Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution was supposed to offer ordinary Venezuelans political power and social services. On some of these counts, it has at least partially succeeded. On others -- such as the provision of toilet paper -- not so much.
On Tuesday, Alejandro Fleming, the country's commerce minister, announced that the government would make the equivalent of a frantic grocery store run to pick up some rolls. "The revolution will bring the country the equivalent of 50 million rolls of toilet paper," he told the state news agency AVN. "We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down." (Not that long ago, the "revolution" was promising to provide housing and health care but hey, Marx said something about the importance of toilet paper, right?)
"This is the last straw," Manuel Fagundes, a shopper trying to track down some toilet paper in Caracas, told the Associated Press. "I'm 71 years old and this is the first time I've seen this."
Though the lack of toilet paper represents a new low for Venezuela's reeling economy, this isn't the first time the country has been hit by goods shortages. Staples like cooking oil, sugar, and flour are often missing from supermarkets. Because the government has imposed strict capital controls, Venezuelan companies say they lack the foreign reserves to buy the goods they need on the international market, leaving shelves bare and consumers furious.
These debilitating shortages, which seem like a throwback to the Soviet era, don't bode well for Nicolás Maduro, who won a narrow victory in presidential elections in April. Opposition figures have wasted little time in making hay out of the government's troubles. Responding to this week's toilet-paper proclamation, for example, the opposition academic Alex Capriles quipped on Twitter, "50 million rolls of toilet paper come out to 1.75 rolls per person. These are the great revolutionary solutions." And writing for the paper El Universal, Diego Bautista Urbaneja described the shortages as the central problem facing the Maduro government:
If [Maduro does not possess], as Chávez did, a great ability to shape popular understandings of the country's problems, they will be imposed on the collective imagination more forcefully the more the government fails to interpret the problems correctly, as the result of years of misguided economic policies.
But the government doesn't appear to be taking this latest shortage as an indication that economic reforms are necessary. Look no further than Fleming, the commerce minister, who blamed the toilet-paper shortage on "a media campaign that has been generated to disrupt the country."
Speaking collectively for the media here, I only want to ask Fagundes one question: How'd you know?!
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
Late last week, the Venezuelan government detained Timothy Tracy, a 35-year-old American filmmaker, on charges of attempting to foment unrest in Venezuela following its contested April 14 presidential election. Given the Venezuelan government's long history of lobbing absurd accusations at the United States -- most recently alleging that American "imperialists" had infected the late Hugo Chávez with cancer -- Tracy's arrest carries a whiff of Chávez-era paranoia, and a hint of cold political calculation to direct deep dissatisfaction over the election result at Venezuela's primary political enemy: the United States. Tracy was arrested at the airport trying to leave the country.
So who is Timothy Tracy? The New York Times describes him as a somewhat naive Hollywood producer with only rudimentary Spanish and no knowledge of Venezuela who was working on a documentary about the country's political divisions. "He seemed like a man on a lark," the Times writes. According to his LinkedIn profile, Tracy graduated from Phillips Academy Andover, the prestigious New England prep school, and Georgetown before taking on a series of producing gigs in Los Angeles.
What's particularly baffling about the case is that Tracy's film and television experience is far from what one would expect from a documentary filmmaker exploring one of the world's most dangerous countries.
Tracy describes himself as the creator and producer of Madhouse, a History Channel show about stock car racing in North Carolina. Check out the trailer below, which appears to be something of a parody of the American South and NASCAR culture.
He also claims to have served as a production manager on Poliwood, a documentary about the intersection of American politics and Hollywood:
And he served as a co-producer and story consultant on American Harmony, a documentary about a barber shop singing competition. It looks as delightfully bad as you'd expect:
Not exactly the credits you'd expect from someone the Venezuelan government insists -- with no proof so far -- is a spy.
Traditions aren't traditions if they're not a little weird, right?
"We have decided to prepare the body of our 'Comandante President,' to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people," Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro declared on Thursday, in announcing plans to preserve Hugo Chávez's body and showcase it in a glass tomb at a military museum near the presidential palace. "Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong."
In fact, it turns out Maduro was missing a few names. The practice of embalming national (mainly communist) leaders and boxing their bodies in glass for posterity may have gone out of vogue with the end of the Cold War, but Chávez still has distinguished company. Here are the most notable members of the exclusive club:
Vladimir Lenin, Russia
Died: Jan. 21, 1924
Call him a trendsetter. Lenin was the first communist revolutionary to be encased in glass upon his death, and his body is now on display in Moscow's Red Square at Lenin's Mausoleum, commonly known as Lenin's Tomb. But that might not last forever given public opposition to the memorial. In 2011, for instance, a member of the ruling United Russia party created a website where people could vote on whether to bury the former Soviet leader (the vary majority of respondents voted in favor of burial).
Mao Zedong, China
Died: Sept. 9, 1976
The founder of the People's Republic of China ruled the nation from its establishment in 1949 until his death. Though he reportedly wished to be cremated, the chairman's mausoleum went under construction immediately after Mao died and was completed by the following May.
Kim Il Sung, North Korea
Died: July 8, 1994
Like his neighbor to the north, Kim Il Sung ruled the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from its inception in 1948 until the day he died. Draped in a Workers Party of Korea flag, his body is on display at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, also known as the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum.
Kim Jong Il, North Korea
Died: Dec. 17, 2011
Kim Jong Il, who led North Korea from his father's death in 1994 until his own demise nearly two decades later, was put on display in the same shrine that houses his father. Dennis Rodman visited the remains of both former leaders during his recent trip to North Korea.
Ho Chi Minh, North Vietnam
Died: Sept. 2, 1969
The communist revolutionary established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 at Ba Dinh Square, where his body now rests. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was inspired by Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow, and his body is watched over by an honor guard.
Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images
Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines
Died: Sept. 28, 1989
Marcos was president of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, but died in exile in Hawaii. Nonetheless, his remains were returned home in 1993, and his body was put on display inside the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in the city of Batac. This week, the mortician who embalmed Marco offered some advice (and his services) to Venezuela. "They must not delay" choosing an embalmer," he told AFP, adding that he would not use resin to preserve Chávez as was done with Lenin.
Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images
Pope John XXIII, The Vatican
Died: June 3, 1963
Angelo Roncalli led the Catholic Church from 1958 until his death, and his body is now on display at St. Peter's Basilica. He was known for forging better relations with other religions, and was beatified on September 3, 2000. In 2001, the BBC reported that Vatican officials had found the pontiff's bodily remarkably well-preserved when they opened his coffin after nearly four decades as part of an effort to transfer his remains from a Vatican crypt. His body was soon put on display in St. Peter's Square, with the pope's face covered in a thin layer of wax.
Of course, we could go further back in time. You could always visit King Tut.
The news that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez finally succumbed to cancer broke around 5 p.m. yesterday, early enough to make today's newspapers. Here's a look at how the story played in the region:
El Universal, Venezuela
The Venezuelan daily El Universal goes with an elegant presentation, set off with a black banner and a headline blaring "The era without Chávez begins." The top box in the left-hand sidebar teases an article about the political opposition's reaction, quoting a statement from Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chávez in last fall's election, in which he expresses condolences to Chávez's family and friends.
El Nacional, Venezuela
El Nacional presents a younger, more vigourous Chávez and highlights his military background, with the Venezuelan leader clad in a paratrooper's beret, military fatigues, and a presidential sash. Below the fold, the paper runs a photo of grief-stricken Venezuelans alongside a quote from Chávez proclaiming his willingness to uphold the principles of his revolution even at the cost of his own life.
El Mercurio, Chile
In Chile, El Mercurio leads with a forward-looking headline. The small-type title reads, "His absence plants doubts about Chavismo's ability to remain united after the possible candidacy of Vice President Nicolás Maduro, whom the deceased leader designated as his political heir."
El Tiempo, Colombia
In Colombia, which had a tense relationship with Venezuela under Chávez, the headline of El Tiempo captures the mixed emotions that many in the country are probably feeling today: "The end of the Chávez era."
Correio Braziliense, Brazil
One of the more striking designs of the day comes from the Brazilian paper Correio Braziliense, which illustrates the popular end-of-an-era trope with a Chávez-less paratrooper beret.
It was a key component of Hugo Chávez's special brand of charisma: the exotic, grandiloquent insult. Chávez was not the only world leader who relished a good -- if perhaps, at times, one-sided -- fight with los imperialistas, but what made him stand out for so many, including many in the West, was the gusto with which he flung out bombast like "you are a donkey, Mr. Danger" and "go to hell, Yankee shits!" Everyone remembers that Chávez called George W. Bush the devil. But here, we've collected some of the less well-known -- but no less colorful -- insults from the 14-year reign of the Zinger King of Caracas.
Insult: "Puppy dog of the empire."
Insultee: Mexican President Vicente Fox
or "Little Yankee"
Insultees: Counterrevolutionaries, or, as the New York Times put it, "the type of Venezuelan who favors shopping sprees in Miami over paying allegiance to the fatherland."
Insultee: The Catholic Church hierarchy
Insultee: Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles
lord of war ... one of the dogs of the devil."
Insultee: Donald Rumsfeld
Insultee: Barack Obama
Compared to these, maybe Bush got off easy with the "devil."
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
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