In references to the head of state, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez sometimes speaks of “Mr. Danger” instead of George W. Bush. New York Times South American correspondent Juan Forero in an October story from Caracas mentioned that Chávez has bestowed that nickname-which makes sense on its face–but he didn’t explain what it means to people in the Spanish-speaking world. Neither, it seems, did the American journalists who accompanied President Bush to the recent summit in Mar de Plata.
Could it be that they don’t know?
Mr. Danger is a long-standing figure in Venezuelan life, a character in a 1929 work, many times republished, by the novelist Rómulo Gallegos, who was also Venezuela’s first freely-elected president, brought down in a U.S.-backed 1948 military coup, ten months after he took office.
Gallegos introduced Mr. Danger in Doña Bárbara, a work that has been required reading in Venezuela’s secondary schools for forty years, ever since the return of electoral rule. In Gallegos’ novel, Danger is the exemplar of a type of American once common in rural Venezuela. A man of reddish complexion and deep blue eyes, he shows up in the ranch country of Venezuela’s tropical plains, where he kills alligators and tigers for their skins. Before long, he carries out a series of schemes to “conquer badly defended lands,” Gallegos wrote. In furtherance of his aims, Danger takes part in the murder and burial of an aged cattleman and his mount, but “for him, the scornful foreigner,” Gallegos noted, “there wasn’t much difference between Apolinar and the horse who accompanied him in his grave.” Mr. Danger afterwards usurps the property of a declassed landowner and claims custody of the man’s pubescent daughter, until a neighboring rancher-whom Danger had also defrauded–rescues both, Gallegos writes, “to liberate them from the humiliating tutelage of the foreigner.”
Gallegos died in 1969 and was buried with honors in Venezuela. Though he did not witness American killing, usurpation or tutelage in Iraq, president Chávez, most Venezuelans and millions of Latin Americans are today convinced that the novelist knew George Bush very well.
DICK J. REAVIS is a Texas journalist who is currently an assistant professor of journalism at North Carolina State University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org