Venezuela’s President Chávez on Campaign in Caracas Poor Neighborhoods

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frias was greeted by thousands of supporters yesterday in the barrio of Petare in Caracas as he continued his campaign for re-election.

By Steven Mather -
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Caracas , November 2, 2006 (— Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frias was greeted by thousands of supporters yesterday in the barrio of Petare in Caracas as he continued his campaign for re-election.

He began the tour at about 4 in the afternoon where he opened a new health clinic, one of the popular clinics associated with the community health program Mission Barrio Adentro and where there are usually several Cuban doctors working.

Petare is claimed by some to be the biggest barrio in Latin America with more than 1 million inhabitants. It is at the far east of the city and sprawls over the hills that surround Caracas.

The sea of red caps, t-shirts and flags--the standard outfit for Chavistas--seemed to go on forever. There was even a large blow-up Chávez doll. As is the norm at political rallies in Venezuela the music was pumping and the beer was flowing. The crowds were cheering, waving and singing. Not one person could be found to say a bad word against Chávez.

José Antonio Pérez, 64, has lived in Petare all his life. He said it was an honour to have Chávez in the his barrio, “For me this is one of the greatest days of my life. There have been many changes here since President Chávez came to power in 1998: health and education facilities have improved our lives here in Petare so much. And without the president none of it would have happened. For that reason we must ensure he is elected again,” he said.

It was the same with the younger members of the community. María Cristina Álvarez, 16, said, “Our president is here with us today and we are here to thank him for defending us against the squalid ones [the upper middle classes who hate Chávez].” She said thanks to Chávez she was going to have the opportunity to go to university where she planned to study law.

After opening the clinic Chávez toured the barrio in a truck, waving at the crowds to show his appreciation for the turn out. Places like Petare are Chávez heartlands. There will be few people there who vote for the opposition candidate Manuel Rosales in these areas. Finally, after about an hour and a half in the barrio, Chávez said his good byes and left. He must have left confident that Petare is safely a “red” district.

On the same day Chávez was in Petare it was announced by the government that public sector workers would be receiving a Christmas bonus of around 3 months salary – but unusually it will be given in November, that is, before the election. This has broad harsh criticism from the opposition,

“He's trying to move Christmas forward, speeding up the economic growth that occurs at that time of year, so the people forget a little bit about what we have been proposing,” said Jose Vicente Carrasquero, a campaign organizer for the Rosales campaign.

However, the government denied this. Vice president José Vicente Rangel said that the bonus, “is not a manner of buying a vote as it's been said within the evil-intentioned circles of the political adversaries. It's an act of love." Also, others note that according to Venezuelan law, the bonus is supposed to be paid in November and the government is merely promising to make sure that the law is being complied with. Usually, Venezuelans receive the bonus in December.

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