There is something quaint—flattering, even—about the way Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez insists on calling George W. Bush “Mr. Danger.” The taunt, which Chávez delivers in English with rolled-out vowels and pinched consonants, evokes an earlier era of cloak-and-dagger politics and lends Bush a certain mystery that he is generally denied in these shrill times of stateless terrorism. Mr. Danger, it turns out, is a minor character in Rómulo Gallegos’s 1929 novel Doña Barbara, a landmark in Venezuelan literature and before the fiction boom of the 1970s one of the most widely read Latin American novels in the world. A “great mass of muscles under red skin, with a pair of very blue eyes,” he is one of many unsympathetic misters who populate 20th-century Latin American social and magical realist prose, beginning in 1904 with the Chilean writer Baldomero Lillo’s abusive mine foreman Mr. Davis and continuing through Mr. Brown, the manager of a U.S. banana company in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
In Doña Barbara, the inhabitants of Venezuela’s untamed southern plains at first welcome the arrival of Mr. Danger, believing that he will bring “new ideas” to help modernize the region’s agricultural production. Their hopes are quickly dashed as the “scornful foreigner” loafs in his hammock, smoking his pipe and living off rustled cattle, stirring only to shoot alligators and ply his neighbor with liquor to steal his property and despoil his daughter. Mr. Danger is a “humorist in his own way” who, when introducing himself, repeats his surname in Spanish— peligro—“to emphasize its disconcerting translation.” It’s a trick Chávez, also easy with a joke, likewise enjoys: “The greatest peligro in the world,” he warns, “is Mr. Danger.”
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