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Leftists heat up Venezuelan tourism

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TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: So, looking for that off-the-beaten-path summer vacation? How about Caracas, Venezuela? It features electricity brown outs, water shortages and one of the highest crime rates in Latin America. Reporter Reese Erlich found out, the Venezuelan capitol sure is a real bargain.


Reese Erlich: In central Caracas, the streets near the Bolivar Plaza used to be packed with tourists. Today none are to be found. I ask a waiter at a local restaurant: Where are the Americans?

American tourists?" he says, "There aren't any here. There aren't many from other countries, either."

A short walk down the street is the house where a famous anti-imperialist revolutionary was born. No, not Hugo Chavez, but 19th century political leader Simon Bolivar. I find just two tourists. They look like they could be Americans.

But no, they're Spanish-speaking honeymooners from Russia and Italy. They're just in Caracas for a few days on their way to a popular island resort. Many tourists stay away from Caracas, fearing crime. Even so, Venezuela's tourism industry is going strong. This year, the country expects nearly 11 million visitors, 2 million more than last year.

Travel guide Raul Sojo says many of those visitors are poor people from Latin America attending leftist conferences and events promoted by the Venezuelan government.

Raul Sojo: They're sort of promoting social tourism. They want to have people who can't afford to travel in Venezuela travel around Venezuela, subsidized by the government.

Better off foreign tourists still do come. They visit the country's spectacular wilderness areas and the Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall. Sojo says a recent devaluation of the Venezuelan currency and high inflation mean that travelers can get great deals -- just not at the official currency exchanges.

Sojo: If you have dollars, and you change it in the black market, you're going to be rich.

In Caracas, I'm Reese Erlich for Marketplace.

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