Archive for February, 2009

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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Venezuela’s successful state-funded youth music education program, “El Sistema,” continues to have an impact abroad. Most recently, it inspired a similar initiative by the Jackson Symphony Orchestra in Michigan. Their program, called “String Team,” offers affordable group classes in stringed instruments to elementary school students.

Venezuela’s “El Sistema” has reached about a quarter of a million young people in poor areas and produced classical music stars such as Gustavo Dudamel. Like “El Sistema,” the  “String Team” is about getting young people to learn and improve their lives through music. Read more here. In case you missed it, don’t forget to check out the documentary about “El Sistema” on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

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A while ago, we brought you Carlos Cruz Diez, Venezuela’s most colorific artist abroad.  Cruz Diez studied architecture and the science of color in Europe and later returned home to open the Studio for Visual Arts in Caracas. He is known for his technique of “color saturation” and inviting installation art.

Cruz Diez creates interactive, livable art, such as the floor tiles of Simón Bolívar Airport that serves Caracas (above). Countless visitors and locals have exchanged happy greetings and tearful goodbyes on Cruz Deiz’s airport art. The multicolored walkway is angled to give the viewer a sense of movement and speed, which is especially important in those hurried airport moments.

Today’s featured photo comes from the Flickr photostream of metropanas, which has tons of great images of Caracas architecture.

In the Spanish-language video below, Cruz Diez describes his “chromosaturation” exhibit, which recently showed at the Americas Society in New York.

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The “Metrocable” that is set to revolutionize transportation in crowded Caracas will open next month. It will reportedly travel 1.8 kilometers through the following neighborhoods: Parque Central, Hornos de Cal, La Ceiba, El Manguito y San Agustín.

What’s so cool about the Metrocable, you ask? For one, it whisks travelers overland through the clouds to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. It also helps reduce travel time to work for low-income residents in the city’s peripheral areas.

A Reuters article yesterday suggested that this project is well-liked in San Agustín. It prompted one resident to call Hugo Chavez “the only president who has really worked for the poor.” This sentiment is reflected in the statistics: a recent UN study shows poverty has dropped by 16.5% in the last five years.

And while the Venezuelan leader has been known to tout those numbers, he stressed earlier this year that the newest government-funded transportation project was designed for the good of all citizens:

None of the projects promoted by the Venezuelan government does [have political colors]; they will benefit all Venezuelans.

The technology and materials used to build the Metrocable were purchased from Austria and Brazil. The project may have been inspired by an existing aerial transportation system in Medellin, Colombia. Investments total $149 million, and it should create 200 direct jobs and 250 more indirect ones. It will carry 1,500 people an hour for a total of 15,000 commuters every day. See more pictures of the construction phase here.

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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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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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Venezuela has been strengthening its diplomatic and economic relations with Belarus, a process that will see a new embassy established in the capital city of Minsk later this year. Also in the works is a Simon Bolivar Latin American Cultural Center.

This month, Belarus has invited Venezuela, along with 20 other countries, to participate in the Minsk International Book Fair which lasts from February 11th – 15th.

After the book fair, a Venezuelan historical exhibit called “Latin American Revolution” will display placards and posters from the 1960s to commemorate the social movements of that era.

The Venezuelan Ambassador to Belarus, Américo Díaz Núñez, says that cooperation and friendship between the two nations is growing fast, and has touched issues ranging from culture to technology. Later in the year, Venezuelan artists will participate in Belarusian events and festivals.

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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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