CARACAS (Reuters) – Tucked into forested hills in southwest Caracas, a red-brick housing complex for the poor is a testing ground for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s latest step to build socialism in the Latin American oil producer.
The phalanx of simple five-storey apartment blocks, some still being built, anchors the “Cacique Tiuna Commune”. This is one of a network of “socialist communes” that Chavez and his supporters want to extend across the nation in a political and legislative offensive to dismantle “bourgeois” capitalism.
Not surprisingly in a country whose politics is as flammable as gasoline, the project enshrined in a package of “power to the people” laws is stoking a political firestorm.
Fuelling the political debate is the proximity of legislative elections on September 26.
The government says the communes will help end poverty. But furious opponents, who already denounce Chavez as a repressive autocrat, say the initiative heralds outright communism in Venezuela and so violates its pluralist constitution.
“A barrier is being crossed … we’re passing from Chavez’s tropical socialism to open and glaring communism,” says Emilio Grateron, mayor of Chacao, an opposition stronghold entrenched in a more wealthy eastern neighbourhood of Caracas.
Displaying colourful murals of Venezuela’s 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, and one of Argentine guerrilla legend Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the 2,220-inhabitant Cacique Tiuna Commune is conceived as a showcase “socialist” community among the dirt-poor hilltop slums that hem in the capital.
Chavez and the laws’ promoters deny the communes project is a bid to railroad the country into Soviet- or Cuban-style Marxism. They say the legislation is compatible with the 1999 Constitution and follows socialist goals of ending decades of inequality in Venezuela and giving more say to the poor in the running of their own lives and that of the country.