Venezuela's Urban Poor Reap Benefits of Oil Wealth

Venezuela's oil wealth is enabling massive new investments in that country's cities that are mostly benefiting the urban poor. But there are concerns that the strategy is risky and not economically sustainable.

"[Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez] is spending billions of dollars on anti-poverty programs, in what experts say may amount to the largest such effort in a developing nation.

...Public works projects are everywhere, ranging from subway lines in Caracas and Valencia to bridges over the Orinoco River. New medical clinics...are within reach of almost everyone in this nation of 25 million people. Illiteracy, formerly at 10 percent of the population, has been completely eliminated, and infant mortality has been cut from 21 deaths per 1,000 births to 16 per 1,000.

Another initiative that could change the lives of millions of poor Venezuelans is a new program aimed at increasing land ownership.

Venezuela is the most urbanized nation in Latin America, with about 86 percent of its people living in cities, but about one-third of those urban dwellers have no title to their land. In legal terms they are squatters, and thus cannot access many government programs.

Over the past year, 57 cooperatives of land surveyors have been formed to scour Caracas' hillside slums, measuring the sprawling neighborhoods that previously were merely blank spaces on official maps.

Ivan Martinez, director of the Urban Land Committee titling office for Caracas, said that more than 200,000 titles had been given out, involving about 1 million people."

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