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Backstory: Venezuela's cultural revolution

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Omar Pinto, who works for the popular radio station Radiorama, sits under a framed poster of Madonna as young hipsters walk in and out of the station on a recent day in downtown Caracas. The hit song "Flying between your arms," by Latin pop icon Marc Anthony, comes on the air.

"We play the greatest hits – salsa, rancheros, Cuban music," he says. "See, it's just Latin music. Greatest hits."

A moment later, the station puts out a traditional Venezuelan folk song. It's as if someone flipped a switch on the format. Mr. Pinto can't even name the artist. By airing the song, however, the station helps fulfill its obligation under a federal "social responsibility" law, which mandates that 50 percent of what DJs play be Venezuelan – much of it traditional music.

"No, we wouldn't play that song before," says Pinto, almost laughing at the question. "It's not very popular."

Welcome to another dimension of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's socialist "revolution" and war against the West. The man who recently announced plans to nationalize key industries and who has become the world's most outspoken scold of President Bush also wants to take on Walt Disney and Snoop Dogg.

He is trying to promote a national identity and more independence from "imperialist" America by forcing radio stations to play indigenous music, granting prominent space to amateur Venezuelan artists in museums, and setting up a state-run movie studio. It may be one of the world's bolder – and most controversial – experiments in trying to engineer a culture.

To supporters, the move may well give artists who otherwise might be swept aside by the forces of capitalism and commercialism an opportunity to develop their craft – and, by extension, enhance the artistic diversity of a nation.


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