Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is lifting the Caracas barrios out of poverty and giving the slums a new kind of meaning.

On his time as the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez's has established a track record of aggressive moves to remedy economic inequality by redistributing the country's considerable oil wealth. Unsurprisingly, this has won him many supporters among the nation's urban poor, perhaps no more so than in the barrios (shantytowns) of Caracas. One of these barrios is named José Félix Ribas; perched on the eastern hillsides of the capital, it is said to be one of the largest altin Latin America. An estimated 120,000 people live here, spread over 96 hectares (237 acres), most of them in rickety houses known as ranchos.


The woman who appeared in failed opposition candidate Manuel Rosales' campaign promoting his main social proposal – the welfare debit card known as Mi Negra – is a local resident. While the opposition's supporters claimed growing discontent with the government, to the expected benefit of Rosales' Un Nuevo Tiempo party, the barrio remained Chávez's heartland in the 2006 presidential elections.

Access to free primary health care and dentistry – through the public health reform program known as Mission Barrio Adentro ("Mission Inside the Barrio") – is one of the most important improvements that the residents of José Félix Ribas say they have experienced under Chávez. Most of the doctors and dentists here are Cubans who have moved to the barrio as part of a deal under which Cuba receives cheap oil from Venezuela.


Many barrio residents get their groceries from the Mercales, government-subsidized shops which sell food – including meat, dairy products, and vegetables – at a considerable discount. Here, a kilo of powdered milk costs just over $2, rather than the $6 price tag found in regular supermarkets.

Food from the Mercales also gets sent to a number of barrio homes in which free meals for up to 150 people are prepared. In these casas de alimentación, small groups of women make lunch and an afternoon snack and pack them into containers for their neighbors. The owner of the house decides the daily menu.


Venezuela is baseball-mad, and José Félix Ribas is no exception. From the age of three, boys start training in "baseball nurseries." For a few, the game can be a way out of poverty, and most people will tell you proudly that there are a hundred Venezuelans playing Major League Baseball in the US.


Dumping is a huge problem in the barrios of Caracas, despite campaigns encouraging people to use the bins provided.

"We have to educate people so they don't just dump their rubbish wherever they feel like it, but it is proving very difficult," says one local leader.

In José Félix Ribas, some neighbors are trying to organize a recycling facility.

TV Man

If the neighbors want the alleyways that run between their homes to be lit at night, they get together and sort it out. For other projects such as sewers or pavement, they apply for government grants to buy the necessary materials and then do the work themselves.

The stairs that lead to the otherwise inaccessible parts of the barrio have been built by residents, but are often steep, uneven or in bad condition. For older people, children and disabled people, especially for those whose homes are away from the road, it is difficult to get around the barrio.

Cable Cars

The people of José Félix Ribas have presented a plan to the government for a cable car that would go from the end of the metro line up into the hills. This, they say while proudly showing off the model they have made, would be a huge boon to their lives. They are confident that their proposal will be approved by Chávez's government, and hope it will enhance safety in the area.


While residents say their lives are slowly getting better, conditions in the barrio are often precarious. Most people here depend on government programs, and many live in very cramped conditions with only basic amenities. Community leaders acknowledge that major problems like crime and the shortage of housing still need to be addressed, but say that for the first time, things are looking up. The president is "working for the people," they say. "We are all missionaries here," one local activist says, in reference to Chávez's social missions.

46 comments on the article “Caracas”

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R Kohn

I've been to similar barrios, some people are ambitious entrepreneurs and some are hopeless. Just like everywhere else in the world. It's time for Adbusters to be a little critical of Chavez, because he's not the savior he appears to be.


This is a bunch of propaganda. When Chavez became president the price of oil was $37 per barrel, today the price is $100 per barrel and Venezuela's problems are much worse, corruption is rampant and crime is out of control. I would not be cheering for Chavez if I were you. Please inform yourself and take a look at the big picture before you go celebrating this dictator wannabe and his obsolete


Have any of you been to the barrios? There seems to be a lot of talking about who has what power but in the end does it matter? Will it ever change? Perhaps we should just be happy that the power hungry dictator is doing something other than stuffing his own pockets.....

Sophie McKeand

Um, well how about a check for you Mr Reality?
Yes Chavez is a powerful man. One that is strong enough to stand up against the might of the American political machine. Does he have faults? Of course he does. You could argue that anyone who fights to be in a position of power should automatically be disqualified from ever being in a position of power for exactly that reason. But that is not the way the world works and at least Adbusters are standing against the negative propaganda that surrounds Chavez to show that he is still making a difference to those most in need in his country. So 'Mr Reality,' following your own critique, why is your response to this article not 'nuanced and critically balanced?' Hmm I wonder where the real hypocrisy is here?


This reads like a Chavez press release. Where is the critical thinking / evidence / independent reporting?

Valdo M

This article sounds like a very urban political fairy tale! Please, dont be fooled by Chvez, he is the most dangerous power hungry president in Venezuela's history!


I am actually from Venezuela and have spent more time in barrios like Petare, 23 de Enero, la Charneca, Chapellin, etc.than the person who wrote this Pro Chavez miopic piece. But that is besides the point. The problems are still there in plain sight. No one in the world should live like those people do in the barrios. Especially in the wealthiest per capita country in South America. It takes more than a red t-shirt and some second rate cheap food to create real progress. This is the problem.


i read an article about chavez in Peacework magazine. Some of it troubled me. Also i would point adbusters to issue number 75 that talks about chavez turning tyrant. There is some good and some bad, but i am neither a supporter though i used to be or an opponent. Chavez has cuddled up to dictaters like ahmadinajad and mugabe, so i cannot support chavez. However he is trying to help the poor, well faith based organizations do that too. I do like the fact that he is sticking it to the imf and the world bank, but democracy appears to be on the edge in Venezuala as it also is in America.

Adbusters Staff

Dear Readers,

In regards to a few comments made by a few of our readers, I would like to make apparent that the text accompanying the photos is virtually the same as it was in the original BBC article. This is because the Art Department had an agreement with the photographer Emma Lynch to only use the BBC text along with her photos. However, we had to make minor edits in order for the text to work with our publication. Thank you.


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