26 Dec 2017) Venezuela’s opposition is taking on a new brand of politics – one that involves meeting the country’s growing numbers of poor and providing thousands of meals with the help of local businesses and Venezuelans living abroad.
Members of the opposition Justice First party launched a soup kitchen which has so far provided 4,000 meals to poor youth in Caracas, while the leaders of the Popular Will party say they’re pushing to provide 40,000 each week in neighbourhoods across Venezuela.
The doctors among their ranks are also giving free medical care to children and the elderly.
These informal volunteer brigades are part of a shifting strategy aimed at changing the negative perception many Venezuelans hold about the fractious opposition parties which have been largely unable to influence change.
Inflation in Venezuela is projected to surpass 2,000 percent this year, and the economy is estimated to have shrunk by 12 percent.
Shortages of food, medicine and basic goods have become dire amid moves by President Nicolas Maduro to further consolidate power and clamp down on anti-government voices.
Miguel Castillo rushed up a narrow, dusty street in a poor neighbourhood in Venezuela’s capital city carrying a boy who clung to him as if his life depended on it.
Castillo, a politician with the country’s tattered opposition movement, brought the 6-year-old named Tomas to a dining hall filled with nearly a hundred skinny children sitting at tables and scooping spoonfuls of beef and rice soup into their mouths.
Tomas, who was running a fever and needed food, needed help reaching the opposition-run soup kitchen because a disability left him unable to walk.
Many members of the opposition now see their quest for political relevance as closely tied to their efforts to help everyday Venezuelans in what opposition politician and physician Winston Flores calls “a policy of solutions.”
On a recent day, Flores provided free medical checkups at a makeshift neighbourhood camp.
“This kind of initiatives allows us to give,” Flores said.
The growing focus on the poor sounds familiar to many who have seen similar policies implemented by the socialist leaders that the opposition has been struggling for years to unseat from power.
During his 14 years in office, the late President Hugo Chavez launched numerous programmes aimed at providing free medical care and social services to Venezuela’s neediest, while Maduro regularly touts initiatives to provide subsidised food and housing.
The opposition has found that making fiery speeches has been inefficient on its own to foster support among the Venezuelan electorate.
Opposition parties suffered bruising defeats in this year’s gubernatorial and mayoral elections, leaving members divided over how to move forward ahead of next year’s presidential race.
They have yet to rally behind a candidate to challenge Maduro, who is expected to seek a second six-year term.
Even so, some political analysts are skeptical the latest goodwill strategy is enough to change the status quo.
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