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Archive for May, 2008

A youth music education program in Venezuela that has earned praise around the world recently won Spain’s Prince of Asturias Prize.

Since it began in 1975, “El Sistema” has taught 600,000 young people from poor areas of Venezuela to play classical music. It is still picking up steam: 275,000 children are currently enrolled in a network of 120 orchestras nation-wide. The program has also produced international stars such as the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who heads the top-notch Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. Their new album is called Fiesta.

“El Sistema” is profiled in UK newspaper The Telegraph. It turns out that founder José Antonio Abreu is seriously in demand right now: Scotland has caught the music bug, and will consult him on a similar initiative. Not to be outdone, the city of Baltimore, Maryland also plans to launch a music program for kids that takes its cue from the successful Venezuelan model. Read about it in the Baltimore Sun.

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Thanks to Venezuela’s Ministry of Culture, many classic works of Latin American literature are now available online for free.

To check it out, visit Biblioteca Ayacucho. You can download PDFs files of books in Spanish ranging in publication date from the early 17th century to the late 20th century. Many famous Venezuelan writers are included in this digital “book shelf”: essayists Simón Bolívar, Andrés Bello, Francisco de Miranda, and Rufino Blanco Fombona; poets Manuel Díaz Rodríguez, Jose Antonio Ramos Sucre, and Gustavo Pereira.

Another writer represented in the online collection is the Cuban visionary, José Martí. His essay, “Our America” is a critique of the U.S. written during his exile in New York in the late 1800s. Don’t judge them by their covers, for these are crucial books: some were banned in their day, and others were the basis for key political ideologies (e.g. pan-Americanism, indigenism, or socialism).

Once again, Venezuela is leading the way in democratizing access to culture!

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Sontizon is a salsa-infused hip hop collective that offers listeners more than just a sound: it offers them a vision.

The group got a slow start in 2000 and later re-grouped in 2002 after an aborted coup d’etat in Venezuela. The title of its new album, “For each 11th there is a 13th” (A cada 11 le llega su trece), refers to the day in April when citizens poured into the streets to demand the return of their democratically elected government. You can listen to songs from the album on Sontizon’s MySpace page or buy the CD through this site.

Sontizon does not hide its ideology; the group believes in creating a just and sustainable society, and wants to do so by uniting communities through music and helping people — especially youth — to improve their lives.

This is the basis for Sontizon’s work with Tiuna el Fuerte, a hip hop-inspired organization designed to promote people’s empowerment through “endogenous” (that is, inward-focused) development. Based in a poor area of Caracas, Tiuna el Fuerte creates safe spaces for free artistic expression. It also helps people meet their most basic needs by connecting them with free social services in areas like education, health care, and nutrition.

Sontizon’s own passion for education led them to sing about the state literacy program Misión Robinson. In the video below, you can watch them perform the song at the Teresa Carreno Theater in Caracas during a presidential address.

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The Venezuelan race car driver Milka Duno finished 19th in the Indianapolis 500 last weekend. Despite a crash, Duno was with the lead pack for most of the race, and showed much improvement over last year’s finish in 31st place. Here are some more staggering numbers: the race lasted 3 and a half hours, the average speed of the cars was 143 miles per hour, and the winner collected $2.98 million!

Milka Duno was been one of the most exciting new recruits in indy car racing. As a talented, beautiful and seriously smart newcomer to the sport, she has attracted many fans. See our previous posts on Milka’s magnetism.

Today, we remember the baseball player Geremi González, who died last Sunday after being struck by lightning in his native state of Zulia, Venezuela. González had pitched for five different Major League Baseball teams, including the Chicago Cubs, which held a moment of silence for the player yesterday.

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The orchid is Venezuela’s national flower. It’s no surprise, then, that the country was well represented at the Redland Orchid Festival in South Florida this week. Seasoned growers of these perennial plants hailed from Caracas and Maracay.

The Miami Herald quoted Alexis Pardo, the Maracay horticulturist, as saying: “This is a wonderful festival, both for the collaborations and interchange between growers and the good prices everyone gets for the plants.”

There are an astounding 22,000 known species of orchids in the world. Venezuela’s prized flower is the Easter Orchid or Flor de Mayo, like the one pictured here. The festival also included varities from Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand.

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Remember the petrocasas we told you about back in March? These affordable, eco-friendly homes made of waste generated by oil refining are now being used to ease a housing shortage in Cuba. Reuters reports that 40 new petrocasas are being built per day to reach a total number of 14,000 this year.

Petrocasas are donated or sold at a low cost to needy families. They are pre-fabricated, and are made from polyvinyl chloride, a recycled plastic.

The houses are an innovative way to pursue sustainable development and raise the standard of living among poor communities while helping to mitigate the environmental impact of oil refining. They are just one way in which Venezuela is helping Latin American countries achieve a greener future.

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Some say that poetry is a dying art. This is not the case in Venezuela, where the World Poetry Festival is hosted each year. The fifth annual event is taking place this week.

This time around, the World Poetry Festival is dedicated to the Venezuelan writer Gustavo Pereira. Pereira hails from Margarita, an island off the coast of Venezuela. He is one of Venezuela’s most famous literary figures, and has published over 30 books.

Pereira told a Caracas newspaper: “now poetry is being written in Venezuela like never before. The participation of young people, who line up to get into poetry readings, is a source of pride. When writing poetry becomes a common activity, we can really sense that we are in the process of making a life-changing transformation.”

Also attending the events in Venezuela this week are prominent poets from all over Latin America as well as countries around the world including France, Turkey, New Zealand, South Africa, Angola, and Palestine.

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