Until recently, they didn't have anywhere to go. Socialism was in retreat, "revolutions" scarce. Then along came Mr. Chávez and his gambit to forge a "21st century socialism." Suddenly, Caracas is the new leftwing petri dish. "This is the most interesting social experiment in the world taking place today," says Fred Fuentes, an Australian who moved to Caracas last July, as he sips from a mug with the government motto "Rumbo al Socialismo" (On the way to Socialism). "Venezuela is the key place to be observing."
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Since being sworn in as Venezuela's president in 1999, Chavez has championed the cause of the poor, making them the protagonists of his policies. He calls his crusade the Bolivarian Revolution, after Simón Bolívar who helped liberate Venezuela from Spain in the 1800s. His supporters say he is the only one who has ever cared about them. Critics call his peasant-class evangelism posturing – a man with too much oil money using politics as a personal sandbox.
Either way, he has given a sense of hope to and unleashed a fervor among millions of Venezuelans. "This is truly a revolution," notes Cira Mijares, a Caracas resident who says she found her voice when she joined a community council, a Chávez initiative to boost the poor.
It is this same sentiment that foreigners are arriving to steep in. At the International Miranda Center, which sits on the top floor of a hotel suite that houses large numbers of Cubans, who have been in Venezuela providing medical care and baseball training to the poor, visitors from around the world – with government aid – prepare conferences and papers on the merits of the country's social revolution. They talk politics, quote Lenin, and discuss the new cooperatives and councils.