CARACAS — After nine months in a flood victims’ shelter, Daviana Padron now lives in a free apartment, works in a cooperative bakery and her kids attend a new school in the Venezuelan city of Caribia.
The coastal town outside Caracas is a model of what President Hugo Chavez refers to as his Bolivarian socialist revolution. And he plans to eventually turn the socialist-minded project into home to more than 100,000 people.
It also is an example of how Chavez hopes passionate grassroots support from low-and-middle-income Venezuelans will propel him to a third term as president in the upcoming October 7 vote.
He faces a tough election against Henrique Capriles, a 39-year-old lawyer who is popular among Venezuela’s moderate and conservative voters.
Chavez says Capriles appeals to business interests while the ailing president draws supporters from more rural and economically disadvantaged.
Padron is one thousands of Venezuelans who credits her new lifestyle to Chavez’s policies after heavy rains in 2010 washed out thousands of homes, leaving her and about 130,000 other people as victims.
“My life has changed too,” Padron, 41, said. “I was a very aggressive person and I did not like being approached. Since I’ve been here, I share, I work, I talk to people and they listen to me.”
Bread at the bakery where she works costs half as much as in the rest of Venezuela.
The packaging on locally made drinks reads: “Made with socialism.”
Since August, about 5,000 people have moved into apartments in Caribia with up to four bedrooms each. For now, their rent is free but the government plans to establish payment plans for them based on their income.
In addition to the school, services in the city include child care, a health center, a hairdresser, a small market and a clothing store.
Padron says she does not want to return to Caracas, where she was unhappy with daily life and Venezuela’s highest cost of living.
“I’ll have nothing to do with Caracas,” said Padron, who with her four children and partner were among the first families to move to Caribia. “My life is here.”
But Padron and her neighbors also worry about how long what she calls her “little paradise” will last if Chavez is not reelected.
Chavez is recovering in Cuba from his second cancer surgery in less than a year. He acknowledged publicly recently that the tumor was malignant, which has created concern among supporters in Caribia that the next government might doom the urban project’s future.
“With the help of God and the Virgin, Chavez will be fine because if he dies, this is over and things will become difficult here,” said Carlos Silva, a 47-year-old baker whose voice became anguished and eyes watered amid discussion of a possible end to Chavez’s administration.
He and Padron work with nine others in the cooperative bakery, where they display a photo of Chavez. Nearby, dozens of buildings are under construction. Work on the city started in 2007.
About 800 apartments have been built in Caribia so far with plans for 20,000.
“I live here peacefully and happily thanks to God and Chavez,” Silva said. “We are starting a new city. If we care for it, it will stay safe.”
See more images of Caribia here.