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CNBC's Caruso: Chavez Uses Vast Oil Wealth to Maintain Power

Before President Hugo Chavez rose to power, more than half of Venezuela's population lived in poverty.

As CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera reports from Caracas, that frustration at being excluded from the country's vast oil wealth swept Chavez to power--and has kept him there.

Marisol Alzualde worked for ten years as a maid, living in a tin and mud shack. Now she shows Caruso-Cabrera her new nursing diploma--and credits Chavez's education program.

"Hugo Chavez wants his people to succeed," Alzualde said. "No other government had ever offered me anything."

Its all part of Chavez' commitment to socialism, Caruso-Cabrera reports. How does he pay for
it? Black gold. More than $25 billion worth last year. Oil is the country's lifeblood--representing more than a quarter of the nation's economy.

But whether the poor are truly better off is a matter of intense debate, Caruso-Cabrera said.

The living conditions in parts of Caracas appear terrible to someone from a developed country, Caruso-Cabrera said after taking a tour. But one man tells her now the roads are better and so is healthcare.

But critics say it won't last forever.

"Someday the price of oil won't be $60 a barrel," Marcel Garnier, CEO of RCTV tells Caruso-Cabrera.

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