CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela seems to lurch from one crisis to another. President Hugo Chávez has virtually disappeared since going to Cuba for cancer surgery more than eight weeks ago. Last month, 58 people were killed in a prison when inmates clashed with soldiers. Inflation is spiking, the government just announced a currency devaluation, and lurid homicides are the stuff of daily headlines.
High on the list of government priorities last week was an unexpected item: baseball caps. Even in a country where political theater of the absurd is commonplace, the great cap kerfuffle took many Venezuelans by surprise.
It started last summer, when a state governor, Henrique Capriles, ran for president against Chávez. Capriles started wearing a baseball cap decorated with the national colors — yellow, blue and red — and the stars of the Venezuelan flag.
In response, the electoral council, dominated by Chávez loyalists, threatened to sanction Capriles for violating a rule against using national symbols in the campaign. The move struck many people as partisan because Chávez regularly wore clothes made up of the national colors and patterned on the flag and used vast amounts of government resources to promote his re-election.
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Suddenly, the tricolor cap became a symbol of Capriles’ underdog campaign, and soon it could be seen everywhere, on the noggins of his supporters.
But Capriles lost in October, and the cap was mostly forgotten. Until last week.
At a rally Monday to celebrate the anniversary of a failed 1992 coup led by Chávez, some government officials pulled out caps like the one Capriles had made famous and put them on.
Had Chávez’s top cadre switched sides? Nope.
“It is the cap of the revolution,” Vice President Nicolas Maduro said.
He held up the hat, which had a small emblem commemorating the coup’s anniversary, and shouted, “Cap in hand! Tricolor in hand, everyone!”
A day later, at a session of the National Assembly, legislators on both sides of the aisle showed up wearing caps. The chamber looked like the stands at a baseball game.
Then came a new twist Thursday night, when the government interrupted regular television and radio programming. Venezuelans worried about the ailing Chávez’s long absence might have wondered whether they were about to get an update on this health.
Nope. The two-minute broadcast consisted of images of Chávez, at various points of his 14-year presidency, wearing the tricolor cap.