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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 September 2007, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
In the TV studio with Chavez
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has a weekly TV programme, Alo Presidente (Hello President), in which he talks about his political ideas, interviews guests and sings and dances. James Ingham, who is currently filming a documentary about him, went to see the programme being made.

President Chavez with musicians on his TV programme
Hugo Chavez has survived a coup and a referendum on his rule

Going to see the president on his weekly TV show means an early start. A government car dropped us at Caracas airport before dawn.

We boarded a small private plane with the minister of communication and three of his assistants.

They were soon asleep as we climbed up over Caracas's coastal mountain range, heading east to an area where much of Venezuela's gas is produced.

After an hour's flight we were transferred to a military helicopter for a noisy but scenic last leg of the journey.

We banked steeply over the gasworks getting a good view of the pipes and tanks, where Mr Chavez would be launching a new energy strategy.

TV roadshow

In the middle of this industrial plant, a temporary studio had been created.

Giant gazebos had been erected, seating arranged, and a few props strategically positioned. A desk in front of a suitable backdrop was surrounded by lights and cameras.

For the first time, the people have the power
Gabriel Ramos, Venezuelan worker
It is an impressive business. This TV roadshow is broadcast every Sunday live on state television.

With just a few days' notice of the location, the programme's producers rig up the outside broadcast, never quite sure what Mr Chavez will be planning.

Flair

In the audience today, there are mainly workers from the state energy company.

They are all dressed in red T-shirts, a few in red jumpsuits, all wearing red caps. It is the uniform of Mr Chavez's supporters.

"We're here to support the revolution and the president," one group of technicians said to me.

"We're all rojo, rojito (red, red)," said Ivones Martinez, referring to the name given to Chavistas.

It refers to the red of the revolution and their 100% commitment to their leader.

Another worker, Gabriel Ramos, told me: "For the first time, the people have the power."

"The president is giving funds directly to us to spend on community projects. This doesn't happen anywhere else."

Mr Chavez started his programme with flair.

Introducing his latest project, he turned a valve and a flame burst from a pipe. He then arrived on set in the back of a jeep and strode towards his desk, all to a round of applause.

He began to talk straight to the camera and into the homes of his fans.

London deal

We had been told that the president would take a couple of questions from us during the show. Quite a rare opportunity.

We probed him on a deal he struck with London's mayor.

Hugo Chavez and Ken Livingstone
President Chavez was a guest of London's mayor in May 2006
London is getting cheap fuel to use in buses so lower fares can be offered to the least well-off users.

In return, Ken Livingstone's officials will try to sort out Caracas's heavily congested streets.

The scheme has been criticised by Boris Johnson, who hopes to be chosen as one of the opposition candidates for the mayor's office.

He has questioned why a country with such poverty is giving to one of the world's richest capitals.

"This man is stupid," Mr Chavez told us. "There are poor people in London. I have seen them."

He explained how he had recouped billions in lost oil revenue and had enough to go round.

"I can help Ken," he said. "Ken the Red. Ken is rojo rojito."

He answered a question on his links with Iran by calling President Ahmadinejad "an extraordinary man".

He said he could deal with whom he liked and that he did not go round telling the UK prime minister that he could not be friends with the "genocidal George Bush".

The trouble with this event and others like it is that there is no dissent, at least not openly

It was classic Chavez - he has never been one to mince his words.

A break from heavy politics came when a children's band struck up.

This probably was not quite the innocent act it might seem.

Mr Chavez had flown them in from Colombia. He wanted to show he was serious about building bridges with his neighbour as he steps into a crisis there between government and rebels.

But it was also a chance to do what comes easily to him.

No dissent

The president danced and sang, hugging the children.

It was not like watching other politicians with children - often such a cringe-making act - Mr Chavez is just a natural.

I thought that might have been the end but I was so wrong.

The hot afternoon wore on, Mr Chavez linked up with other parts of the country by satellite, then he looked at models of new houses running on gas and cars powered by gas.

Mr Chavez says Venezuela is the greatest democracy in the world. But the trouble with this event and others like it is that there is no dissent, at least not openly.

One man did approach me quietly to complain about life working inside the state energy company but everyone else was a supporter.

By now Mr Chavez had been speaking for seven hours. I have to admit I was losing my concentration. The government press team was leaving, so we left too, eager not to miss our lift home.

But there were some in the audience who would have sat there all night.

"He's like our teacher," Marianela Rojas, a young lawyer, said. "We could listen to our president for 12, even 24 hours."

She was not just saying that. She really did mean it.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 22, 2007 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



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