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In Venezuela, sidewalk haircuts at 'revolutionary' rates

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Ana Urdaneta, 64, proudly displays a poster of Venezuela's late leader Hugo Chavez in her makeshift "people's barber shop" in downtown Caracas.

Although her beloved president died of cancer earlier this year, Urdaneta says his Venezuelan revolution goes on, with every snip of her scissors.

Urdaneta's particular calling is providing low-cost haircuts to the elderly, according to a sign attached to one of two umbrellas in Chavez's signature red at her sidewalk shop.

"I am a revolutionary," Urdaneta says as she trims hair, explaining her admiration for the late leftist president -- who was in power for 14 years -- and his "Bolivarian revolution."

Urdaneta's shop is sparsely furnished: a few plastic stools, also red, sit not far from a cluster of parked motorbikes, which is the preferred mode of transportation in the Venezuelan capital.

The simple tools of her trade are scissors, a comb and an old-school razor. On one wall, a small mirror allows customers to inspect Urdaneta's work.

In 2002, she says, "I had the idea of doing something social -- mostly for the elderly."

"I don't shave young people because they need an electric razor," she said, in a nod to her straight-edge blade.

Urdaneta charges just 35 bolivars for a haircut -- less than half the price at a regular barber shop. At the official exchange rate, it's about five US dollars, but only $1 at the black market rate.

She plies her trade from 8 am until noon. About a dozen customers drop by each morning.

In the evening, she attends a state-run university and is close to completing her studies in law.

"I've spent almost eight years studying," she said, again praising the late president for making it easier for older people to get an education.

Chavez was concerned about putting university education within the reach of seniors, Urdaneta said.

The sexagenarian says she hopes to specialize in tax law -- when she was younger, she worked as a secretary at a tax office.

Urdaneta doesn't limit her services to clipping hair, also offering her clients all-around personal grooming tips.

"You have to drink lots of water, because we older people need to keep our skin hydrated," she says to one.

The talk in her barbershop sometimes turns to Chavez, whom she still refers to in the present tense, even though he's been dead since March. In spirit, "he hasn't left us," Urdaneta said.

"He was a well-read man, with a great knowledge of culture," she said. "A true philosopher."

As she snips a client's hair, a passerby praises Urdaneta as a "true revolutionary."

Nearby, the sound system on a motorcycle taxi blares a revolutionary tune exhorting Venezuelans to "continue the struggle with the hammer and sickle."

On the sidewalk, Urdaneta's customers rave about her work.

Juan Mateos, a 59-year-old attorney, checks his haircut and pays his bill, delighted with the result.

"I've been coming for two years, mostly because she cuts hair entirely with scissors. I prefer it that way and this lady does a good job at listening (to her customers)," Mateos says.

He adds: "At other hair salons, the stylists are youngsters who don't listen very well."

With respect to current president Nicolas Maduro, who took office in April after a special election to replace Chavez, Urdaneta shrugs her shoulders.

"I haven't taken the time to study him," she said.

"Now we'll get to know him. He's just starting -- we'll see what comes of his mandate," she said.

But she added wistfully, "No one will ever replace Chavez, not even his own children."

While most of her customers are pro-Chavez, Urdaneta also welcomes those who opposed him.

"If I give a haircut to a revolutionary, I also give one to someone who is not," she said.

"You have to try to attract people to the revolutionary atmosphere -- not chase them away."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130808/venezuela-sidewalk-haircuts-at-revolutionary-rates