Venezuela's death toll from floods reaches 32 | world | Hindustan Times
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Venezuela's death toll from floods reaches 32

Efforts to rescue and provide shelter for thousands of Venezuelans who have been left homeless by torrential rains and mudslides have descended into political infighting among allies and adversaries of President Hugo Chavez.

world Updated: Dec 06, 2010 14:49 IST

Efforts to rescue and provide shelter for thousands of Venezuelans who have been left homeless by torrential rains and mudslides have descended into political infighting among allies and adversaries of President Hugo Chavez.

Flooding and landslides unleashed by the rains over the last two weeks have killed at least 32 people and forced more than 5,000 Venezuelans from their homes, Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said on Friday.

Over 60,000 people living in high-risk areas have been brought to hundreds of shelters, government institutions and even the presidential palace, El Aissami said.

But numerous opposition leaders claim the government's response to the floods has been marked by inefficiency and improvisation. Chavez, meanwhile, accuses his adversaries of attempting to politically capitalize on the problems brought by the rains.

"The government doesn't have the capacity to resolve this problem," Pablo Medina, an opposition politician, said in a telephone interview. "The people who have been forced to leave their homes are going to be living in the shelters for a long time, possibly for years."

Chavez lashed out at his political foes earlier this week, accusing the political parties that governed Venezuela before him of failing to build sufficient low-income housing, forcing more of the poor to build ramshackle slums that ring major cities. "The wealthy live in large estates and they left this for the people," Chavez said during a visit to the poor Antimano district in western Caracas, where shabby slums cling precariously to hillsides.

Chavez frequently refers to his political opponents as "oligarchs" who ignore the plight of the poor.

But government foes argue that Chavez - who has been in power for 11 years - is to blame for Venezuela's housing shortage, saying his orders to expropriate apartment buildings and private businesses are scaring off investors and aggravating the housing deficit.

More than 1 million of Venezuela's estimated 28 million inhabitants do not have adequate housing while millions more live in dangerous, laberinth-like slums. The significant housing deficit has become more acute during Chavez's rule.

Chavez vowed to Friday to relocated all those left homeless by the floods by Christmas Eve - a lofty goal that prompted criticism from his adversaries.

"Chavez wants to make himself out as Santa Claus, saying he's going to give houses to everybody," but it won't turn out like that," Medina said.

Alejandro Mejia of the Justice First opposition party noted that many Venezuelans left homeless by floods in the past have not received new homes from Chavez's government, and he predicted the president will not make good on his most recent promises. Chavez conceded on Friday that his government has "made mistakes, but above the errors is the love for the people."