Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cardboard Shack Man Chronicles Improvements For Venezuelans During Chavez Tenure

A Voice Emerges

Cowboy in Caracas:
A North American's Memoir of Venezuela's Democratic Revolution
Charles Hardy
Curbstone Press, Connecticut. $15.00

Reviewed by Alena Dillon

Charles Hardy in Cowboy in Caracas is the voice of a people who cannot be heard, a people muted by disadvantage, a people desperate to hold onto the only leader who represents hope.

A Catholic priest gone reporter, Hardy delivers his account based on his twenty years experience in Venezuela, eight of which he spent living out of a cardboard shack in one of the country's many barrios. Who better to accurately assess the political situation than an individual who has witnessed both ends of the economic spectrum: a comfortable life in the United States and the desperation of the third world.

Cowboy in Caracas offers a perspective that is rarely acknowledged and even less frequently discussed. Hardy subtly speaks for the political stance produced by a life of poverty without strangling it with meaningless rhetoric. While the national and international media portray Hugo Chavez as a ruthless dictator, Hardy argues that he is the most beneficial leader ever to hold power in Venezuela. Hardy provides evidence, using real numbers and examples of real people whose living conditions were dramatically improved by the Chavez government. Founding the piece upon factual events and hard evidence strengthens his account and makes it nearly impossible to find fault with his words.

Charles Hardy begins his memoir with his arrival in Venezuela as a Catholic missionary in 1985, the election of Chavez in 1998, the coup of 2002, and finishes with the political, economic and social aftermath of the democratic revolution.

He sets the stage by painting a gruesome portrait of the pre-Chavez atmosphere, emphasizing the filthy conditions in which 80 percent of the population was forced to live, and including the undeniable corruption of previous leaders. The impoverished that struggled to create a decent life for themselves and their families were ignored. When led by an ill-intentioned leader, individuals with great financial need fall through the cracks.

When Chavez arrived as a candidate for the presidency, his support was overwhelming, not because he manipulated the system, but because he was a popular man. He sought to redistribute wealth, an appealing concept for the mass majority in poverty who were required to live off dirty water between the four week deliveries. While his predecessor, Carlos Parez, sent troops into barrios to slaughter hundreds, Chavez sent them to repair schools and offer medical attention.

Hardy strategically illustrates through statistics, events and clever anecdotes, how Hugo Chavez has been misrepresented. His writing is intelligent, tactical, and straight forward. He expresses how the wealthy citizens of Venezuela were so outraged that the new government was turning its attention towards the lower class that they fought back with slander and violence. In an effort to remove Chavez from his position, they used the media to spread lies, both nationally and internationally. The elite controlled the press while the voice of the poor remained unjustly silent.

Charles Hardy gives a portrayal not often enough circulated of Hugo Chavez as a leader with whom the barrio dweller can not only identify, but also trust.

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