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Venezuelans live poor in an oil-rich country

In Venezuela, the revolution is everywhere, even on the packaging for beans, margarine and cooking oil on the shelves of the state-run supermarkets. Images of independence heroes on horseback gallop across packages of pasta. Socialist slogans decorate bags of flour, all sold at deep discount at the 15,000 Mercal shops — non-profit grocery stores the government has opened across the country.

“For a Venezuela without illiteracy,” reads a bag of rice, with a lengthy reference to the constitutional rights of the people. A one-kilo bag costs 50 cents, half the price charged in the “capitalist” store down the street.

“We lived a lot worse before Hugo Chavez came along,” said Noris Palma, 29, one of a dozen customers at the Mercal outlet in Parroquia El Valle, a poor neighbourhood at the city's western edge, which is also home to a government-run soup kitchen and a free medical clinic. “Now there are more opportunities for the poor — to go to university, maybe to get a house. I have asked the government to help build one for me and my fiancé.”

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