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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 19:27 GMT
Voices from Venezuela
Anti Chavez protester with a poster that reads
Anti and pro Chavez demonstrators - no compromise
With the general strike in Venezuela into its seventh week and demonstrations for and against President Hugo Chavez taking place daily, Venezuelan society is becoming more and more polarised. BBC News Online spoke to two Venezuelan readers to hear about their experiences.

Trilce Porras, university graduate

"I finished my political science studies in November, and the strike has made job-hunting very difficult - many offices are closed and the government is not recruiting.

"Where I live, most people are anti-Chavez and support the stoppage. So they don't mind being affected by it.

I don't belong to any of the two groups, but it is very difficult to say you're neutral

"But in our residential development, there are no buses, and taxis have put up their prices because of the petrol shortages.

"The least you spend in a queue for petrol is two hours.

"You can't get fresh milk any more - only powdered milk - and flour is scarce.

"My brother goes to a private school. It recently re-opened but with a shorter school day. Out of his class of 30, only nine are going.

"State schools have remained open, but many parents are scared to send their children to school. Anti-Chavez people bang pots to protest against schools not being on strike, pro-Chavez groups demonstrate to demand that they open.

I would vote for Chavez, because I feel the opposition is solely motivated by its economic interest

"I don't belong to any of the two groups, but it is very difficult to say you're neutral.

"If I say so in my neighbourhood they say I'm a 'Chavista'.

"No-one accepts the fact that one is not totally committed to one of the two sides.

"So you get insulted and called anti-patriotic by both.

"In the petrol queue, many people will blame you for the shortages, thinking you belong to the opposition just because of your car or the way you dress.

"I think there should be a referendum in August, but not one in February as demanded by the opposition.

I think Chavez has made changes to help the poor

"I would vote for Chavez, because I feel the opposition is solely motivated by its economic interests.

"Those who are in opposition today used to be in power, and they caused the problems we are suffering now.

"I think Chavez has made changes to help the poor, but he has only had four years and that is not enough.

"I would agree that he has been incompetent in many matters and that he has an authoritarian streak - but the opposition is just using these failures as an excuse."

Oswaldo Partidas, professional

"Day to day life in Caracas is becoming quite difficult.

I think there is a perception abroad that this is a battle between an economic elite and a 'government of the poor' - it's not

"Caracas is usually bustling with life. But these days it looks like a ghost town - there's hardly any traffic.

"In parts of Caracas bread is becoming scarce and supermarkets are running out of certain products.

"But we are prepared to continue the protests until elections are called.

"I think there is a perception abroad that this is a battle between an economic elite and a 'government of the poor' - it's not.

"This government presents itself as a champion of the poor, but its officials have been conspiring for decades to get into power. And when they did, people realised that they didn't have a social agenda.

This society is becoming more and more polarised - it's a majority against a minority

"The real battle is between those who want Venezuela to be a developed country and those who want to it follow the Cuban path.

"Hundreds of thousands of people take part in the anti-government rallies, so how can they all be from the economic elite? The wealthy are a very small minority in Venezuela.

"I'm a middle-class professional, I don't come from a wealthy family and I'm not rich. But I studied and I work hard - there are opportunities in Venezuela.

"What's happened is that professionals, academics, people with an education, have finally woken up to what is happening.

"Of course mistakes were made in the past 40 years, but nothing compared to those made in the past four years under Chavez.

I don't think there will be a military coup here, but there could be a civil war

"And, it's not true that Chavez enjoys huge support among the poor, or that his popularity reaches 30%. That will be demonstrated in the referendum.

"Chavez refuses to hold a referendum in February because he knows the result will go against him.

"This society is becoming more and more polarised. It's a majority against a minority, as we will be able to prove.


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05 Jan 03 | Americas
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