Chavez revolution losing steam in Venezuelan slums

Thu Apr 22, 2010 4:56pm EDT
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By Anthony Boadle

CARACAS (Reuters) - In some of Latin America's largest slums ringing the Venezuelan capital, Cuban doctors vaccinate children, monitor pregnant women and conduct free eye tests where no medical services existed before.

Along with literacy and education programs and subsidized food, the clinics were part of an oil-for-doctors deal with Cuba's communist government that helped President Hugo Chavez win a second term with a landslide four years ago.

High oil prices meant the former soldier turned leftist revolutionary could drive down poverty to below 50 percent in South America's top crude exporter.

But many feel Chavez has not done enough during 11 years in power to change life in the teeming shantytowns where more than a million people live in red-brick tin-roof houses clinging precariously to the hills.

"Nothing has changed. All governments have been the same," said Felicia Blanco, 63, a resident of the eastern Caracas slum of Petare who is scared to leave her home.

Facing a test in September legislative elections, Chavez risks losing ground in his main bastions of support where garbage piles up, sewers leak and running water becomes scarce higher up the hillsides.

In 1999, a mudslide wiped out whole neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000. Chavez vowed to build decent housing and move people from the slums, which rampant crime make among the most dangerous in the hemisphere. He is far behind his targets.

"This is the most populist government we have ever had in terms of handing out free things in return for votes," said Father Alejandro Moreno, a Spanish-born Salesian priest and sociologist who has lived in the Petare slum for 30 years.   Continued...

<p>A family walks down stairs in the slum of Petare in Caracas April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Edwin Montilva</p>