July 17, 2006

Reporting the Bolibourgeoisie

The Miami Herald's Steven Dudley adds one more article to a fast growing subgenre of journalism about the Chavez era: The Bolibourgeoisie Color Piece. I think this one is more snazzily written than most, though:
They drive shiny new Hummers and Audis. They wear Cartier and carry Montblanc bags. They buy up luxury apartments and fly private aircraft to and from Miami. And they almost always pay in cash.

They are the so-called Boliburguesía -- short for Bolivarian bourgeoisie -- a reference to socialist President Hugo Chávez's declared ''Bolivarian'' revolution on behalf of Venezuela's poor.

Chávez has seen world oil prices go from $10 a barrel when he was first elected in 1998 to more than $70 today. He has used these windfall billions to finance dozens of social projects on behalf of the poor at home, and provide assistance to regional neighbors from Cuba to Argentina.

But the rising economic tide has not only lifted the poor's boats, bringing back memories of the 1970s, when another spike in oil prices sparked a free-spending boom. Businessmen agile enough to ally themselves with the government have caught the gravy train. Tops on this Boliburguesía list are men like Wilmer Ruperti, one of the few businessmen who supported the Chávez government during a crippling national strike in late 2002 demanding the president's resignation.

It's easy to see why journos find it easy to sell these pieces to editors back home: they're highly visual - all that talk of Hummers and Cartiers - and appealingly man-bites-doggish - who's ever heard of socialist revolutionaries ponying up for yatchs and things?

Personally, I like them because they highlight perhaps the key theme in the Chavez Era: contradiction. There are so many contradictions running through so many aspects of so much of what the government does it makes your headspin.

Bolibourgeoisie - the weird juxtaposition that makes up the neologism itself neatly captures the taste of the incongruities that run through the Chavez era. To my mind, any reporting that helps foreign readers get a feel for the scale of the gap between the official propaganda line and Venezuela's irreducibly complicated, usually contradictory reality is to be commended.