17 Apr 2011

From Libya to Venice - With Hugo Chavez

Being Latin America correspondent since 2005, stationed in Caracas, I have accompanied Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on many trips in Latin America, but also on his world tours. 

In September 2009 I shared on Al Jazeera English website some of the experiences I lived during one of those Chavez tours. The tour started in Libya, Algeria, Syria. Then Iran and Turkmenistan. And from there to the notorious Venice Film Festival. Then to Belarus, Russia and Spain. However I dropped out of the tour in Venice. 

Here are links to my on-line diary of this tour. It is quite exciting to go around the world with a figure like Hugo Chavez, and even more exciting for me to revisit Arab countries with him.

Chavez on the presidential plane


I did not publish anything online on the visit to Libya although there was quite a lot to say. I did report on it by phone on Al Jazeera Arabic. I was surprised to see how many young men were on the streets of Tripoli. It felt like this mass of energy, doing nothing ! It was Ramadan so people were out on the streets until a very late hour. Suddenly police showed up and started evacuating people. When people wouldn't move, police started using batons. I asked why. I was told that the "leader" might be parading through that particular street so it had to be evacuated. It was the day before the 40th anniversary of Al Fateh Revolution.

Gaddafi dressed up for the military parade
It was the first time that I got to see Muammar Gaddafi really up-close. I was shocked by his face which looked scary. I presume it is because of his plastic surgeries. I stared at him as he stepped out of his electric car and saluted everyone. I was right there in front of him. I could have said hello like many others did around me, but I did not. 

There was a long military parade. It was the first time I saw soldiers, tanks, vehicles and jet fighters of the Libyan army. Little did I know I would be seeing them all again, less than two years later, on TV.. used against the same Libyan people that got beaten by batons on a Tripoli street in front of my own eyes.


Read about Chavez's "triple A alliance", the gorgeous Syrian ladies, the nervous Syrian translator, the ramadan banquet with a delicious Algerian soup and more. All in my online reporter's diary: Chavez Visits Arab Capitals

I was actually banned from reporting on Chavez's trip while in Algeria. It was a typical Arab regime experience. Algerian president's press officer was very aggressive with me. She got into long arguments with Chavez's staff who wanted me to do my job. But that woman made sure I was standing on the grass in Zeralda's beautiful gardens away from the events. She said Al Jazeera was not allowed to operate on Algerian soil. Funny enough the man who was in charge of making sure I did not get access to coverage had Al Jazeera's ringtone on his mobile !

I took this picture in Suwaidah in Southern Syria, hometown of many Venezuelans of Syrian origin, known as Venezuaida :)

Chavez speaking in Venezuaida 


Here is a picture of me reporting live on Al Jazeera (Arabic) from Teheran, veiled. The only place where I ever appeared on TV wearing a hijab!

It says above: Live Teheran, below: Iran - Chavez in Teheran

To learn about my brief encounter with Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, about the first-ever visit by a Christian leader to a religious shrine in Iran, about our Iranian iftar and about Turkmenistan's empty post-soviet style capital, read my online reporter's diary: Chavez Debuts in Central Asia

Brand new yet empty towers everywhere

Ashgabad, the City of Love, was more like a city of ghosts !  And the ladies below are the only Turkmen I met outside the official people, although the ladies were also part of the ceremonial reception. Basically I did not meet anybody casually or on the street ! Simply not possible

In the middle of beautiful Turkmen ladies


Read my online reporter's diary: Chavez meets Stone in Venice about our stopover in the romantic Italian city, for Oliver Stone's "South of the Border" Premiere.

Stone's South of the Border documented 
the rise of Chavez as a revolutionary [AFP]

I was seated just in the row behind Stone and Chavez, to the left of Chavez. It was quite an experience with the revolutionary-president-turned-movie-star !

1 comment:

theitseries said...

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