Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution hasn’t established socialism. But it has brought the poor into public life.
Geographically, Caracas, Venezuela consists of a relatively short, narrow valley just over twenty miles in length, sheltered from the Caribbean Sea by a mountain range to the north, with population seams radiating southward in a series of smaller valleys.
The old city center lies to the west of the valley, with growth historically moving ever eastward: first in verdant suburbs, then elite urbanizations, and finally — the valley’s easternmost limitations reached — the massive informal barrio settlements that precariously ring the hilltops of nearly the entire city.
Standing in Altamira Plaza — the center of Caracas’ private wealth and informal capital of the political opposition — wealthy, white elites cannot help but feel surrounded: Petare — arguably Latin America’s largest and most dangerous slum — to the east, the city center and Catia to the west, and innumerable smaller barrios sprawling southward.
What to call these people who became a majority over the past few decades? Marginals. This term certainly reflects the geographical segregation of the city: barrio residents were largely confined to the outskirts, to unstable terrain in the hills where they first erected cardboard, then tin, and finally cement homes as their informal settlements became permanent.