Sunday, February 25, 2018

Chavez's fate lies in Venezuela's divided barrios

CARACAS, Venezuela — The last time he ran for re-election, President Hugo Chávez won comfortably in Petare, one of Latin America's biggest slums with nearly half a million people.

This time around, as Venezuelans vote today, he may not.

Challenger Henrique Capriles — known as "El Flaco" or "The Skinny One" — has built a surprisingly large following in what was once clear Chávez territory across Venezuela. The fervent support for the president among the working poor he's graced with state largesse has eroded.

"'El Flaco' owns the street!" Maria Hernandez, 62, shouted from her paneless window in a 1,500-family slice of Petare known as José Félix Ribas.

The barrio, planted on a steep hillside, is run by a community council of Chávez loyalists.

Farther up the hillside, orange flags of one of the parties backing the 40-year-old opposition candidate fly from a second-floor window of Ivana Villamizar's home.

"If Chávez wins, I'm thinking of leaving the country," she says. "I really don't want my children's future to be in a country in this condition."

The 25-year-old nurse, a mother of 5-year-old and 18-month-old boys, has spent more than half her life under Chávez's rule and said she thinks Chávez has done a lot of good, but not enough.

"What hurts Chávez are the people who surround him. They don't help because they are a band of thieves," she says. "The police are themselves crooks."

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