- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
I see Hugo Chavez is talking about sending in the troops to enforce price controls:
Speaking on his weekly television program, "Alo Presidente," Chavez railed against merchants who re-price their items in reaction to Friday’s announcement that the Venezuelan bolivar currency, which had been fixed at 2.15 to the U.S. dollar since 2005, was devalued to 4.3 to the dollar. For food and medicine, Chavez announced a second fixed exchange rate for these "necessity" goods at 2.6 bolivares to the dollar.
"I want the national guard in the streets, with the people, to fight speculation," Chavez said, calling re-pricing a form of robbery.
Yeah, this is probably not going to do much to bring down prices or help citizens struggling with the crippling inflation brought on by Chavez’s own economic policies. But it’s certainly a provocative enough statement to get Chavez international media attention… as he does nearly every week. As I write this Chavez’s face is right there on the Drudge Report in between Simon Cowell and Jay Leno.
I can’t speak for how Chavez’s show is received in Venezuela, but few leaders are able to manage today’s international news cycle quite like Chavez. Every Sunday, the president says something bombastic on his show, Alo Presidente. One week he could be predicting war with Colombia, the next he’s promising to control the weather. The content hardly even matters. Then it gets written up by the wire services as a "Venezuela plans to…" story, whether or not there’s any evidence that Chavez will actually follow up on his pronouncements. Then it gets picked up on blogs like this one and others that follow international affairs and will likely make the front page of the Drudge by the afternoon.
Steve Walt had an interesting post about global over-acheivers a few months back. These are countries that seem to punch above their weight in global influence. Some do so with innovative economic models or nuclear weapons programs, Venezuela has Hugo Chavez’s big mouth. As long as he’s talking, his country is in the news.
Some of this is Chavez’s personality. I got to see Chavez in person at the U.N. General Assembly last Fall and, politics aside, he’s a pretty magnetic presence and had a whole room full of journalists laughing at his corny jokes and meandering stories. But Chavez also seems to understand the new media landscape. With media stunts like his four-day talkathon, topics designed to infurate his Yanqui adversaries, and a keen sense of timing, (Chavez stories always break in the U.S. on Monday mornings when editors are looking for ideas.) the president always seems to stay on top of the news cycle, whether or not he’s actually doing anything.
Welcome to Drudge-era authoritarianism. If this whole Bolivarian Revolution doesn’t pan out, he could always consider a career in PR.