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Archive for the ‘The Region’ Category

TRINIDAD-AMERICAS-SUMMIT-CHAVEZ-OBAMA

It finally happened…the moment we’d all been waiting for! After years of strained relations in which George Bush would scarcely say his name, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at last got the respect he deserves from a US president.

Those of you who’ve hoped for improved US – Venezuela relations all these years no doubt smiled all day Saturday after seeing the photos. Maybe a few of you were even a little misty-eyed. The now-famous handshake even made the front page of the Saturday New York Times and has since been the subject of endless television, radio and print commentary.

The two leaders were friendly and gregarious, and Chavez presented Obama with a seminal work by Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America. The book has since enjoyed a meteoric rise in sales on the internet. It may not be easy to find in the library for a while, but is worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy.

It appears that the Summit of the Americas was a monumental step forward. From easing restrictions on Cuba to greeting leaders with an air of mutual respect and equality, things seem to be changing for the better.

Since the handshake, both the US and Venezuela are now considering the return of ambassadors. It remains to be seen how bilateral relations will play out, but prospects for respect and cooperation seem a bit brighter this Monday morning.

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Venezuela defeated Colombia yesterday in the South American qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup. The game was played in Cachamay Stadium in Puerto Ordaz, located the eastern state of Bolivar.

Colombia was one player short at the end of the game, due to a yellow card. The Venezuelan team took advantage of their extra man to win the game 2 – 0.

Substitute striker Nicolas Fedor, seen at left, was the first to score. Left-footed midfielder Juan Arango delivered the second goal on a free kick late in the game. Venezuela is currently in 8th place, just behind Colombia.

The vinotinto is keeping the dream alive! Stay tuned as they play Bolivia in June. Read a New York Times article about yesterday’s game.

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Venezuela is the nation with the 10th-largest amount of biodiversity in the world. Efforts to protect that biodiversity are highlighted in a new study by RAISG, or La Red Amazónica de Información Socioambiental Georreferenciada.

According to the study, Venezuela has the second-highest proportion of its Amazon region protected. The Amazonian basin covers an astounding 3 million square miles in South America, overlapping several different countries and encompassing a population of perhaps 33 million. Venezuela has already protected 71.5% of its share — second only to Ecuador’s 79.7%, and far ahead of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru.

RAISG measured Indigenous territory and other protected lands, which are generally the best conserved. Venezuela has 43 national parks. A respect for nature is enshrined in the constitution of Venezuela under a chapter that guarantees all citizens the right to a safe and healthy environment.

Since the Amazon Rainforest is often called the “lungs” of South America, we can breathe a little easier thanks to Venezuela.

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The arepa is truly a food without borders. Though it is emblematic of Venezuela, the savory cornmeal snack has a presence abroad, too! Here are some suggestions for where to find arepas in the U.S.:

In New York, the Caracas Arepa Bar (pictured above) is located on 7th St. the East Village. Here, rumor has it you are nearly required to to try Venezuelan-style guacamole, called guasacaca. Rivals El Cocotero are over on West 18th St.

Lucky for folks in Boston, the up-and-coming Orinoco has two locations, one in the South End and another in Brookline.  They have a nice date-worthy ambiance and also sell t-shirts with funny slogans like “arepa boy” and “no se aceptan sifrinos!” (no snobs allowed!).

This may not be the policy at Coupa Cafe in Beverley Hills and Palo Alto, which claims to sell “the finest mountain grown single estate coffees from Venezuela.” It has an entire section of its menu dedicated to gourmet arepas.

Surely Miami is home to the highest density of Venezuelan eateries, but we recommend you try this one first: Caballo Viejo (named for a famous folkloric song by Simon Diaz ) has been described as a “hole-in-the-wall” and a “mom and pop” restaurant that is clean and simple.

Where else do you like to eat arepas? Let us know in the comments section.

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Bolivia’s President Evo Morales announced today that Bolivia will soon begin building recycled “petrocasas” with the help of Venezuela. These low-cost plastic dwellings are built with waste generated by oil refining, and are providing a solution to economic and environmental pressures. Tens of thousands have already been erected in Venezuela as well as Cuba and Peru. It was in Peru where Morales first saw the petrocasas and the role they played in the country’s recovery after a 2007 earthquake.

With an investment of $80 million, Bolivia will open a factory to produce petrocasas in Oruro. The first recipients will reportedly be the relatives of the victims of Bolivia’s “gas wars” of 2003. The eco-friendly houses will go up in low income areas, including El Alto and Trinidad. The project was announced at an event commemorating the 228th anniversary of the first uprising against the Spanish colonists.

See our last post on petrocasas here. For coverage in Spanish, see Reuters.

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09

The Caribbean World Series has been unfolding this week in Mexicali, Mexico. Venezuela’s Tigres de Aragua have remained undefeated, and could take the title if they beat Mexico tonight.

Yesterday, they defeated last year’s champions, the Dominican Republic’s Tigres de Licey. Venezuela used five different pitchers during the game, beating the opposing Tigres 3-2. For details, see the AP coverage.

Venezuela is a perennial powerhouse in professional baseball. The country’s Leones de Caracas won the Caribbean World Series in 2006.

UPDATE: They did it! The Tigres won the Caribbean Series again!

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The World Social Forum (WSF) concluded yesterday in Belém, Brazil. Over 130,000 grassroots activists and members of civil society groups from all over the globe gather each year to present alternatives to the concurrent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The WSF, which is based in a concept of social justice, hosted discussions on topics ranging from the global economic crisis to environmental preservation to Indigenous issues and even vegetarianism. Socially conscious people met to “coordinate strategies and build partnerships,” share in cultural events, and make their voices heard by the many leaders in attendance.

One participant said:

We’re pointing out things that the developed nations don’t want to see. This is a scream of hope from the bottom, to say that we’re here and we want to change things.

-Luiz Miguel Fernandez Vega, 28, León, Mexico

Several resolutions were adopted  to remedy current crises and advance the cause of social justice. These include:

- Nationalization of banks
- No reduction of salaries at enterprises hit by the economic crisis
- Energy and food sovereignty for the poor
- Withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan
- Sovereignty and autonomy for Indigenous peoples
- The right to land, decent work, education, and health for all
- Democratization of media and knowledge

The ambitious aims of the WSF seem to be coming into sharper focus as the world changes and old political and economic paradigms are shifting. Many participants came away from the Forum with a renewed sense of hope that “another world is possible,” and that they can help make it happen.

To read more, check out these articles from AFP, IPS, and the Washington Post

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Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum held its official launch of the 2009 home heating oil assistance program today in Washington, DC. A press conference was held in the backyard of one recipient, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in the Northeast neighborhood of Petworth. In the picture above, Kathy Boylan expresses her appreciation for the much-needed help.

Citgo President Alejandro Granado (pictured above) said:

We are making an enormous effort. Despite the limited resources available at the moment, we are continuing the program as a demonstration of the solidarity of the Venezuelan people. Our critics have called this political, and it is true: our politics are aimed at building bridges between the people of Venezuela and the United States.

In 2009, the fourth year of the program, some 40 to 45 million gallons of home heating oil will be distributed in the U.S. through Citizens Energy at a cost of about $75 million. The resources will benefit around 200,000 homes across 23 states.

AP coverage is available in English and Spanish.

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The World Social Forum began yesterday in Belém, Brazil, a city located at the edge of the Amazon Rainforest. The Presidents of Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Paraguay (pictured above from left to right) are attending this massive ninth annual event, which brings leaders and citizens together under the slogan “Another World is Possible.”

The summit coincides with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. With economies across the globe in crisis, the alternative view provided by the Social Forum is particularly important this year. Here is what people are saying about the forum:

We are raising our voices as a wake-up call to the world, especially the rich countries that are hastening its destruction… [for] we are the ones who were born and raised in the middle of the forest, and who lead a lifestyle that contrasts with the ambition of capitalism, which does not bring benefits to all.

Edmundo Omoré of Brazil’s Xavante Indigenous community

We are launching an SOS to the world. The planet is in danger and is heading for destruction. That’s why we’re here asking for solidarity. …The big multinationals are going into our territories, sometimes with the help of paramilitaries, sometimes with the assent of the government, pushing out our own communities. And those who resist are persecuted.

– Miguel Palacin, Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organizations

Indigenous and environmental issues top the agenda this year. See coverage from the BBC, AFP, and IPS. A good video can be found at Euronews.

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The wildly popular Mexican norteño band Los Tigres del Norte has a new song about Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called “Corrido de un Hombre Valiente” (The Song of a Brave Man).

The song is a corrido, a traditional a Mexican musical style often used to recount the stories of legendary figures and heroes. Chávez’s corrido tells of his struggle to defeat corruption and alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Los Tigres applaud the Bolivarian movement, singing:  “the elderly and the children have education and health.”

They call President Chávez “a great example and a great man,” and express hope that other countries in Latin America will follow his example.

Click here to listen. Article in Spanish.

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oliver-stone-chavezOliver Stone and crew have been hard at work on a documentary about the Venezuelan Revolution, starring President Chavez and “huge cast of characters.”  According to Stone, Chavez is a “world changer” full of “intoxicating” energy. The film will explore the progress he has inspired in Venezuela and the region.

Stone interviewed people throughout the United States and Latin America and says he has enough footage “for two documentaries.” The film is meant to “capture the spirit” of the social movements in Venezuela and will be released in a few months.

Check back here for more info when the film is released!

In the meantime, check out these great articles from Variety and the AP.

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Remember last January, when the first days of 2008 saw six hostage releases in Colombia brokered by President Chavez? Well, Venezuela is again starting the year off by showing its dedication to humanitarian causes.

Last Friday, Caracas sent an emergency shipment of 74 tons of food, water, and medicine to Zimbabwe to help stop a cholera outbreak that has claimed about 1,500 lives. Rescue workers were also sent, the AP reoprted.

Justice Minister Tarek Al-Aissami (seen at right) said “it is a modest effort in the face of this terrible calamity that one African country is suffering today.” He continued: “this is about human beings who are losing their lives, and only solidarity, love and help can permit this country to recover. …the Bolivarian government will do everything in its power to help this country, much like any other that requires our solidarity.”

Venezuelan officials have also been calling for a swift end to the violence in Gaza. To read a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, click here. Or, listen to a speech by Chavez here (in Spanish).

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