CARACAS, Venezuela — The road from the military academy where Hugo Chávez’s body has been lying in state to the hilltop museum where he’ll be displayed is lined with some of the most dangerous slums on the planet. It runs under bridges in dire need of repair and past grocery stores with no groceries.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans gathered along that route Friday to watch the late president’s body cross the city in another choreographed show designed to keep Chávez supporters in thrall, at least until an April 14 election scheduled to replace him. Afterward, people will live with the problems Chávez left behind.
This tense, relentlessly gray capital, Caracas, embodies many of Venezuela’s problems, with crumbling apartment towers and food lines often sharing the same sidewalk with cheering crowds eager to greet their departed Comandante.
“More than anything, the government continues fighting with everyone, and does everything badly,” said Francisco Olivero, 54, a carpenter who lives with his wife and five children in the poor neighborhood of Catia, blocks from the funeral route.
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Like many Venezuelans, Olivero said wartime-levels of street violence throughout the city were his top worry. “They kill people here every day,” he said.
Even as thousands of bused-in police academy cadets gathered along the route, Olivero and his wife were waiting in a long line to buy flour, coffee, butter and other staples that they said have been hard to come by for about two years.
Economists say government-imposed price controls designed to dampen inflation topping 20 percent have made it impossible for store owners to sell basic foods at a profit, sparking widespread shortages. Officials have accused suppliers of hoarding the goods and have invaded warehouses looking for sugar, flour and other food in short supply.
Almost all of Caracas’ streets empty of people by dusk as residents live under the pall of a homicide rate 20 times that of the United States. On Thursday, the U.N. Development Program issued a study finding Venezuela had the world’s fifth-highest homicide rate, behind Honduras, El Salvador, the Ivory Coast and Jamaica.
All along the funeral route were unmistakable signs that the nation of 28 million is unsafe and that its basic services no longer work.
The hills around the military academy are covered with bare-brick slums that rise almost vertically into the Caribbean sky.
The growth of such neighborhoods has contributed to other problems. Due to crumbling or inexistent infrastructure, sewage all over the city goes mainly to one place: the once-pristine Guaire River, which runs along most of Chávez’s funeral route.
In 2005, Chávez had famously promised that Venezuelans would one day be able to swim in the river. Trying to do that Friday would be nothing less than life-threatening.