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Venezuela's president stars in cheery videos amid chaos

The spark for the march came from an attempt by the Supreme Court to shut down the opposition-controlled National Assembly; Steve Harrigan has the story for Special Report

 

As antigovernment protests and deadly unrest shake the streets here, President Nicolás Maduro is presenting an image of a very different country in videos that show him strolling through bucolic settings, hip-hop dancing and swinging on a swing set with his wife.

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"Peace will prevail," the former bus driver says in one video as he drives other ruling-party officials through a middle-class neighborhood in his car. The footage inadvertently shows them cruising past graffiti that calls the president a "murderer of students," an apparent reference to some of the people killed in numerous clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

Mr. Maduro is facing mounting calls for his ouster amid a crumbling economy and shortages that have many poor people scrounging through trash for food. But in a series of unevenly edited videos he has posted on social media recently, the embattled leftist leader assures viewers that all is fine and that he is comfortably in charge, firmly guiding the country while small groups of detractors make trouble.

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"We have to keep Venezuela in the game of peace," Mr. Maduro said in one offering as he plays catch on a manicured baseball field with the country's No. 2, Diosdado Cabello, both of them wearing monogrammed uniforms.

After Mr. Maduro rules one of his own pitches a strike, he vows to crush "brutal fascist attacks," snags a pop-up ball and shouts, "Winning!"

Savvy state propaganda helped Mr. Maduro's late predecessor, Hugo Chávez, forge a messianic following among Venezuela's slum-dwelling masses. Media experts say Mr. Maduro is imitating his mentor's reality-show-like media strategy, which allowed him to win over the country with his folksy charm. But for many Venezuelans, the current president comes across as tone-deaf and out of touch with his countrymen.

"For some time, Maduro and officialdom have been determined to negate reality," said Alberto Barrera, who wrote a book about Mr. Chávez and closely tracks the government's media strategies. "He's acting as if nothing were happening. It's as if he lived somewhere else."

Venezuela, once an economic model for Latin America, is racked by sky-high inflation, rampant crime and hunger. At least 29 people have been killed in nearly a month of civil unrest. Mr. Maduro's media campaign reflects little of that grim reality.

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