What a Difference a Day Makes

Venezuela's patriotic celebrations here began on July 5 and included a performance of
Venezuela's patriotic celebrations here began on July 5 and included a performance of "Venezuela Viva" at the Organization of American States. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 8, 2007

Imagine you're Hugo Chávez's man in Washington, and you live less than two miles from the White House, whose occupant your boss has called a drunken, sulfur-smelling "political cadaver."

Some days must be harder than others.

"Being an ambassador of Venezuela in the U.S. is sort of an unhappy happiness," says Bernardo Alvarez with a wistful smile.

But he doesn't look all that unhappy. He looks revolutionarily liberated -- at least from his stuffy ambassador's tie and suit coat, for which he apologizes, explaining that the official residence has been turned upside down for Independence Day preparations, completely overrun with cooks and musicians, and it's impossible to get in there to change or do anything else.

Wait, Independence Day? Is Team Chávez going all Yankee Doodle Dandy on us?

No! But in one of those excellent ironies of the calendar, Venezuela's Cinco de Julio begins just as smoke from Fourth of July fireworks -- that sulfur smell again! -- clears, with parties extending into the wee hours of July 7. July was a good month to throw off colonial masters. (Also see: Argentina, Colombia and Peru).

The U.S. and Venezuela even share a revolutionary hero or two.

But the Venezuelans don't do fireworks. By midnight Friday, Alvarez would be crooning folk ballads under a tent in the ambassadorial garden on Massachusetts Avenue NW, backed by a band of traditional cuatro players, before a crowd of Chavista true believers and international allies, who were dancing and throwing red roses.

By the time he starts singing, he will know if anyone from the Bush administration showed up to help celebrate.

"We hope they come," the ambassador says with a smile.

* * *

The morning of July 5, the statue of a sword-wielding Simón Bolívar mounted on a steed towers over a small group of diplomats and military officers on a plaza near the White House. The dignitaries represent Venezuela and other Latin American countries. Bolívar led Venezuela to independence from Spain on July 5, 1811. Born in Caracas, the dashing commander also helped free Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Panama.

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