Friday, November 30, 2007

Is This Why Chavez Wants to Police the Names Given to Kids in Venezuela?

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am fascinated by what the NY Times calls "the culture of naming" in Latin America. The German, French or faux composite Spanish/French/German names spelled in a hybrid Spanish manner of some of my Puerto Rican relatives, those I read on name tags at the Asssociated Super Market, or see on the screen while watching Miss Universe...they all obsess me. Reyna, Yesenia, Jeanmarie, Delorean, Elvis, Harold, you name it! And now in Spain, too, my compatriots name their children Yonatan, or Yenifer. Fabulous.

Thanks to Simon Romero in Caracas, we learned that the dictator Chavez wants to curtail such practices and limit approved Revolutionary Bolivarian names to a set list. (see below under Real News/Miss Universe). His disgruntled Congressman Iroshima Perez is offended. And now we learn that the leader of the student group opposing the regime is named STALIN Gonzalez. Obviouly, this is pronounced EHS-TAH-LEEN. You cannot make this stuff up. Realismo Magico at its best. And I have been told by my beloved Venezuelan friends that there are cases of telenovela writers who are also avant-garde theatre authors with names like IBSEN (that would be their first name of course). I remember meeting a man from Peru who went by the first name LENIN. So the heroic student leader Stalin isn't an exception.

The Wall Street Journal

To Oppose Chávez, Youth In Caracas Rally Behind Stalin
That's Ivan Stalin González, Student-Movement Leader; A Broad Dissent on Campus
November 24, 2007; Page A1

CARACAS, Venezuela -- As Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez attempts to push through what he calls 21st-Century Socialism, his biggest obstacle is an army of students led by a leftist named Stalin. Ivan Stalin González, who prefers to be called just plain Stalin, is president of the student body at the Central University of Venezuela, or UCV, Venezuela's biggest public university. During the past few weeks, Mr. González and other student leaders here have organized protest marches by tens of thousands of students opposed to a constitutional referendum set for Dec. 2. The proposed changes would dramatically expand Mr. Chávez's power and allow him to seek perpetual re-election.

The student movement has taken the government by surprise, highlighting an embarrassing irony for the fiery Mr. Chávez: University students, long a bastion of the left here as in the rest of Latin America, are overwhelmingly opposed to him. They have also emerged, along with the Catholic Church, as among the last major opposition to Mr. Chávez in a country where he already controls the congress, courts, army and most media outlets.

Students like Mr. González have traditionally played an outsized role in Latin America's turbulent politics. In the 1950s, University of Havana students led a struggle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Fidel Castro, who forced Mr. Batista from power -- and who is Mr. Chávez's revered mentor -- got his start as a student leader at the university. In Mexico, a massacre of students and other protestors in 1968 helped inspire the creation of half a dozen small guerilla groups in the 1970s. And in Venezuela, UCV holds an important place in political history. In 1957, a student strike that began here eventually led to the downfall of dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Half a century later, many Venezuelans hope Mr. Chávez will meet his political Stalingrad at UCV. "Student struggles have always preceded great historical changes," says Fernando Ochoa, a former defense minister who was jailed when he participated in the 1957 strike as a high school student.

Anti-Chávez sentiment on Venezuelan campuses burst into the open in May, when the government pulled the plug on RCTV, a television network critical of Mr. Chávez. Tens of thousands of students viewed the move as a blow to freedom of speech. They were also alarmed by Mr. Chávez's promises that the "revolution within the university" would be next -- likely expanding government control over areas like the curriculum. They took to the streets, creating a protest movement in campuses across the country. The Dec. 2 referendum has sparked a round of new protests. Caught off guard, Mr. Chávez has called the students "terrorists" and written them off as "pampered, rich mama's boys." UCV, which charges no tuition, has a range of students, from the scions of businessmen to the sons of taxi drivers.

Mr. Chávez's description also hardly fits Mr. González. The 27-year-old, sixth-year law student grew up in a poor household that dreamed of a Communist Venezuela. His father, a print-machine operator, was a high-ranking member of the Bandera Roja, or Red Flag, a hard-line Marxist-Leninist party that maintained a guerrilla force until as recently as the mid-1990s. Its members revered Josef Stalin as well as Albania's xenophobic Enver Hoxha. As a boy, Mr. González remembers packing off to marches with his sisters, Dolores Engels and Ilyich, named in honor of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. As a young man, Mr. González burnished his leftist credentials, joining Marxist youth groups and following his father into the Bandera Roja. He traveled to Socialist youth conferences in Latin America. Mr. González was still in his teens when Mr. Chávez was voted into office in late 1998. Even then, he says, he was skeptical about Mr. Chávez's socialist rhetoric, as are many Venezuelan leftists. Mr. Chávez, a lieutenant colonel who had staged an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1992, would be more authoritarian than egalitarian, Mr. González reasoned.

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