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'Chavismo' Fades As Venezuela's Poor Suffer


Over the weekend, U.S. military planes carrying aid destined for Venezuela began arriving in neighboring Colombia. The socialist government says it will not let the aid in. Venezuela is in the grips of both a political and humanitarian crisis with a shortage of food and medicine. And those shortages have hit the country's poor the hardest.

Over the past 20 years of socialist rule, President Nicolas Maduro has benefited from the support of Venezuelans in its poorest neighborhoods. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports that is now changing.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Out here in Petare, a slum on the outskirts of Venezuela's capital city, a couple of pounds of vegetables could cost you a month's salary. It means that Micaela Rua (ph) can hardly sell a sack of potatoes in a month. So they sit here sprouting.

MICAELA RUA: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Venezuela, she says, is poor. President Nicolas Maduro has left it in ruins.

Twenty years ago, Hugo Chavez swept into power and immediately began giving to the country's poor. They received boxes of food, he built sky-rises full of affordable housing. Nicmer Evans (ph) worked for Hugo Chavez.

NICMER EVANS: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Venezuelans lived large. But at the same time, says Evans, Venezuela was a deeply divided country. The popular class loved Chavez, and the upper classes disagreed with his socialist policies.

Eventually, especially after Chavez's death in 2013, the government's mismanagement and corruption caught up to the economy. The price of oil fell, production fell, inflation skyrocketed. And Evans says every single Venezuelan has suffered the consequences.

EVANS: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: The middle class disappeared, and everyone became poor. No one, he says, can live off their salary. And suddenly, Evans says, Venezuela has become united. He, like many others, he says, is no longer a Chavista.

EDGAR EMILIO BERNAL: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: But in the town of Teques (ph), about 45 minutes from the capital, Caracas, I do find some die-hard Chavistas.

BERNAL: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Edgar Emilio Bernal (ph) is 70, and he shows me all the socialist party IDs he's held over the years.


PERALTA: Before Chavez came around, politicians wouldn't even spit at the people in this poor hilltop neighborhood, he says. After Chavez, they got a box full of food every month. And just two days ago, he says the government handed them a special $6 bonus.

BERNAL: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: If the revolution comes to an end, he says, so will that help. Bernal says his kids went to school because of the socialist revolution. He's thankful. And if the U.S. conspires to try to topple this government, he says he's happy to pick up a rifle.

BERNAL: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Chavismo is not dead, he says.

But as I move across the neighborhood, there is a mural of Chavez that has been painted over with the word, bandit. I meet Agismara (ph), who only gives me her first name to talk about politics. At first, she says she supports President Maduro, but then we start talking about how hard it is to feed a family on a teacher's salary.

AGISMARA: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: It's hard, and she's gotten very creative. She winces as she tells me that her only boy is about to leave to Colombia to look for a better place to live. I ask her, then why do you support the government?

AGISMARA: (Whispering in foreign language).

PERALTA: She whispers that her landlord is a Chavista, and if she talks against the government, she'll get kicked out. But she tells me what she really wants is for the government to go. She's done. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Caracas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.