Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib reports on the Venezuelan president’s visit to Central Asia.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Latin America, Dima Khatib, is the only foreign correspondent travelling with Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, as he embarks on a diplomatic visit to a number of African, European, Asian and Arab countries.
She is keeping a daily reporter’s diary as part of our special coverage of his tour of the region.
She accompanied the Venezuelan president to Venice, where he attended the premiere of a documentary documenting his struggles as a revolutionary.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009: Glamorous Venice
There were three aeroplanes on the tarmac in Ashgabad’s International Airport. It was only a few minutes before boarding one of the two small ones that I learnt that I would be accompanying Chavez to Venice, while most of the delegation was continuing directly to Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
I wanted to jump for joy. No politics, just art, glamour and fun! As the plane left quiet Ashgabad (supposedly the city of love), I could picture Chavez in my head walking on the red carpet, and we would be there witnessing that moment.
I had been to Venice long time ago, as a backpacker in my student years. I thought it was one of the most romantic places on earth, a real “city of love”.
With that in mind, we landed and Chavez soon left with just his closest entourage on board a helicopter. He was expected on the red carpet by 5pm. We, on the other hand, were to take a long boat ride from the airport to the city.
We realised as time passed by slowly on the boat, then on a bus, that we were missing out on the most important moment. By the time we got to the Venice Film Festival premises, Chavez had already entered the theatre where the premiere of a documentary named South of the Border by director Oliver Stone, was to be shown.
|Stone’s South of the Border documented the rise of Chavez as a revolutionary [AFP]|
So we watched the documentary which tells the story of Hugo Chavez, the military commander who led a failed coup d’etat in 1992 in Venezuela, only to reach power through elections in 1999.
Many would cheer and clap during the film. The documentary was very keen on showing how US media portrays Chavez as the “bad guy”, the “terrorist”, the “dictator” and much worse. It also shows how US media, and therefore public, knows so little – or hardly anything – about their southern neighbours.
We were told the red carpet moment was a great success for Chavez, with hundreds of admirers waiting there.
After the film premiere, Chavez again stopped to talk to admirers and to the press. He had this deep introspective look on his face. After all, he has just watched his life story being shown on a big screen.
He said that watching it made him realise “we did the right thing”, alluding to the coup d’etat and then the Bolivarian Revolution as reactions to the failure of IMF and World bank policies in Venezuela, as the film depicts.
Stone, the film’s Argentinean producer Fernando Sulichin and the Pakistani script writer Tariq Ali were very excited that Chavez had come to the premiere. Stone was saying enthusiastically: “We need to buy TV channels in the USA”.
Soon after that, Chavez was preparing to speak to several media organisations in exclusive interviews. France’s Le Figaro was the first one and was the most interesting one to me.
When asked by his interviewer Etienne Mougeotte about any proof Chavez might have that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb, Chavez advocated destroying all nuclear weapons in the world. He asked Mougeotte what he thought of France’s nuclear bomb.
“I am a journalist, said Mougoette, I cannot speak for the French government”. “But you are a French citizen. Do you think France will use this bomb any time anywhere?” asked Chavez.
“No, I am sure France would not use this bomb,” answered Mougeotte, now looking like the interviewee rather than the interviewer. “Then why doesn’t France destroy this bomb if it is not going to use it?” was Chavez’s quick reply.
The conversation ended with Mougeotte saying this should be discussed at an international level, or with French President Nicalos Sarkozy. The next topic was Israel that Chavez accuses openly of committing genocide against the Palestinian people.
I realised that even in an interview in Europe with a European newspaper, the topics were related to the Middle East. This is how involved Chavez has become with my native region.
At dinner I sat at Chavez’s table for a while and asked him what he thought of our Turkmenistan visit and of its capital without a soul. He said he had not made up his mind yet about it.
He spent the rest of the evening talking to Stone, joking and laughing, while I swiftly said good-bye to everyone, including Chavez, as I was dropping out of the tour to head back to Caracas. I will miss out on Belarus, Russia and Spain.
A few hours later I was on the boat on my way to Venice International Airport to board a plane home.
To read Dima Khatib’s previous Chavez diplomatic tour diaries, click here.