviewed on TV before the Chavez speech and on the stage with him.

Sanjay tells me that Bush is giving a press conference. Iīm guessing that he isnīt coming off as well as Chavez did!