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Leftwing activists flock to Venezuela to soak up the socialist 'revolution'

Like Havana, Cuba, and Chiapas, Mexico, before it, Caracas draws liberals from around the world who want to experience Hugo Chavez's experiment in socialism.

By Staff writer / March 25, 2008

andres leighton/ap/file


Caracas, Venezuela

The "hot corner" stands in the center of Caracas, in Plaza Bolívar. It's a makeshift booth papered with fliers that marks itself as the "launching point to the revolution." There militants rail against imperialism and greedy Yankees all day.

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But this is not the excesses and exuberance of a few hometown activists. Across Caracas, appeals for social revolt are the city's constant background music. No matter what you do during the day – jog, ride the subway, simply cross the street – it's there. The murals and banners that drape the city – of revolutionaries "Che" Guevara and Simón Bolívar, of Fidel Castro, and now, of course, of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez – are the curtains onto the hottest stage along the "revolutionary circuit" in the world today. And leftists from everywhere are swarming in to see the show.

Caracas in the early 2000s has become what Petrograd was under Lenin in the early 1900s. It's what Havana was in the early days of the Cuban revolution. It's what Chiapas, Mexico, became for a time in the 1990s when "Subcomandante Marcos" launched an armed struggle to help the indigenous people there – a magnet for socialists and students, radicals and revolutionaries, leftists and a few Hollywood luminaries.

Until recently, they didn't have anywhere to go. Socialism was in retreat, "revolutions" scarce. Then along came Mr. Chávez and his gambit to forge a "21st century socialism." Suddenly, Caracas is the new leftwing petri dish. "This is the most interesting social experiment in the world taking place today," says Fred Fuentes, an Australian who moved to Caracas last July, as he sips from a mug with the government motto "Rumbo al Socialismo" (On the way to Socialism). "Venezuela is the key place to be observing."

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Since being sworn in as Venezuela's president in 1999, Chavez has championed the cause of the poor, making them the protagonists of his policies. He calls his crusade the Bolivarian Revolution, after Simón Bolívar who helped liberate Venezuela from Spain in the 1800s. His supporters say he is the only one who has ever cared about them. Critics call his peasant-class evangelism posturing – a man with too much oil money using politics as a personal sandbox.