Book of the Week: Comandante


ComandanteRory Carroll’s Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela is BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week: an abridged version is being read on air in five instalments – 10 minutes each -throughout this week. It’s a great chance to hear Rory’s book read by a professional, but hurry: they don’t leave these online forever.

Buy them together!
Buy them together!
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  1. Just finished it today at lunchtime. What a fantastic achievement. Congratulations, Mr. Carroll! (I assume you are a frequent visitor here — it’s the only website he lists as a reference!)

    Next up — the Kindle edition of “Blogging the Revolution.”

  2. Let’s hope the gang of antediluvian British leftists the CNE has invited to ‘accompany’ the 14A election catch a few episodes before they board the plane. A forlorn hope, really, they’re headed by Richard Gott and Hugh O’Shaughnessy.

      • So presumably Gott thinks the present election is unconstitutional. Speaking of Chavez’ possible death, he writes (just beforethe party line changes in December): : “”Were this to happen, the Venezuelan constitution would grind into action, causing Diosdado Cabello, the president of the national assembly and an old military comrade of Chávez, to be catapulted briefly into the presidency and charged with holding a presidential election within 30 days.”

        If I had a chance to ask, I’d want to know why it’s now okay to violate the Constitution to obtain the incumbency advantage in an election.

  3. The book is marvelous. Just finished it today, what a complete picture, he really touches the main points of the story. One of my favorite quotes “In power he sharpened his oratory into a precise instrument. It was not the forensic mastery of Cicero, or the stirring beauty of Churchill, but the informal language of the street elevated to something sublime”.
    He really made and effort to understand the complexity of the situation and to show both sides of the fence. And so many details I didn’t know about how Chavez lead the country, it was fascinating. Really well done.

  4. Truly a fascinating listen. Now, I really must get the book! Mr. Carroll, you’ve had a remarkable opportunity, and the narrative of your time observing Chávez et al is (at least the abridged version) very well done. Congratulations!

  5. It’s funny but our two books really work together. At first they appear similar, but actually they complement each other. Rory writes superbly about Chávez and his government. Juan and I go about it a bit differently: we deal more with what happened to the society and to the country as a result of what Chávez and his government did. His is a book about Chavez, ours is a book about the Chávez era – and they’re actually two quite seperate things.

    Sure, we don’t have Rory’s reporting skills, that’s clear. But because we’re not bound by the rules of reportorial impartiality that he has to deal with, we can be analytical in a different way.

    I’m thrilled is now suggesting that people buy the two books together. I think they make a great combo.

    • Yes, I wondered about that, too about two books with about the same number of pages. “Comandante”, being a hardback, involves higher costs of production than does a paperback, like “Blogging”. And yet, the hardback costs a good 50% less than the paperback. Can someone ‘splain that?

    • Quico has a niche market that Rory has to a much lesser degree. He knows some people will buy it at slightly expensive and that not that many more would buy it at cheap.

    • Expensive?! It’s the best of TEN YEARS of free work! A digest bringing together the key bits culled from over 6000 posts. You end up paying about half a U.S. cent per post! And if that’s still too much somehow, you can buy the e-book and pay about 0.16 US cent per post…Dude, that’s practically free.

  6. Thanks all for the kind words. And, in advance, for any constructive critiques too. While based in Italy, Africa and Iraq people used to ask me if I’d do a book and I always said no, the reporting day job was enough. Chavez was different. No matter how many articles I and other corrs would pump out, opinions abroad about the guy were unhinged. Monster or hero. It became really, really annoying to the point I thought, bugger, I’ll have to do a book.
    Looking forward to delivery of Blogging the Revolution. As Quico said, there’s just something about paper.

    • I think people like to deal in absolutes. Thus viewing Chavez as a monster or a hero as outsiders is both natural and a bit problematic when he was actually a bit of both.

      Both books go into my queue and I’ll pick them up when they hit about #4 in line…sadly, I’ve 12 ahead of them.

    • Hey Rory,

      My favorite bit of the book is the story of that girl in Merida in Episode 3 of the radio serialization. The book circles around to similar kinds of stories, each a bit different, but each with the same emotional core. Immersed as I am in the Venezuela story, the descriptions of the psychological conflict, the self-loathing that a certain type of chavista official goes through was completely eye-opening for me.

      It strikes me that nobody ever talks about that – it’s easier to dehumanize them, to see them as unthinking automatons or ideological extremists relishing the dirty work. I’m sure there’s some of that, but your book got at a much more mundane, much sadder, but much more real story about the feelings and motivations of the people who are actual at the coal face, implementing the policies that destroy our ability to live together in peace. They need a job. They’re under no illusions about what they’re doing. But they need that 15 y último.

      It was the most affecting bit in the book, and I’m really glad it got into the serialization.

      Are you still in contact with that girl? I wonder what she’s up to now…

      • Great point. Same for the description of the Pdvsa manager who hated, hated being forced to march for those “malditos, desgraciados,” but does it anyway…

    • I have a couple of minor, minor quibbles with the book: the mention of the Amuay explosion portrays it as if the entire refinery blew up, which was not the case. There was another very minor thing elsewhere, but I didn’t write it down after noticing it… will take another look at the book this week.

  7. Most of the low and mid ranking government/chavista officials I met were simpaticos. Typically young, diligent and enthusiastic, doing regular administrative jobs. It was Teresita’s (not her real name by the way) tough luck to be assigned la lista. It made her complicit in something foul, and she was too young to figure a way out, at least during the time I knew her. I’ve no idea what I’d have done in her position.
    I’m not holding my breath but I’d love to read a memoir by a member of Chavez’s inner cabal. Shame Venezuela doesn’t have much of a tradition of kiss and tell.

    • Heck, we’re still waiting the mythical memoirs of Pedro Estrada, Pérez Jiménez’s right-hand and “Latin America’s Himmler”. So yeah, don’t hold your breath.

    • Well… At least there’s a literary tradition!

      Check out El Pasajero de Truman by Francisco Suniaga.

      Remember Escalante!

    • My own take too on many chavistas being regular laid back unassumming good natured Venezuelan’s on a personal level who might become transformed into something less pleasant when taking on the ‘persona’ of ‘passionate revolutionaries’ . On a personal level any one of us can have many Chavista leaning friends who provided you dont delve too directly on the Dear Leaders flaws can make for good company . Moreover many of them will allow themselves to be critical of many aspects of the process provided you are not to loud in showing your dislike for its excesses.

    • Rory i just hope it stays online, so i can listen to your abridged version tomorrow. I just came back from watching the chilean movie “NO”, it has so many similarities and at the same time dissimilarities to our own mini campaign it left me :O

    • Mr. Carroll, your narrative style is exquisite. You have a way of capturing the historical significance of seemingly trivial moments that I lived through, and forgot about ( the La Francia Aló Presidente… I remember watching that in its entirety and what a crazy day that was…), and transporting me back to them with such delicate attention to detail, I felt like I was watching a movie when listening to the audio clips. I´m definitely buying the book!!

    • That’s “El debate ideológico” chavistas defend, any question that doesn’t contain ridiculous amounts of praise and adulation gets answered with no answer, but instead insults and unrelated tantrums about how bad things are in the developed world.


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