"Venezuela launched a Zeppelin on Thursday to patrol Caracas, seeking to fight crime in one of Latin America's most dangerous cities but also raising fears that President Hugo Chavez could be turning into Big Brother.
Around the hot-dog stalls of the run-down suburb where the airship took its first flight, most people felt the unmanned eye-in-the-sky could help counter routine hold-ups, shootings and carjackings. "It is a necessity," said street vendor Pedro Marin when asked about the 15-meter helium-filled blimp that had been looming silently over his stall beside a busy highway.
The $465,000 Zeppelin, built by South Korean firm HanGIS, is the first of three such craft that will beam images into a command center. Police will be able to control the blimps remotely, steering them over the city of about 5 million.
In the refined cafes of east Caracas, there was more cynicism, condemning the blimps as a waste of money that would not work in bad weather or at night, when Caracas is at its most risky, resembling a shuttered-up ghost town. "It reminds me of 1984, of George Orwell. This is Big Brother. It is not going to solve crime," said Jose Luis, a lawyer who declined to give his family name."
[image: The Venezuelan Anti-Crime Blimp]