In the Bible, shepherds and wise men paid homage to the newborn baby Jesus. In Venezuela, it seems Hugo Chavez turned up in the manger, too.
A Nativity scene in Caracas showing the socialist president standing before the traditional crib-in-a-manger has stirred up a pre-Christmas controversy in the politically polarized country.
“It has nothing to do with the real Nativity, with religion. I don’t like it,” said passerby Arnaldo Amundaray, tutting as he took a close look at the model.
For Chavez supporters and the Nativity’s creators, it is a legitimate and innocent tribute to their man.
“The intention is to show off all the revolution’s achievements because the media silence the good things President Chavez has done,” said Maria Alejandra Mijares, a Women’s Ministry employee who helped make the Nativity.
The lovingly constructed model, which stands in a concourse of residential and business towers in central Caracas, has the traditional Christian scene at its heart. But it also politicizes the Nativity by paying tribute to some of Chavez’s most popular policies during his 13-year rule.
To symbolize his infrastructure achievements there is a miniature cable car reaching up to a replica shantytown. The flagship social projects of the Chavez government, including his Barrio Adentro (Inside the Slum) clinics, also are painstakingly represented.
In the middle — in front of and below Jesus’s crib — stands Chavez next to a model of his hero, South America’s 18th century independence fighter Simon Bolivar.