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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 15:20 GMT
Venezuelans 'ban' political chat
By Greg Morsbach
In Caracas

Crowds protest against President Hugo Chavez
Feelings are strong over politics in Venezuela
In Venezuela, it is politics that dominates the conversation.

Often the debates can get too heated.

So much so that some restaurants and shops in the capital Caracas are discouraging people from talking about politics.

At one Italian cafe in the east of city, there is a sign above the counter which reads in bold letters, "Here it is forbidden to talk about politics."

"We decided to put this sign up because we'd simply had enough of all the heated political discussions between our clients," Johnny Carlucci, the manager of the bar, told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"This endless political debate was spoiling the atmosphere of my cafe."

Punch-ups

Venezuela has been through a lot politically in recent times.

The current President, Hugo Chavez, came to power in 1998, promising to end corruption, but his term has been marked by political unrest and deep divisions.

Venezuelans are now waiting to hear if there will be a referendum which could oust him.

But the intensity of the constant debate has meant that for some, enough is enough.

President Hugo Chavez
Chavez's presidency is often controversial
"Sometimes these arguments between pro-Chavez and anti-Chavez customers turned violent," Mr Carlucci said.

"We had several punch-ups, causing damage to the premises.

"Now our policy is simply - if you want to talk about politics, do it outside."

The cafe is not alone in telling its customers to stay clear of politics.

"We have a policy here to try to get people to relax and forget [the political situation], and go on with their life," David Smith, who runs Read Books bookstore and cafe in Caracas, told Outlook.

The cafe is lined with sofas and chairs to encourage this relaxation, so politics - which Mr Smith says is "in front of your face all the time" - is an unwelcome topic.

Dirty business

This frowning on political talk is an indication of the way that politics has invaded nearly every aspect of peoples' lives.

Since the failed coup against Mr Chavez in April 2002 - and a two-month general strike called by the opposition - the president has increased his verbal attacks against his opponents.

Soap operas and baseball games are sometimes interrupted to make way for the latest news conference from President Chavez, who refers to his opposition as "oligarchs" and "fascists."

But Venezuela's media - largely in the hands of opposition members - is just as aggressive in its tone, labelling Mr Chavez a "communist" and a "dictator".

Even salsa bands are singing about politics - with pro- and anti-Chavez lines worked into the beat.

Meanwhile other bands, such as ska act Desorden Publico, are gaining popularity with their message that politics is a dirty business.

Desorden Publico's lyrics are often critical of both the government and the opposition.

"One song sings about all those guys with a lot of political power who do what they want to do," Horacio Blanco, lead singer of Venezuelan ska band Desorden Publico.

"They betray the people who trust them."


SEE ALSO:
Bishop attacks 'Chavez control'
22 Dec 03  |  Americas
Anti-Chavez drive claims success
02 Dec 03  |  Americas
Venezuela TV station raided
04 Oct 03  |  Americas
Venezuela's economic legacy
29 Jun 03  |  Business
Country profile: Venezuela
08 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Venezuela
13 Sep 03  |  Country profiles


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