Topped with razor-wire that runs along a 10ft-high wall, uninvited visitors are not welcome at the Chavez family mansion in an upmarket suburb of the town of Barinas, where Venezuela’s late president was born in a mud-floored house 59 years ago.
But Wilmer Azuaje, a state legislator and prominent Chavez critic is not intimidated, driving through a pair of open gates to within 50 yards of the house, which he says is a symbol of how the Chavez family lined its own pockets while preaching the merits of the great socialist revolution.
A young guard hired to protect the property soon spots the intruder and a camera lens poking through the passenger-side window and races forward, taking out his 9mm Glock pistol, aiming directly at Mr Azuaje’s head.
For a moment, there is a tense stand-off, as the guard – a hired thug not much more than 18-years-old – demands to know who is taking photographs, but the older man soon faces the younger one down.
“I don’t have to answer your questions kid”, he bellows. “Now put that thing away before you do something stupid!”
With that, the maverick legislator speeds off, roaring with laughter at the latest game of cat-and-mouse with the Chavez family, who he describes as Barinas’s answer to a royal family.
His campaign to highlight how the Chavez clan has enriched itself has plenty of sympathisers in Barinas, a poor town which sits humid agricultural plains 300 miles southwest of Caracas in one of Venezuela’s regions.
Here the late-president’s family owns 17 country estates, totalling more than 100,000 acres, in addition to liquid assets of $550 million (£360 million) stored in various international bank accounts, according to Venezuelan news website Noticias Centro.
While ordinary Venezuelans suffer growing food shortages and 23 per cent inflation, the Chavez family trades in US dollars that now fetch four times the official bank rate on the black market.
Living in numerous mansions in Alto Barinas, the city’s most affluent district, the family and their children live a life of privilege, says Mr Azuaje, whose wife left him to marry into wealth and now lives next to the Chavez mansions.
“My daughter goes to school with the Chavez kids”, he explained. “She told me that the school dining hall has waiting staff to serve and clean up after the kids”.
Despite the death of the clan’s charismatic leader last month, the Chavez family nevertheless continue to hold sway as the ruling Socialist Party seeks to continue the Revolution that “El Comandante” started 14 years ago.
Nicolas Maduro, the 51-year-old former bus driver who Chavez designated as his successor, opened his campaign with a televised interview flanked by prominent members of Clan Chavez, who gave their all-important blessing to his candidacy.
“The family is here with you”, proclaimed eldest son Adan, who is the governor of Barinas state. “Nicolas Maduro can be ratified before the Venezuelan people and continue the Bolivarian revolution”.
If Mr Maduro, as polls predict, wins Sunday’s election, the Chavez family, which has members spread throughout all branches of the Venezuelan government, is unlikely to be called to account for its conspicuous affluence any time soon.
The second of seven children, Hugo Chavez’s stellar career brought fame and power to his family. His father, a former schoolteacher, served three terms as Barinas state governor, before turning to real estate development. Another brother, Argenis Chavez, is Venezuela’s energy minister.
The impoverished region was showered with government-funded social projects, which explains why many poorer residents still support the Chavez family, despite the allegations of corruption and the food shortages that leave three-hour queues at the supermarket for basic provisions.
“We are very pleased with the Chavez family, they have done great things in our state”, said Leonardo Osoyardo, a 33-year-old ‘Chavista’ who works in one of the state’s social projects. “Everyone in Barinas is content with them”.
That is not exactly true.
“Barinas is the worst state in Venezuela, and it’s the fault of the Chavez family”, said José Vitriago, a 56-year-old street kiosk vendor who voted for Chavez in all three of his presidential campaigns.
“It’s pure corruption, and Hugo Chavez allowed it all happen.
“They take the money that’s intended to help the people, and they put it in their own pockets. They’re buying country estates and apartments in the United States while we have nothing”.