National Geographic : 1976 Aug
Talking with the public is an art at which the handsome 36-year-old governor excels. In a series of open forums last year, 1,682 civic complaints were filed; 88 percent were re solved by his Citizen's Attention Office. "Some of our problems are different from those of other cities," he said, "because 40 percent of our growth is by marginales people in the barrios who have come to this city with little education and few skills." The Barrios: A Step Forward? Marginals. I couldn't decide whether the word sounded harsher in English or in Span ish. As I picked my way along the steep slopes and nondescript shacks of Barrio Ob servatorio, a group of young men watched. Did they live here in the barrio? "Si," answered a tall, muscular 18-year-old named Miguel. "Nosotros somos marginales." His voice held neither pride nor bitterness. No slum is a pretty place to live, but the barrios of Caracas reflect measures of hope along with despair. Some rural immigrants to the city view the rent-free shacks as halfway houses on the way to the "good life" of auto mobiles and expensive homes they see in the valley below. In a reluctant acceptance of the poverty pockets, electric companies allow some free service, and where streets are too narrow for garbage trucks, the city buys refuse from whoever will collect it. Maria Sanchez and her husband both work and could easily afford to move into an apart ment in one of the city's low-cost housing projects. But like many from the country, they prefer the run-down but familiar atmo sphere of their rancho. "I would have no place to hang my wash, no place to grow a few things," Maria told me outside her construction-block shack. "And where would the children play?"