While President Hugo Chavez struggles to revive the battered bolivar, in a hillside slum overlooking his palace, die-hard supporters are talking about getting rid of the Venezuelan currency altogether.
Welcome to the 23 de Enero barrio, home to about 100,000 people and something of a laboratory for Chavez’s nationwide socialist experiment. Here you find dogs named “Comrade Mao”, and even a “revolutionary car wash.”
“We are creating a popular bank and are going to issue a communal currency: little pieces of cardboard,” says Salvador Rooselt, a soft-spoken 24-year-old law student and community leader who often quotes Lenin and Marx.
Some 20 militant groups sometimes described as Chavez’s “storm troopers” run this urban jungle in western Caracas, where hulking concrete buildings daubed with colorful murals — one depicting Jesus Christ brandishing an AK-47 rifle — show off the neighborhood’s radical tradition.
“We are giving capitalism a punch in its social metabolism,” said Rooselt, of the Alexis Vive group, wearing its trademark bandana with the image of guerrilla icon Ernesto Che Guevara around his neck.
A deeply-rooted socialist ideology, absolute territorial control and financing from the government have allowed Alexis Vive to put into practice some of the ideas Chavez is struggling to implement in the rest of Venezuela.
Socialist stores sell milk and meat from recently nationalized producers at about a 50 percent discount. Residents do voluntary work, kids are encouraged to steer clear of drugs, and some youths have even joined a pioneer organization modeled on similar groups in Communist Cuba.
“I’m sure President Chavez supports our initiatives and seeks to implement them at a national level,” Rooselt said.