View Full Version : Venezuelans Line Up For Chance To Trade In Junk For Food

10-02-2005, 01:50 PM
Venezuelans Line Up for Chance to Trade in Junk for Food


By Ian James Associated Press Writer
Published: Oct 2, 2005

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Men, women and children line up at a scale to weigh their loot: bags filled with old clothes and newspapers, bent bicycle wheels, rusted bed frames and discarded auto parts.

The junk is tossed into trucks by city workers, and the people take tickets in return to redeem for food as part of an unusual government program, carrying away bags of rice, cans of sardines and bottles of vegetable oil.

"I think it's good people can hand in things they don't need for food, because that's what people need - food," said Maria Bonilla, a 50-year-old single mother who supports two children and a nephew working as a janitor.

She and other Venezuelans who came to turn in their trash Saturday in one Caracas slum said they felt grateful to President Hugo Chavez and his allied mayor, Freddy Bernal, who promote the program as a way to clean up the streets while helping feed the needy.

Chavez says he is leading a socialist "revolution" for the poor and has put a billions of dollars in oil profits toward public works projects and social programs to build homes, fund health care programs and subsidize state food markets.

But a majority of Venezuelans remain poor, and many among the hundreds who showed up lugging bulging plastic bags and scrap metal said life remains a struggle despite some improvements. One man brought an old sofa that had been lying in the street.

Bonilla turned in a bag of clothes and a bag of newspaper weighing 8 kilos (18 pounds), and in exchange chose a bottle of cooking oil and a small bag of powdered milk.

"They only gave me a little bit, but it doesn't matter," said Bonilla, who said every little bit helps since she has to support her family on 435,000 bolivars (US$202) a month.

Some of Chavez's leading opponents accuse his government of running handout programs that help the poor just enough to win their political allegiance while not addressing deeper issues of poverty.

Chavez and his supporters insist major advancements have been made and that within a generation they aim to eliminate poverty. The president, who has been in office since 1999, is up for re-election next year.

Gazing up to a hillside crowded with cinder-blocked homes covered with barred windows, a city worker with a microphone and loudspeaker shouted: "Bring down all that trash!"

A poster with Chavez's smiling face was posted on a tent where adults lined up to trade their tickets for food. A separate line of children snaked out in the courtyard, while salsa music blared over the loudspeaker.

"It's a lot of fun because we're all here," said 10-year-old Daniel Rios, who came with several friends and dropped off an armful of rusting pipes. The boy said his parents had told him to go get whatever food he could.

A few emerged from the tent with long faces, saying they had hoped to receive more.

But 58-year-old Ermila Diaz came away smiling, carrying a box filled with packages of pasta, crackers, rice, beans and coffee after turning in bottles, newspapers and old rags. She said she still struggles to buy beef or pork on the small income she earns as a part-time seamstress, and her husband's meager pay working on-and-off as a security guard.

"Things are getting better, but there's still room for more improvement," Diaz said. As soon as she carried the food home, she said, she would be back with a second load of trash.

AP-ES-10-02-05 1054EDT