Without the poor, Venezuela’s opposition won’t get far

There is discontent with Venezuela’s government in parts of Caracas such as this hillside covered with low-income houses in the Petare district, but the opposition has failed to capitalize on it.
There is discontent with Venezuela’s government in parts of Caracas such as this hillside covered with low-income houses in the Petare district, but the opposition has failed to capitalize on it.
Rodrigo Abd / AP

Of all the on-scene reporting from the deadly anti-government protests in Venezuela, Frank Bajak of the Associated Press may have written one of the most important pieces last week — and it didn’t involve tear gas or street barricades.

Bajak followed two affluent student demonstrators as they ventured into a Caracas slum — perhaps the first time either had ever entered a barrio like that — to engage poor residents. As one of them, Fernando Viscuna, told Bajak: “Our families didn’t want us to come up here. But if [we] want a better country, it’s got to be done.”

The article should be mandatory reading in the middle- and upper-class bastions of Venezuela where opposition to the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro is strongest. It should also be distributed in Doral, Weston and other Venezuelan expatriate enclaves here in South Florida, where the anti-Maduro fervor is just as heated.

That’s because the 21-year-old Viscuna expresses a wisdom that foes of the ruling revolution have cluelessly ignored for too long: For all the deep flaws of that authoritarian regime — which have helped saddle Venezuela with South America’s highest inflation and murder rates — half the country’s population, mostly the poor part, still support it.

Granted, given the social and economic crises, the poor themselves aren’t all that fond anymore of the revolution the late Hugo Chávez founded. But when they look down from their hillside shanties at the gated environs that families like Viscuna’s tend to hail from — or across the Caribbean at the Florida communities more privileged Venezuelans have bolted to — they still tend to see the reasons they voted Chávez into power in the first place.

Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. To read the rest of his article, go to

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