CARACAS, the capital of Venezuela, is a city divided along class lines. It is divided between the rich east central area and the western inner city area, which merges into the shanty towns around the city. Today the division is political as well as economic.
The inhabitants of the rich areas have been demonstrating for four weeks and trying to close down industry in what they misleadingly call a 'strike'. Their aim is to provoke sections of the military into staging a coup against the president, Hugo Chavez. One of the demonstrators against Chavez summed up their class hatred for the poor:
'The worse they look, the more they are with Chavez,' he said. 'I mean they do not have teeth.' The anti-Chavez protesters, he added, 'are all nice looking people'.
There is also an element of crude racism. Venezuela's upper classes are overwhelmingly from white European backgrounds. So, until Chavez was elected four years ago, have been all the country's political leaders.
The working people and poor, 70 percent of the population, are of mixed indigenous, Afro-Caribbean and European ancestry. Chavez's government has done little to challenge the obscene concentrations of wealth in the hands of the minority.
His few moves to do so have brought their wrath upon him. Four times in the last year the employers' organisation and a corrupt right wing union leader, Carlos Ortega, have called for a general strike to get rid of him.
Each time they have conned fewer workers than before into joining it, despite having the enthusiastic support of all the newspapers and private TV channels. The great majority of workers ignored the most recent call, at the beginning of December.
Where factories and shopping chains shut down it was because of action by the managers. In Caracas buses, the metro and taxis continued to operate as usual. In the poor areas life went on as normal. There was one industry the opposition could shut down-oil.
Venezuela is the world's fifth biggest oil producer. Its industry was nationalised in the 1970s. This meant replacing foreign capitalists with a highly privileged elite of managers from the local ruling class.
The managerial elite has the support of many white collar workers and of the captains of the tankers that load oil for export at the country's ports. This has enabled them to cripple supplies to other industries, despite the opposition of the manual workers' union to the stoppage.
The US government is hoping that the opposition is successful. That would be a setback to the move to the left across Latin America. The US backed the coup that forced Chavez from office for three days in April. Two weeks ago it endorsed the opposition's demand for immediate elections. Some people in the US State Department are wary of going further, and they retreated from such open intervention.
The class hatred of the rich for the poor in Venezuela is creating a new class consciousness among the poor. One of the anti-Chavez demonstrators said, 'We are scared to go into the centre of Caracas. We used to go, but now you have to disguise yourself with shabbier clothes.'
Their hatred of Chavez has led Venezuela's rich to play with the fire of revolt-a fire that could burn them.