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Living with Chavez's revolution

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Life on the Edge - Castro or Quit?

Globalisation has left some people facing dilemmas for which history is no guide. Steve Bradshaw for BBC World News series Life on the Edge asks what President Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution means to two young professionals.

Yurani and Florencio
Florencio and Yurani are professionals Venezuela cannot afford to lose
Should I Stay or Should I Go? When Florencio hums the famous tune by the Clash, he is not thinking of a girl, despite the twinkle in his eye. No, the bearded psychiatrist, the kind of guy his country so desperately needs, is thinking of Venezuela.

And when his friend Yurani, a physician in a children's hospital, searches the supermarket shelves in vain for fresh milk, and has to settle for an $8-pack of powdered milk, she is wondering whether to leave the country she loves, too.

Florencio Quintero and Yurani Gomez Gutierrez are young professionals Venezuela can't afford to lose.

They don't like rising prices, street crime, poor working conditions, and they are worried about the future.

Bolivarian Revolution

Many of their friends, colleagues and ex-classmates have already left the country and Florencio and Yurani are wondering whether to join them. But it's not an easy decision to make.

Chavez near a statue of Bolivar
President Chavez often delivers speeches near images of Bolivar
After all, they are not latifundistas, scions of the old-time ranching families, or bankers, entrepreneurs or opposition politicians. They are doctors, and they want to help the poor and the underprivileged.

They have put helping society before making money.

But hang on, isn't this what Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez trying to do?

His Bolivarian Revolution, and Venezuela's form of socialism, is based on populist policies aimed at helping the poor.

But our young doctors are not so keen on the way it is all panning out. Yurani loves working in the children's hospital, but feels she can't help as many kids as she would like.

"I don't have the medicine, I don't have the resources," she says.

Social project

Yurani's brother and his family has already left Venezuela.

"They found in another country better education for their children," she says. "Their children can also walk the street safely."

Florencio is also pulled both ways: "We have a lot of beautiful things here in my country," he says. But he is worried about his future, and that of his clinic - not to mention the president's whole Bolivarian Revolution.

Until not long ago all that oil money was used to benefit the elite
Omar Orsini, co-ordinator, cooperative complex
President Chavez has often been criticised for concentrating too much on socialist ideology and affairs in other countries, rather than tackling real problems at home.

Critics have also accused the president of authoritarian tendencies.

Watching a TV announcement that President Chavez's weekly show has been cancelled, Florencio says he is disappointed not to be watching him "talking and talking - this enlightened man," a remark so good-humoured that even its intended target might raise a smile.

We visit one of the government's social projects, a cooperative complex at the heart of a Caracas slum. Yurani, who has been invited along, is clearly impressed by the complex's modern free health clinic.

But she wonders why the government can't do the same with the old hospitals and clinics, such as the ones that she and Florencio work in.

Omar Orsini, the co-ordinator of the centre, explains that it is funded by the national oil company.

"Until not long ago all that oil money was used to benefit the elite," he says. "What we want is to have a society where everyone improves."

Mr Orsini is a supporter of the government's socialist programme.

But Florencio worries that government officials too often believe that you are either for the revolution or against it.

"I don't think that is quite real - life is made of grey tones," he says.

Free education

Chavez backers, or Chavistas, say the revolution will lead to social equality - his critics argue it could turn him into a Castro-like autocrat.

A barrio in Caracas
Many people in the shanty towns have benefited from the social programmes
To many sympathisers, Chavez is part of a new wave of Latin American neo-socialism - from Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to the more like-minded Evo Morales in Bolivia.

President Chavez has set out to construct an alternative model to the US-style free market capitalism, neo-liberalism, and a whole bundle of policies globalisation has brought in its wake.

What is remarkable about this, is that full-blooded socialism - of the kind lauded by Chavistas - has not exactly been on a winning run elsewhere in the world.

So the decisions of Venezuela's young doctors have a resonance far beyond the hills surrounding Caracas.

The Bolivarian Revolution was always going to anger some people - but what if it loses the support of young professionals devoted to helping both their own families and the poor?

Minister of information Andres Izarra pointed out that many professionals leave the country because they are tempted abroad by higher Western salaries. Since we filmed in the country, there has been a rise in public sector salaries.

Speaking about the doctors who have already left the country, the minister says: "Those doctors have had a free education in Venezuela, so in a way we are subsidising the development of the rich countries."

Some patients in our doctors' hospitals - like Betty Roblez - are deeply grateful to the government.

Betty, who was given Venezuelan citizen after fleeing its troubled neighbour Colombia, has learned to read and has more free healthcare than before.

Yet Yurani and Florencio are still unsure: Should they stay or should they go?

"If ... we don't have enough freedom and (this) really begins to be a socialist place like Cuba, then I will get out of here," says Florencio. "But right now, I choose to stay in my country."

Yurani stresses that it is a personal decision: "If you want money, of course, it's very good to leave the country. If you don't, if your preferences are about family, love, friends or whatever, maybe you should think about staying."

Life on the Edge is broadcast on BBC World News on Tuesdays at 1930 GMT. The films were made for the BBC by TVE.


Here is a selection of readers' comments:

Chavez's plans are still developing and the Venezuelans have to go through the growing pains. After years of corruption and exploitation under past capitalist governments, 9 years is too short a time to judge Chavez's policies. After all, the great U.S. has a huge underground population where everything is worse than the worst of Venezuela. And Chavez is trying to do something about the Venzuelans' problems; that is the difference. The problem for Chavez is that he tries to help everyone who has been exploited over the past hundreds of years and no matter how bountiful Venzuela's wealth is, it is still limited. So, let's give him a break. After all, he has not invaded any other country. Whilst, in the U.S., almost every recent president has invaded a country or engaged in a war with a smaller nation. I feel safer with Hugo Chavez and I believe that with time, Venezuelans and other Latin Americans will start feeling the positive vibes from Chavez's policies, especially the underprivileged.
Ramon Cervantes, Orange Walk Town, Belize

Without knowing it president Chavez's has created the most elitist society in Venezuelan History. Otherwise could you explain things like: a huge demand for new vehicles, also the huge amount of overspending in the commercial sector, E.g: Shopping Centres and other material stuff. I do recognise he is helping the poor, but at what price? His partisans, and government employees have been receiving (technically stealing) too much money. Money that is wasted in luxuries and other stuff. People should aware of this. Probably if a proper investigation is done, results will indicate that a large sector related to government, has large sums of money to squander for themselves.
Ignacio, USA, Miami

You can leave your country for many reasons, not only for money, as Yurani seems to suggest. Venezuelans are leaving because they too, are thinking about their families, loves, and a well deserved decent life, denied to them by the pettiness of a sordid, ludicrous revolution. November will see the restoration of some much needed balance. Venezuelans want and deserve way better than this. Many Venezuelans know it and are fighting for it. Leaving aside the brainless followers of the Caudillo and his lame pandilla, I just hope that the rest of venezuelans wake up and say loud and clear: "We deserve better that this. We demand better that this". November here we come! !Venezuela Libre y Prospera!
Alex Guerrero, New York, USA

President Chavez's policies are based on the State's intervention in the economic and social aspects of the country's development. It is a short-term medicine for a country which needs to go beyond assisting its citizens. Venezuela has to free itself, not so much from what the President calls "capitalism", somewhat of an irony, since most of the wealth is already in the hands of the State, but from the shackles of an oil-addicted economy and from the cultural/political dependence it entails.
Juan Manuel Cano, Villars-sur-Glâne, Switzerland

This is a dilemma that all Latin Americans face. Since the economic crises of the 1980s and the empty promises of neoliberalism and free trade in the 1990s, people in the region are struggling. Venezuela's Chavez is offering the most promising alternative to the failed economic models of the past. The "social economy" promotes cooperatives and business models that lead to equitable economic growth. Unfortunately, not all problems can be solved in just a decade, but Venezuela has already seen a 30% drop in household poverty. This trend is making the country a shining example of successful social progress for the Latin American region.
Megan Morrissey, Washington, DC

I am a Doctor, and I worked last year in a children's hospital in Venezuela. I quit, and now I live and work in Spain. It was not easy to come here. It was not for the money, I just can't work in a place where I don't have the resources to help people. It's too sad to see children sleeping in the streets and asking for money to eat.
Rosán E. Martínez Brito, Barcelona, Spain

The system in Venezuela is imperfect, but it is an alternative. Look around in Latin America and see what capitalism has done to the poor. 120,000 people die of hunger every three days in capitalist-oriented economies. Millions more have no access to medicine and basic medical care. Having the opportunity to choose, why would anyone in their right mind pick an unjust and criminal economic system? I hope Chavez succeeds. If he does, the continent will be better off.
Carlos Flores, Sr., Canada

I worked as an English teacher in Venezuela in 2006 and was disheartened by how many of my students wanted to leave the county. They felt that the Chavez government had abandoned anyone who did not support him and their only chance of success would be to go abroad.
Christian Zimmerma, Rockville, Maryland

Chavez is crazy. I can't go out late at night because it's too dangerous. Food prices are 50pc higher than a year ago. In 2002, a movie ticket costed 1US$. Today, you have to pay 10US$. What about house prices? You can't buy a decent house in a working class area for less than 200,000 US$. If you want to live in a middle class area, you need at least 300,000 US$. Private education is too expensive for middle class and working class people. The minimum wage in Venezuela is 350US$. Nine million people in this country don't have a formal job so they are informal sellers on the streets. They sell fruits, clothes, electronic devices, DVDs, CDs and even buy and sell dollars and euros on the black market. Who wants to live in a place like this?
Andrés, Caracas, Venezuela





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