News / Americas

    Venezuela Slums Shun Protests for Community Work

    FILE - A hill covered with low-income houses is seen in Petare district, Caracas, March 6, 2014.
    FILE - A hill covered with low-income houses is seen in Petare district, Caracas, March 6, 2014.
    Reuters
    Opposition activists in the slums of eastern Caracas hope to unseat President Nicolas Maduro, but not by blocking streets or burning tires. They plan to build parks and fix roads to show that the opposition can do more for poor neighborhoods than the ruling socialists.

    The capital's slums have seen hardly a trace of the smoldering barricades and violent demonstrations that have engulfed middle-class areas for over a month in the South American OPEC nation's worst unrest for a decade.

    In the sprawling Petare slum, a hillside maze of red-brick homes and humble shacks that was once a stronghold of support for late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, opposition organizers say the rock-throwers are missing the point.

    "We don't want violence or blocked streets, that's not how we're going to get rid of this president," said Junior Pantoja, a municipal councilman who works in Petare with opposition party Justice First. "We've won over more 'chavistas' than you can imagine. How? By working. That's more effective than marching."

    In Petare and other slums that dot the hillsides on the far east of Caracas, many see the unrest as a revival of street protests that began 12 years ago as a failed effort to dent the appeal of the charismatic Chavez, who died of cancer last year.

    Petare, made up of hundreds of neighborhoods that run from groups of zinc shacks to humble but ornate homes, has been an example of how the opposition can use clear-headed public policy to challenge the government even in poor areas.

    An opposition mayor won the district in 2008 by tapping into discontent with the socialist incumbent and consolidated support by paying attention to problems in poor communities.

    That marked a change in approach for the opposition after years of attempting to force Chavez from office with a bungled coup, a two-month oil industry shutdown, and virulent verbal attacks on the president and his supporters.

    Many poor Venezuelans say they support peaceful demonstrations against soaring inflation and chronic product shortages. But they also say protests have intruded on their daily lives and are doing little to weaken Maduro.

    Food shortages have worsened as blocked roads and constant public order disruptions have crimped deliveries.

    As barricades close streets and protests shut or re-route bus services, slum residents who already face formidable commutes now find themselves spending more time in transit.

    Models of Coexistence

    "For me, the opposition is damaging its own people with all these barricades," said Jose Guevara, a 44-year-old repairman in Caucaguita, a hilltop neighborhood of tall but dilapidated apartment buildings up the hill from Petare.

    FILE - A Venezuelan soldier on patrol at the slum of Petare, Caracas, May 23, 2013.FILE - A Venezuelan soldier on patrol at the slum of Petare, Caracas, May 23, 2013.
    x
    FILE - A Venezuelan soldier on patrol at the slum of Petare, Caracas, May 23, 2013.
    FILE - A Venezuelan soldier on patrol at the slum of Petare, Caracas, May 23, 2013.
    ​Guevara said that despite being an ardent Maduro supporter he backs opposition mayor Carlos Ocariz because he has worked to fix street lamps, collect garbage and improve roads. Though protests have unleashed partisan animosity in middle-class areas, slums such as Petare are often models of coexistence where neighbors treat political differences as no more significant than being fans of rival sports teams.

    Residents reached a colorful compromise when painting the steep staircase leading to Pantoja's house, alternating between red and yellow to include the colors of both the ruling Socialist Party and the opposition Justice First party.

    "I don't understand all this confrontation. I don't think it's necessary," said Pantoja, who plays on a neighborhood bocce ball team that crosses political lines. "Do you think those people are my enemies because they think differently?"

    Maduro supporters and government critics in his neighborhood also occasionally square off for friendly games of "chapita," a form of improvised baseball in which a batter with a stick tries to hit a bottle cap pitched by the opposing team.

    "What's the Point?"

    Petare, originally a 17th century colonial hacienda, steadily filled with squatter settlements during the 20th century until it became a dense maze of narrow streets with a population that ranges from working class to destitute.

    While the more affluent parts have paved roads and abundant commerce, the more recent settlements are little more than shacks and dirt paths where power lines hang precariously from logs or pruned trees.

    "I don't agree with them doing all those marches out there in the street because, in the end, what's the point?" asked Rosmely Florian, 39, a housewife, standing at the door of her humble home in a particularly poor settlement called Mariscal Sucre.

    She said the only help the community has received is a concrete bridge being built by the municipality across a gully to the neighboring community.

    Opposition hardliners such as Leopoldo Lopez, who was jailed last month for spearheading the national protests, say street demonstrations are the only option because state institutions are so degraded as to make democratic change impossible.

    Maduro's supporters say the opposition is seeking to destabilize his government through violent disruptions of public order that have damaged public spaces and endangered lives.

    • Anti-government demonstrators wearing masks hold a makeshift shield during clashes with police at Altamira square in Caracas, Feb. 27, 2014.
    • Anti-government demonstrators shout during a protest at a barricade in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 27, 2014.
    • An anti-government demonstrator walks behind a burning motorcycle during a protest in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 27, 2014.
    • National Guard troops fire against demonstrators during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in San Cristobal, Feb. 27, 2014.
    • Nuns raise their arms during a women's march protesting repression against anti-government demonstrators in Caracas, Feb. 26, 2014.
    • Demonstrators fill a bottle with gasoline during protests against Nicolas Maduro's government in San Cristobal, about 660 km southwest of Caracas, Feb. 26, 2014. 
    • A motorcycle taxi driver walks past burning motorcycles set ablaze by anti-government demonstrators at Altamira Square in Caracas, Feb. 26, 2014. 
    • Men on motorcycles look at firefighters extinguishing motorcycles set ablaze by anti-government demonstrators at Altamira Square in Caracas, Feb. 26, 2014. 

    The protests kicked off in earnest in mid-February after three people were killed after an opposition rally in Caracas.

    Since then, they have been a combination of peaceful marches and violent melees with hooded youths throwing Molotov cocktails, barricading streets, and burning trash.

    Police and national guard fire back teargas using what the government says is great restraint, but critics denounce as brutal repression, citing countless cellphone videos of unarmed protesters being beaten or roughed up.

    The nightly demonstrations in the plaza of the upscale Altamira district appear to have eased after the National Guard took control of the area this week. The clouds of teargas have been replaced with peaceful gatherings and even performance art.

    Many still view this as a distraction from more pressing issues including shortages of staples such as corn flour, cooking oil and milk that government critics say are the biggest threat to socialism.

    "The store shelves are bare, people can't find food and they spend all day in lines - why do we need so many protests if people are realizing by themselves that the system doesn't work," said Ana Castro, 33, a municipal worker in Caucaguita. "I don't agree with this violence that's destroying the few good things we have left."

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.

    More Americas News

    Haiti's President Leaves Office Without a Successor

    Embattled Haitian President Michel Martelly left office Sunday as required by Haiti's constitution, ending his 5-year term with no one elected to replace him

    'Revenant's Inarritu wins top Directors Guild Prize

    Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's win, with only weeks to go before Academy Awards on February 28, race is still as wide open as ever

    Colombia: 3,100 Known Zika Cases in Pregnant Women

    But Santos says in televised address in his country that there's still no evidence definitively linking the virus to microcephaly in newborns

    Pope to OK Use of Indigenous Languages for Mass in Mexico

    Move before trip to the country next week is symbolic gestures in defense of Indian rights

    Ecuador Sacks Military Top Brass Over Questioned Land Deal

    Armed Forces apparently sold 66 lots to Environment Ministry for $48 million, but report from Attorney General's office says they were worth only $7 million

    Video Zika Virus Dubbed Inconsequential Except for Link to Microcephaly

    Virus fairly harmless overall, health expert says, but possible link to thousands of babies born with underdeveloped brains causing alarm worldwide