Chavez leads fight for rights – and this time it's personal

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The Independent US

Trouble lies ahead for graffiti artists in Caracas and other cities and towns across Venezuela whose sole professional mission is to plaster every available façade, fence or broken-down bus with brightly painted portraits of the man they call Comandante: President Hugo Chavez is no longer flattered and wants control of his image rights.

Mr Chavez's revolutionary government issued an unusual decree to that effect yesterday. From now on, anyone who is planning to display the President's features on any outdoor structure must first get permission directly from the man himself. Likewise, his image can no longer be used by social groups or other organisations.

Officially, this is about ensuring the image of Mr Chavez henceforth "should be employed under controls which permit his identification as such, in the honourable role of first leader".

But it may be a little late if the goal is to reclaim the Chavez brand and return dignity to it. As any visitor to Caracas will attest, that horse bolted from the stable long ago. Implementing the new order will be hard enough, but peeling away all those paintings of the President that are already around the capital city would be a mammoth undertaking.

The order is clearly serious, though. It bans the use of the "name, image or figure" of Mr Chavez, the former army officer, from "infrastructure projects, constructions, educational establishments or public buildings of any kind" unless express permission has been granted in advance.

And it's not just buildings that are affected, but things such as political literature, even T-shirts. All "political, social and community organisations" hoping to use Chavez's name or face to "identify organisations, societies, goods, works, projects, programmes, social or political activities, etc" must also get the nod from the great man first.

Protecting his retail value may not, however, be the first priority of Mr Chavez, who this week renewed his threat to close Globovision, the last independent television network in his country that is openly critical of him.

Its main shareholder, Guillermo Zuloaga, is in the United States, unable to return home because of serial criminal charges lodged against him.

Mr Chavez said at the weekend that his opponents had offered $100m (£63m) for someone to assassinate him, claiming Mr Zuloaga was involved in the plot.

Mr Chavez said: "He's going around conspiring against the government, and they're all collecting money to pay the person who kills me."