Eye on Venezuela

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Eye on Venezuela

Sarah L. Courteau

Joshua Kucera answers questions about Hugo Chavez.

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2m 28sec

For “What Is Hugo Chavez Up To?” in the WQ’s Spring issue, journalist Joshua Kucera reported on Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has been trying to create a global anti-American coalition.

What drew you to report on Hugo Chavez?

I’m interested in the geopolitical reshuffling that’s been going on since the end of the Cold War, in particular in countries that are trying to create an alternative to the U.S.-dominated world order. This reshuffling is mainly happening in Eurasia—including Russia, Iran and China—which is the area I focus on most. But Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela has been the most vocal and enthusiastic about opposing the United States, so I wanted to see the situation from closer up.

What surprised you most as you reported on this story?

Everyone talks about how polarized Caracas’s political environment is, but most of the people I talked to had views that were fairly nuanced. I met several leftists who were disillusioned with Chavez, but also several of the opposition people I talked to acknowledged that Chavez is doing things—like focusing on the poor domestically, and on south-south cooperation internationally—that they should have been doing when they were in power.

Was it difficult to get Venezuelan officials and other sources to talk to you?

Venezuela’s foreign policy is something that Chavez’s critics love to talk about, but his supporters tend to shy away from doing so. And officials in the government there are suspicious of foreign reporters, because they get so much bad press. So although my local fixer (who had worked previously as a freelance translator for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) had good contacts in the government, we were having a hard time getting anyone in any position of authority to talk to us. Finally, I happened to meet a friend of a friend who worked in the government. And when I told her the people I’d been talking to thus far—almost all opposition people, to that point—she was appalled, and took it upon herself to make sure I got the other side of the story.

For a piece like this, you must, to an extent, rely on personal observation. How do you ensure that your generalizations from personal experience are accurate?

You rely on personal observation and color, but you have to back it up. Before I take a trip like this I read as much as possible, both journalism and academic work about the area and subject. And I talk to smart people who know the subject, before I leave and while I’m traveling. The more that you do this sort of work the more you understand what observations are important and which are just peripheral or misleading, even when you’re in a new place.

Photo credit: Caracas by Alex Lanz via flickr