Archive for March, 2008

An innovative form of eco-friendly housing is taking off in Venezuela.

“Petrocasas” is the name given to a new kind of house built with waste generated by oil production. A plastic derived from the process of refining crude oil is filled with concrete to create durable homes with a high degree of flexibility of design, not to mention a very low environmental impact.

As the world’s fifth-largest exporter of oil — over 3 million barrels per day! — Venezuela faces unique challenges with regard to achieving environmental sustainability. Part of the solution is being found in initiatives like the government-funded “Petrocasas” project, which helps low-income Venezuelans begin to prosper by replacing the precarious homes found in poor barrios with eco-friendly ones that last longer and cost less.

On Sunday, 459 “Petrocasas” were granted to families in the coastal state of Carabobo. There are plans to build 60,000 of these economical and environmentally benign dwellings. This is all part of Venezuela’s “Energy Revolution,” a plan to to develop new industries around the processing of raw materials like oil. Read more about this program here.

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Once again, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela is on tour in the U.S. and making a big impression on music fans and critics alike. Last night, the Venezuelan group performed in Los Angeles.

The star of the tour is clearly Gustavo Dudamel, the renowned young conductor who was tapped to lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic starting next year and who was recently profiled on 60 Minutes.

Dudamel is known as a maverick of classical music, an innovative composer with a unique style and boundless energy. Though most of the reviews of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra performances focus on Dudamel, he has attributed his own success to “El Eistema,” a government-funded youth orchestra program established in Venezuela in 1975. Still today, it continues to bring music education to low-income children who would otherwise lack access to involvement in the arts. Founder Dr. José Antonio Abreu was awarded the Glenn Gould prize this year.

To read glowing reviews of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra’s recent performances in California in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and the Oakland Tribune. Next week, they head to Chicago and London.

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Here is a story incredible enough to inspire a book, a film, and a franchise of motivational audio CDs. A woman named Lisa Tylee is bicycling 9,000 mile route around the U.S. to raise funds to benefit street children in Venezuela. She is a co-founder of the organization Veniños, which is dedicated to protecting disadvantaged young people from poor urban areas of Venezuela.

Amazingly, Lisa will complete her journey with the use of just one leg. She was born without a left knee, and so she refers to her trip in Spanish as “Bici Sin Rodilla 2008.” She estimates that she will spend 171 days on her bicycle and average 50 miles per day.

To find out when Lisa will be rolling through your town, read her online diary. Here is a sample from a recent entry: “I can’t say the first week was the easiest of experiences with the wild variation in weather conditions, including a tornado watch, mice in motel room, lack of evening meals and long days. They all took their toll… Although there was no shortage of adventure and entertainment.”

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Venezuelan music is replete with diverse influences, from Andean, Caribbean, and African rhythms and traditional folkloric instruments, to North American and European rock, jazz, and electronica trends.

Babylon Motorhome is a ska and reggae band that is making a splash right now in the local music scene in Caracas. The 12-person group blends different styles to come up with a unique and varied sound. On their Myspace page, they describe themselves as “a collective that presents the vibe from Caracas in a varied and multicolor form through the combination of music, graphics, technology, improvisation and ideas.”

This video clip is Babylon Motorhome’s re-mix of a classic by the Venezuelan musical great Simón Díaz. It is included in the compilation Simón Díaz Remixes.

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In Venezuela, as in many other Catholic countries around the world, Easter Sunday has historically been celebrated with the “Quema de Judas,” or the burning of an effigy of the traitorous apostle from the Bible, Judas.

According to some, the activity allows worshipers to let out resentment, anger, or other negative feelings, which are symbolically destroyed with the burning of the figure of Judas. Participants strive to make the most grotesque version of the Biblical man, which is then displayed in a public plaza. Sometimes, the effigy is made to resemble an individual — often a politician — disliked by the community.

Although the ritual is no longer practiced very widely, it has been memorialized as an important part of folk traditions in Venezuela. For example, the painting shown above portrays the “quema de judas” in a rural town in what looks like the Andean countryside.

Of course, the “Quema de Judas” also remains a part of Venezuela’s living culture. For many communities of faith, it is still a meaningful practice in the present day. At right, the event is celebrated in a modest urban neighborhood.

To read about the “Quema de Judas” in the Caracas neighborhood of El Cementerio, click here (English) or here (Spanish). It seems that this year, locals dressed up their Judas to look like “Mr. Exxon,” complete with a business suit, a tie, and dark sunglasses.

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Read all about it!

In recent days, news came of two major triumphs: the overturning of ExxonMobil’s $12 billion asset freeze against Venezuela’s state oil company, and a resolution by the OAS rejecting Colombia’s deadly military raid into Ecuador. At the heart of both issues is the question of sovereignty.

First, in the dispute with ExxonMobil, Venezuela went to court to stand up for its decision to bring oil projects in the Orinoco region under the legal framework for majority state control of the oil industry that was established in the 1970s. ExxonMobil challenged that decision in UK courts, but a judge ruled the firm’s move was inappropriate.

A second headline is the OAS resolution to reject Colombia’s March 1st raid in Ecuador, which killed a top guerrilla leader as well as two dozen others, including 4 Mexican university students. The resolution was approved unanimously by the 34 member states of the OAS. OAS representatives are pictured here applauding the decision.

Venezuela took the lead in denouncing the breach of sovereignty by Colombia. This is due to the fact that Venezuela shares a 1,500 mile-long border with Colombia — one of the longest common borders in the hemisphere. Also, refugees and communities displaced by the violence in Colombia are increasingly granted asylum in Venezuela.

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Yesterday, a free concert was held on the border of Venezuela and Colombia to reaffirm peaceful relations between the countries.

The BBC reported that the show was organized by Colombian pop star Juanes, who told about 100,000 fans, “We are all citizens who believe that the future of a country is not only a matter for a president, a government but also for us. We are part of it – the movement of citizens.” Another well-known Colombian singer, Carlos Vives, called the event “a celebration of the union between Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia.”

Headlines in the Spanish-language press read that Juanes was so overwhelmed by the turnout at the “peace without borders” concert and the enthusiasm of the crowd he wanted to cry.

It seems that, once again, all is well in the Andes.

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