Dec 8, 2015 11:02 PM
Venezuela's poor rejected socialists, now fear eco
The Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) Residents of the slum where Hugo Chavez's final remains rest are expecting deeper economic pain after they helped a majority of the nation's voters deliver a landslide for the opposition against the socialist party founded by the late president.
Even if the new legislature elected Sunday devotes itself to righting the economy, things in this neighborhood could soon get worse before they get better. The same price and currency controls that have turned daily life into a scavenger hunt for food and medicine also shield the poor from the country's triple-digit inflation.
"It's very difficult to remove economic controls. Even if you do everything right, you might end up hurting a lot of poor people in the short term," said political science professor Javier Corrales of Amherst College in Massachusetts.
Around the 23 of January neighborhood, murals of Chavez in various iterations peer down from the walls: Chavez the stone-faced general. Chavez the child destined for greatness. Older Chavez relaxing in a hammock. Younger Chavez plotting a 1992 coup attempt in this very slum.
Jhon Ramirez worries less about betraying the man whose face greets him at every turn than whether there will be food to buy in January, always a time of intense shortages here as factories furlough workers for long holiday vacations.
"We're all pretty nervous. We need someone who can fill the shelves again," he said. "We're just hoping the new politicians don't turn out to be like the ones we have now- stubborn and out for their own gain."
The district patrolled by pro-government motorcycle gangs turned against the socialist party for the first time Sunday, part of a tide of voters who punished the government for the country's collapsing economy and handed the opposition a landslide victory in legislative elections.
The atmosphere changed overnight.
On Election Day, many in the neighborhood stood in their doorway with a cup of rum. Grinning young people danced to reggaeton and wagged their indelible ink-stained pinkie fingers in the air, proclaiming that they had voted for change.
The socialists lost by less than a single percentage point here Sunday. They won the district by a margin of almost 2 to 1 during the last legislative elections, in 2010.
On Monday, doors were shut, stores were closed, and pro-government paramilitary groups kept watch over public spaces in this slum named for the date of the end of Venezuela's last military dictatorship.
Armed Chavez loyalists still police the area. One of them ordered an Associated Press reporter to leave, saying the neighborhood is a "bourgeoisie-free zone."
The coalition of parties that ran against the government has promised to free jailed opposition leaders, but has offered few economic proposals. The economy currently suffers from sliding reserves, heavy government pre-election spending and choked revenue from a plunge in oil prices that account for 95 percent of exports.
Some slum dwellers, such as a woman selling fresh fish in the narrow stone streets, worry that the opposition will ignore the economy and focus on tearing down the socialist administration.
President Nicolas Maduro is capitalizing on those fears.
"The opposition has no political project," he said in a television address Monday night. "They only have one objective: Destroy the revolution by any means."
Hannah Dreier is on Twitter: twitter.com/hannahdreier. Her work can be found at bigstory.ap.org/content/hannah-dreier.
This story corrects 5th paragraph from end of story to delete inaccurate time element, the reporter was asked to leave on Monday not Tuesday.