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”

Displaying 21 - 30 of 46

Page 3 of 5


Chavez has a difficult job to do, in the full force of a western media seeking to demonize him. The threat of a successful alternative model of development is a scary thought to neoliberals intent on ensure the rich rule rule over the poor forever.


I live in Caracas. Whilst the people on the outside may hear Chavez make his Anti-Imperialist speeches and really think that Venezuela is a socialist paradise, there is a strong difference between what Chavez says and what he does. Anyone who is even somewhat critically thinking about the current world situation will find it easy to agree with Chavez' views, but when you are in Venezuela its then that you really see the constant violence, the lack of infostructure, the political corruption on all levels and saying that some of my best friends are in the government and happy to be taking advantage. Don't get me wrong, little by little, the situation is improving for people who a generation ago where living very 'primitive' lifestyles no public health, sanitation, living in homemade homes in the middle of nowhere with no access to the necessaries. This is especially true in the exterior of the country away from the cities, and many people are living a much more dignified life. A significant portion of Chavez' support comes from the smaller communities who had been neglected for centuries.

In the cities however, things seem to get more dangerous and scarier and expensive talking about basic food the minimum wage sucks and it's very hard to feed a family when most of it is imported. Local governments have little interest in making the streets safer/cleaner while a street will have plenty of streetlights, none of them will work at night due to no maintenance. The head honchos of local governments are incredibly wealthy trust me, I have visited one of the mayor's beach houses I assume Freddy Bernal has much property in Margarita and Merida etc.

The Policia Metropolitana are just as feared as other gangs of armed thugs. And the higher government officials are just as interested in making themselves wealthy as in any country and keeping their own privileged lives as they know how it is on the other end of the food chain far too well. There is a lot of camaraderie in the government so if you have a family member in, you should be set up for life. There is also a lot of blacklisting and fear mongering for anyone who speaks out/criticises.

A lot of support for Chavez has come from tossing a few coins the way of those who had had nothing all their lives. Whilst now they may have a few Chavez biased books and doctors when before they didn't, there is actaully very little done in the way of setting up long term solutions eg. establishing other industries than just the petroleum industry, tourism, agriculture anyone?. Given that people have a little more than they have before, usually what is given is enough to guarantee votes and reelection, but nothing truly productive to bring the quality of life upto a level where it could be given its oil riches. True, Chavez has done 'some' things to bring his people a better life, but much is left uncared for as well deteriorating. His international speeches are always interesting and he does has very good points though always repeated, here you have no choice but to listen to his weekly speeches on TV and radio if you can't afford cable/internet ie the poorest class, but those who don't actually see what it happening inside and how scary it can be so far Ive been lucky and only been stabbed and thankfully not shot, don't forget about the 50 odd murders every day.

Chavez wants to help people right, but he also wants to keep his power lets hope he doesnt end up like Mugabe. Please don't think that Venezuela is a socialist paradise. Venezuela is a centre of a different way of thinking in 2008 yes but remember to keep your analytical thinking caps on. Adbusters wants to prevent a certain type of brainwashing which is endemic in the western world which is great, but please dont think an enemy of an enemy is a friend.


Wow, the anti-Chavez crowd is out in force on this one as expected. If he's so power hungry, then why did Chavez abide by the decision of the people when they refused to extend that power?

Unlike, say, a certain American president so corrupt he had his brother arrange for this election to be bought. A president so corrupt he and his entire staff lied to the world about evidence so that they could start an illegal war on foreign soil?

No leader is perfect. Would Venezuelans prefer to be led by an American backed leader perhaps? Say a democracy loving leader like: Pinochet? Noriega? Shah of Iran? Baby Doc Duvalier? Saddam Hussein until he pissed them off? The list goes on and on and on.

No, Chavez isn't perfect. But from what I see, the alternative of being under the thumb of a government that has been bought and paid for by American multinationals is far, far worse.

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!


Add a new comment

Comments are closed.