The New York Times reported yesterday that Hugo Chávez’s regime encourages street artists to paint graffiti that jibes with official ideology—specifically, anti-Americanism. One mural in the capital city of Caracas depicts a warrior holding the severed head of Secretary of State Clinton; another shows President Obama, in Santa Claus suit, handing out “Afghanistan” and “Iraq” missiles.
Scratch the surface of Venezuela’s left-wing authoritarian government, and not infrequently you will find anti-Semitism. Though by no means the dominant strand of “Chavismo,” the government has repeatedly found that blaming various ills on the Jews (including members of Venezuela’s 12,000-strong but dwindling Jewish community) serves its purposes. Certainly it’s not too large a leap to make (and the Times makes it) between officially sanctioned anti-American graffiti and the swastikas that vandals spray-painted onto a prominent Sephardic synagogue in Caracas last year.
The article profiles Saúl Guerrero, one of the most prominent street artists who isn’t endorsed by the regime: most of his work consists of sad portraits of destitute people, perhaps a subtle form of protest. “I wanted to get away from the European-looking faces that dominate advertising in Venezuela,” he told the Times, “in an attempt to trigger people into thinking about the reality of the place we live.”
He goes by the name “Ergo”; when his name appeared in a magazine, he was denounced for being, yup, Jewish. Which he isn’t. Except, perhaps, in spirit.