Chatty Chavez begins Venezuelan talk-show marathon
By Frank Jack Daniel
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's garrulous President Hugo Chavez on Thursday began a marathon four-day edition of his trademark television show to mark 10 years since the influential and widely watched program first hit the airwaves.
Chavez is a tireless talker who uses frequent television appearances to make policy announcements, berate opponents and even sing during rambling speeches often delivered in the florid vernacular of working class Venezuelans.
Normally transmitted on Sundays from a different corner of the South American oil exporting nation each week, 'Alo Presidente' is the boisterous socialist's favorite forum, with the program once running to eight hours.
"'Alo Presidente' starts today and finishes this Sunday, we don't know at what time," Chavez said at the start of Thursday's program broadcast from an electricity plant in Venezuela's oil heartland state Zulia.
Venezuela's media reflect its polarized society, with government stations strongly supporting Chavez and private newspapers and Globovision TV relentlessly critical of the president and his policies.
Chavez believes strongly in the political power of the press and TV. In 2007 he refused to renew the license of the nation's largest television station, implicated in a brief coup against him. This year he has increased pressure on Globovision.
Chavez, who keeps his energy levels high with multiple cups of coffee, has used his television show to announce nationalizations, and rail against the United States.
He once shocked his defense minister on the show by ordering tanks to the border with Colombia.
On Thursday he began the program giving sexual education tips to a group of teenagers and talked about problems with his weight, which has ballooned since he took office in 1999.
Chavez also quoted from a letter written by his close friend Fidel Castro, in which the former Cuban president said "Alo Presidente" had broadcast a total of 1536 hours, or 64 full days, since it was first aired.
"Never has a revolutionary idea made use of the media so effectively," Castro wrote.
(Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera; editing by Patricia Zengerle)