FEATURE-Venezuela's poor sour on Maduro as prices, shortages sting

miércoles 10 de diciembre de 2014 09:00 GYT

By Alexandra Ulmer

CARACAS Dec 10 (Reuters) - Packing potatoes at his vegetable stand on a sun-baked street in Caracas's hillside Catia slum, Jesus Jimenez fondly recounts voting for late president Hugo Chavez.

Like millions in Venezuela's poor "barrios," the chatty father of 14 worshipped the larger-than-life Chavez and benefited from his welfare programs, especially Cuban-staffed free health centers and substantial pension rises.

So after Chavez's death last year, Jimenez naturally voted for the leader's hand-picked protege Nicolas Maduro, a former union activist and bus driver who vowed to continue the idiosyncratic brand of socialism known as "Chavismo".

Now, though, he struggles to make ends meet as inflation running at over 60 percent eats into his meager income and he spends hours in lines to buy scarce flour or medicines.

Furious, he says he would readily protest against Maduro.

"Never in my 56 years of life have I seen the country like this. I'm never voting for this government again," he grumbles as motorbikes zip up the steep street and shoppers mill around.

"I don't have a life anymore. Everything is a queue," the raspy-voiced vendor adds, knotting bags of potatoes.

Increasing numbers of low-income Venezuelans are souring on Maduro as they suffer a declining economy, the highest inflation in the Americas, chronic shortages of basic goods and one of the world's highest murder rates.   Continuación...