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Chavez’s New Policies Divide Venezuela

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez's new policies, including the nationalization of oil, have received mixed reviews within the country. Margaret Warner gives a report from Caracas.

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    Lunchtime in La Vega, one of countless, huge barrios on the outskirts of Caracas. Every day here, 150 hungry mouths get a hot lunch from a home-based soup kitchen.

    The government of President Hugo Chavez provides the raw ingredients and cooking equipment. But local resident Alicia Cortes and her friends cook and serve the meal from her kitchen.

    It's one of many projects that Chavez has established in shanty towns and across the countryside, with the estimated 60 percent of Venezuelans who still live in poverty and form the core of his support.

  • ALICIA CORTES, Soup Kitchen Manager (through translator):

    More than anything, he's helped the people, and he's looked for participation. Chavez is always asking people to take part in the various missions that are being created.


    The missions, financed by Chavez with Venezuela's booming oil revenues, take many forms. This government-run food store is one of 14,000 so-called Mercales, selling basic food stuffs at highly subsidized prices, a popular option for a family seeking rice at 45 cents a bag.

    More than half of all food purchases in Venezuela today are made at stores like these. Most of the staples sold here, like pasta, flour, salt and margarine, are produced and packaged under the government's own brand name, La Casa, and each bag carries political slogans championing Chavez's Bolivarian revolution.

    Mercedes Galarraga, who shops here for her family, still remembers the day the store opened four years ago.

  • MERCEDES GALARRAGA, Community Organizer (through translator):

    There were long lines of people. People were so excited, they never left. As soon as the store opened each morning, people were already in line waiting.


    With government trucks making steady deliveries to areas where many people are also getting government stipends, local residents have no question who to thank.

  • MERCEDES GALARRAGA (through translator):

    The person responsible for all of this is our president. Thanks to our president, we've got the market. It's the same with so many other things.


    Other things, like free health clinics in the barrios, staffed by 20,000 doctors imported from Cuba who provide rudimentary community- based care. There's an Internet center here to connect residents with the world, free public education, and high school equivalency courses for those who dropped out to work.

    But only a short distance away, in a different part of the La Vega, open sewage still runs between the main foot path and people's homes. Water is delivered on a four days on, four days off schedule.

    And Zoraly Albarado, who lives with her family in a three-home house with curtains for walls, still has pressing concerns.

  • ZORALY ALBARADO (through translator):

    The insecurity and the sewage problem, we need better stability for our kids. When I think about my kids' future, I think a lot of people have the same problem.


    Felix Caraballo, a community organizer here, concedes that, after eight years under Chavez, much remains undone in basic government-provided services, like sanitation, water and security.

    Nightly gang gun battles are a fact of life here. He acknowledges some residents have grown impatient, but he has big dreams for La Vega: a community center for kids, for example. And he's confident the Chavez government will deliver.

  • FELIX CARABALLO, Community Organizer (through translator):

    Now, a lot of people say, "No, you'll never be able to accomplish that. You've had eight years already." Well, yes, we've had eight years. But that's just eight years. And there's a social debt to us that the state has built up over more than 40 years. We're talking about a huge debt built up over time.