Venezuela, Despite Troubles, Proudly Seizes on a Hat

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CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela seems to lurch from one crisis to another. President Hugo Chávez has virtually disappeared since going to Cuba for cancer surgery more than eight weeks ago. Last month, 58 people were killed in a prison when inmates clashed with soldiers. Inflation is spiking, the government just announced a currency devaluation and lurid murders are the stuff of daily headlines.

But high on the list of government priorities last week was an unexpected item: baseball caps.

Even in a country where political theater of the absurd is commonplace, the great cap kerfuffle took many Venezuelans by surprise.

It all started over the summer, when a young state governor, Henrique Capriles, ran for president against Mr. Chávez. Mr. Capriles started wearing a baseball cap decorated with the national colors -- yellow, blue and red -- and the stars of the Venezuelan flag.

In response, the electoral council, dominated by Chávez loyalists, threatened to sanction Mr. Capriles for violating a rule against using national symbols in the campaign. The move struck many people as patently partisan because Mr. Chávez regularly wore clothes made up of the national colors and patterned on the flag and used vast amounts of government resources to promote his re-election.

Suddenly, the tricolor cap became a symbol of Mr. Capriles's underdog campaign, and soon it could be seen everywhere, on the noggins of his supporters.

But Mr. Capriles lost the election in October, and the cap was mostly forgotten. Until now.

At a rally on Monday to celebrate the anniversary of a failed 1992 coup led by Mr. Chávez, a host of government officials unexpectedly pulled out caps like the one Mr. Capriles had made famous and put them on.

Had Mr. Chávez's top cadre switched sides? Nothing of the sort.

"It is the cap of the revolution," Vice President Nicolás Maduro said from the stage. "They can't steal it like they're accustomed to stealing it."

He held up the hat, which had a small emblem commemorating the coup's anniversary, and shouted, "Cap in hand! Tricolor in hand, everyone!"

A day later, at a session of the National Assembly, legislators on both sides of the aisle showed up wearing caps. The chamber looked like the stands at a baseball game.

All of this has given rise to plenty of jokes.

"The cap -- expropriate it!" said one wag on Twitter, referring to a famous episode when Mr. Chávez, a socialist, in what seemed like a spontaneous act, ordered the nationalization of several buildings in the center of Caracas.

Then came a new twist on Thursday night, when the government interrupted regular television and radio programming with a special broadcast. Anxious Venezuelans worried about Mr. Chávez's long absence might have wondered if they were about to get an update on the president's health.

Nope. The two-minute broadcast consisted of images of Mr. Chávez, at various points of his 14-year presidency, wearing the tricolor cap.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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