- By Sylvie SteinSylvie Stein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
Welcome to the ultimate Bolivarian oasis: the 23 de Enero slum — a veritable hotbed of die-hard chavismo and radical socialism in Caracas. What can you expect to find in this little slice of heaven? Stockpiles of Communist Manifesto, murals depicting Jesus Christ brandishing AK-47’s, and an oddly high number of dogs who will respond to the name "Comrade Mao."
The 100,000 inhabitants, who can see the presidential palace from the hills where they reside, have evidently internalized the image of chavista majesty framed by the sunset: they have adopted the dream of a fully socialist Venezuela — as espoused by President Hugo Chavez himself — and set it into motion in their own community.
This chavista neighborhood was named for January 23, 1958, when former president Marcos Perez Jimenez and his military dictatorship were overthrown. Following in the legacy of revolution and radicalism, the town’s leftist ways now extend beyond the ubiquitous Che Guevara bandanas and "revolutionary car washes"; in fact, the Caracas slum is actually surpassing Chavez in his most precious goals: advancing socialism and eradicating capitalism. For starters, the inhabitants of "Little Vietnam" (as it has tellingly come to be called) have rejected the devalued bolivar — which Chavez still struggles to revive — and circulated little pieces of cardboard as communal currency instead. They plan to use their communal banking system to extend micro-credit and foster economic independence in the future. Meanwhile their residents work on a voluntary basis, and their markets purchase goods solely from nationalized distributors.
The town’s ardent support for Chavez’s cause has, paradoxically, created a chasm between the president and his most devout followers. After militant groups hailing from 23 de enero claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Chavez’s opponents, the Comandante was forced to distance himself from the very community his leadership brought to fruition. And the vexation goes both ways: leaders from 23 de enero have repeatedly expressed disappointment that Chavez has yet to rid his government of "false socialists." Despite these conflicts, Chavez is ideologically bound to the town; not to mention, he relies upon the increasingly extremist electorate’s support to keep his political career afloat.
Looks like Hugo’s caught in a bit of a Catch-22 here. Unfortunately for him, 23 de enero shows no sign of slowing down its radical rampage anytime soon:
‘Here in 23 de Enero we are committed to take this process to the very end,’ said cooperative member Martin Campos, a 38-year-old retired soldier sporting a yellow baseball cap with a red star. ‘We are chavistas. Red, very red.’