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Chávez's latest enemy: beer trucks

Ahead of Sunday's vote, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is cracking down on delivery trucks selling beer on the street.

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Alongside "neoliberal" economics and President Bush, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has another enemy on his list: beer trucks.

On his road to Sunday's presidential election, which pits the former military colonel turned president against Manuel Rosales, a conservative candidate backed mostly by Venezuela's middle and upper class, Mr. Chávez has ordered the National Guard to stop delivery trucks from selling beer in the streets of poor neighborhoods.

Only licensed establishments can sell alcohol legally here.

"It's the degeneration of society," Chávez said in a televised speech in October. "It's one of the causes of public drunkenness in the slums.... No more trucks."

Chávez made it clear, however, he wasn't banning beer, a necessary qualification in a country known for its fondness for and ability to put back the suds.

Venezuela and Brazil have the highest beer-consumption rates in South America, according to a World Bank study. And since oil prices have boosted the country's petroleum-based economy in recent years, Venezuelans have poured even more freely: Beer consumption here increased by "double-digit rates" in 2004, according to Euromonitor, a global market research company with offices in Chicago.

Some Venezuelans says the crackdown on delivery trucks is a necessity.

"He isn't saying don't drink," says Vito, a middle-aged taxi driver in Caracas. "He just wants to build consciousness about how people do it. There is too much drinking."

Rosele Alcala, a young waitress, agrees. But she has little hope the regulations will have an impact.

"There is a lot of violence and family problems because of people drinking," she says. "But even if they stop the trucks from selling, the people will just go to the store and buy it. It doesn't do anything."

Chávez's ongoing fight to curb drinking

This isn't the first time the Chávez government has targeted alcohol consumption. A 2005 media law bans alcohol ads on television and radio. Chávez has also promised to boost state services to treat alcoholics. And the government has blue laws that prohibit drinking in the streets while restricting the hours that licensed establishments can serving alcohol.

Yet there's an apparent gulf between laws and enforcement.

It is common to see Venezuelans on street corners hoisting bottles of bright gold Solara and Polar beer, the two top brands.

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