Chavez Tightens Grip on Venezuela As Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez pursues his own brand of "21st-century socialism," he enthralls followers and rattles opponents. Some of his critics are making plans to leave the country.
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Chavez Tightens Grip on Venezuela

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Chavez Tightens Grip on Venezuela

Chavez Tightens Grip on Venezuela

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Juan Forero reports from Caracas.

JUAN FORERO: The El Leon cafe serves its coffee strong and foamy, just how Venezuelans like it.

(SOUNDBITE OF COFFEE GRINDER)

FORERO: These days it's serving a lot of coffee. The open-air café is strategically located next to the Spanish consulate in the capital's bustling east. And every morning a long line forms outside, Venezuelans scrambling to leave their country. Paula Cadenas is one of them.

PAULA CADENAS: I'm concerned about the destiny of the situation in Venezuela, their obsession about taking this turn to the left but to a very radical left side. And I think it's tending to exclude the other that doesn't think as you do.

FORERO: Chavez has promised to install a socialist state and redistribute Venezuela's oil-generated wealth. It will be far from communism, what his critics claim he wants. But 21st-century socialism does mean nationalizing utilities. It means more state control of the oil sector.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

FORERO: A shoe factory in Caracas' poor west end is an example of what Chavez wants. Here, 80 workers make one kind of shoe. It's black and nondescript. This factory, run by state-organized cooperatives, is the new Venezuela. Gustavo Zuniga is among the leaders. There is no manager.

GUSTAVO ZUNIGA: (Through translator) We went from being instruments of capitalism to being the owners of a company that produces goods for a community.

FORERO: In a highly polarized country, the changes are captivating to Paula Cadenas' cousin, Joanna Cadenas. She is a teacher at the state Bolivarian university. Sitting in a noisy shopping mall, sipping a beer, she heralded the government's so-called missions: health, education and nutrition programs bankrolled by oil dollars.

JOANNA CADENAS: I like very much. I feel a deep compromise with the educational missions. And I am completely involved with all that work.

FORERO: There are plenty of Venezuelans, though, who believe too much power is being concentrated in one man's hands. Demetrio Boersner is a prominent leftist academic.

DEMETRIO BOERSNER: A lot of people are worried, not only in the Venezuelan opposition but also within his own political coalition.

FORERO: Chavez has talked about injecting more of the government's Bolivarian ideology into the schools. At a public school in Chacao, a decidedly anti-Chavez district of Caracas, the plans do not go down well. Julio Borges is a prominent opposition leader who is promising a fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD NOISE)

JULIO BORGES: For me it's very clear that Venezuelans support President Chavez, but that doesn't mean that Venezuelan people will support Chavez to have power for ever and ever for the future, you know.

FORERO: Juan Forero, NPR News, Caracas, Venezuela.

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