Thursday, January 26, 2006

This Year's Chic Socialist Resort...

is Venezuela:

The government of President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, the FTAA and "neo-liberalism", regularly invites like-minded guests from overseas.

The American singer and civil rights campaigner, Harry Belafonte, is a regular visitor to Venezuela, as is the US actor and racial equality campaigner, Danny Glover.

...."It's my third time in Caracas within the space of two years," said Kate Fox, a 21-year-old anti-globalisation activist who has travelled from Washington DC.

"Venezuela is without a doubt the new Mecca of the Left. It used be Havana, but Venezuela is definitely the place to hang out now if you're against capitalist exploitation."

However, street sellers in downtown Caracas have also realised the potential of exploiting the huge market for left-wing souvenirs.

Many of them have switched from selling pirated DVDs and CDs to T-shirts showing the face of President Chavez or old classics like Che Guevara.

...."The Chavez T-shirt is my bestseller," says Luz Castillo, who owns a little stall next to the conference centre for the Caracas World Social Forum. "I've sold six shirts within the space of an hour. I'm making a profit of $7 per item."

Hugo Chavez T-shirts are a hot fashion item at the forum

Other street vendors are selling Chavez posters, watches, books, flags, audio tapes and even toy plastic dolls of Venezuela's charismatic leader.

"Chavez is cool," said Alejandro Montoya, a student from Peru, who explained that he had paid $1,500 for a tailor-made tourist package to take part in the Social Forum.

"Is it a lot of money? Yes, of course, but just remember it's a chance in a lifetime for me to come face to face with my hero, Comandante Chavez."

If you can get to him from the airport, that is.

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