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'The Hugo Chavez Show' is a cartoon, but not the kind you're expecting

HugochavezSometimes investigative journalism is overrated. When PBS' Frontline went to Venezuela to do a documentary on President Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro's heir-apparent as gadfly to the gringos, staffers were nervous about whether they'd be able to dig up enough of a story. "We had been told that we should not expect to meet with him," recalls one. "We needn't have worried. President Chávez, we found out, was everywhere."

Especially on his weekly television program, Alo, Presidente, where Chávez sings, dances, hands out prizes, breaks treaties, threatens invasions and launches crackpot diatribes that can last up to eight hours if he's in a kicky mood. It's sort of a high-stakes Sábado Gigante, where losers can find 10 battalions of the Venezuelan army massed on the border at the end of the show.

It's the clips from Alo, Presidente that make Frontline's report, The Hugo Chávez Show, such a withering indictment of Venezuela's megalomaniacal Marxist ruler. His mendacity, his bullying, his flight-of-the-bumblebee intellect, all are front and center on Chávez's program.

Watch in wonder as a meandering disquisition on crime in Caracas ends with a dumbfounded Venezuelan general being ordered -- right there on-camera -- to prepare to invade Colombia. Or as one of Chávez's kindergarten tantrums on economics (we're poor, the gringos are rich, the bastards must have robbed us!) erupts into a withdrawal from the International Monetary Fund (quietly reversed after the show when some brave soul among Chávez's entourage warned that the ungrateful IMF would expect its $30 billion loan back). Read my full review in Tuesday's Miami Herald.


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