Sunday, November 20, 2005

Hugo Chavez Doll Big Venezuela Seller

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 Hugo Chavez Doll Big Venezuela Seller

Christopher Toothaker
Associated Press
Nov. 19, 2005 12:00 AM

CARACAS, Venezuela - Shoppers at Venezuela's biggest mall are snapping up talking dolls of President Hugo Chavez, and a merchant says they've become popular among supporters and foes alike.

The doll sports the Venezuelan leader's signature red military beret and, at the pull of a cord, repeats a revolutionary slogan, "It's your dream, it's your hope, and it's your job to be free and equal."

Douglas Bustamante, who works at the shop at Caracas' Sambil mall, said he sold out of the 18-inch action figures Friday. He said shoppers have bought 600 from him since they hit the shelves six weeks ago at $28 apiece.

"People of all kinds, Chavez supporters and opponents, have bought them," he said.

Chavez, a former army officer, has drawn both supporters and enemies through his close ties to Cuba's Fidel Castro and his fiery criticism of the U.S. government and Venezuela's wealthy "oligarchy."

Since he was elected in 1998 on promises of helping the poor, Chavez's influence over Venezuelan politics has grown.

"I arrived here to do all humanly possible to help all the Venezuelan people," says another recording in the doll.

He isn't the only Latin leader whose image is being hawked this Christmas.

Stores in Caracas carry likenesses of political celebrities past and present, including revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Castro.

Although only one store appears to be selling the "Chavecito," wooden statuettes and other images of the Venezuelan leader fill stores nationwide.

"Of all the people represented here, Chavez sells the most; people buy Chavez statuettes, sometimes as a joke, to get a rise out of friends who hate him," said Elizabeth Morais, a 32-year-old store clerk.

Henry Falcon, a retired teacher who supports Chavez, laughed aloud when he saw puppets of Chavez and former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein hanging in the store window.

"It looks like there's something for everyone here," Falcon said, smiling.


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