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Rich vs Poor -- Discovering The Truth Behind Chavez's Venezuela

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia and New America Media, Commentary//Analysis//Video//Photos, Vanessa Espinoza Posted: Apr 06, 2006

Editor's Note: A young woman goes to Venezula to visit family and to make sense of the Chavez movement. Vanessa Espinoza, 23, is an artist, DJ and writer from Oakland CA.

When my cousin Indira, a 15 year old art student, came to pick me up from the airport in Caracas, Venezuela she was scared because the bridge leading back to the city has been broken for 10 years.

The government has known all this time that the bridge is collapsing because of the movement of the land slides, however nothing has ever been done to fix the problem, she said. She grabbed the rosary hanging from her jeep as we went over the bridge. Two days later the bridge collapsed and it became impossible to get to or from the airport once you arrived in Caracas. The only way to or from was an old, unpaved single lane highway in the mountains with dangerous curves. This is typical of the problems in this country.

I spent a month in Venezuela recently talking to young people about how they viewed the countrys hot political situation. There was a lot of diversity, even in my large family. I found out that some support the Revolucion Boliviarian, which is all about solidarity and anti-imperialism, some work for the government and some protest against the government. Some of my family members are rich and some are poor, they are a mix of Chavistas (supporters of President Hugo Chavez and the socialist revolution) and Escualidos (of the opposition).

Chavez has become an international firebrand. In 2005, he made bold statements about his opposition to the war in Iraq and Bush and just recently kicked out all U.S. navel bases and forces out of Venezuela. The United States got him back by immediately evacuating the Venezuelan ambassador out of the country and closing the Venezuelan embassy that same day. It is now illegal to change U.S. dollars for Bolivares in Venezuela, and vice versa in the United States. This conflict could create a war between the continents of North and South America with the tension between politics and resources.

Everyone had something to say about President Hugo Chavez. Javier Escalona, a 19-year-old student in San Juan De Los Morros, explained to me that, If you have coffee in your house and your neighbor asks to borrow it and you give it all to them, later there will not be enough coffee for you and your family. Really, he was talking about President Chavezs policies. Chavez has been giving millions of dollars to other countries in Latin America in order to gain international political support. Recently he gave 30 million dollars to President Morales in Bolivia and has also given millions to Brazil, Jamaica and Cuba.

Venezuelan people know that Chavezs tactics are smart to gain political support but at the same time we are outraged with the idea that there is no money going to Venezuela to fix its problems first, such as the dangerous holes in the sidewalks, bridges and streets, Oliva Maestro, a 14-year-old jeweler in Turmero, said. Venezuela was once one of the richest countries in Latin America, with a third of the worlds oil, gas and gold but a majority of its population has always been poor. This divide between rich and poor has a lot to do with the Socialist Revolution going on right now.

In the Parque Raul Cuenca, I talked to young community organizers who are part of Tupamaru, a revolutionary youth group involved in the arts and the Socialist Revolution. They are compared to the Black Panthers and the members start as young as 10 years old. In the Barrio 23 y Enero, the Tupamaru Movement turned one of the most corrupt police stations in the ghetto into a community center with a radio station.

The police do not even enter these projects due to our political power in the community, Orlando Cuica, a 13-year-old aspiring artist, said. Cuica wore a star with a capital T, representing the Tupamaru movement, pinned to his shirt.

This is a streaming MP4 video - you'll need Quicktime 6 or later to view it.

I also spoke with members of La Familia Negra, a hip hop activist group. We all may have less, but everyone shares while still maintaining their necessities, said Marco Escalona, a 20-year-old MC with the group. La Familia Negra is clear about their political beliefs in their rhymes and the messages in their graffiti.

It seemed to me that the opposition and the Chavistas will never overpower one another and they will never compromise therefore creating true change is impossible. The marches that I went to had more people supporting the opposition than the Chavistas, however, the Chavistas make up the majority of the poor population, which is the majority of the country.

One aspect of Chavez that stood out to me was his serious involvement in the poor pueblos. Many people, old and young, had met him and actually spoken to their president about their problems and needs. I believe that he is the only president I have ever heard who deals with poverty head-on. Many people believe that this is just a tactic he uses in order to get votes.

He has visited almost every small poor pueblo and ghetto in Venezuela and most of the money he spends is on campaigns, advertisements and revolutionary socialist paintings in the street, Juan Soto, an 11-year-old student in Maracay, said.

The people hold on to the hope of this image, which is on every billboard and wall in Venezuela: Chavez saving the poor pueblo from their reality. There is definitely a mentality that Chavez is going to come and save the poor people and ghettos no matter what, and fight against war, U.S. imperialism and globalization, said Eduardo Molina, an 18-year-old poet and graffiti artist in Caracas.

I am still undecided on where I stand on the issues in Venezuela. Each side is very extreme and therefore it is not easy to choose one or the other. Mistakes have been made in the past, but Chavez has a lot of magic with his words and philosophies. He has a truly unique vision and plan to develop the country and we will witness how this will be put into action. The Venezuelan people simply wish to live a peaceful life, where their people can survive off their own resources.



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