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Venezuelans can now buy cell phones for the equivalent of just US $13.95, thanks to a new state-run company that put its first 5,000 units on the market yesterday in Caracas.

Eager shoppers snapped up the first bunch, and the AP reports that another 5,000 will be in stores soon.

The tiny phone, dubbed “El Vergatario,” is equipped with a camera, radio, and mp3 player.

The firm that makes them, a joint venture by the governments of Venezuela and China, is known as Vetelca. This is not an isolated effort, but rather, part of a broader plan to promote affordable technology (you may recall the “Bolivarian Computer,” and the adoption of open-source Linux operating systems).

“El Vergatario” is only sold on the domestic market right now, but depending on its success, it could eventually become an export. And because it is literally the cheapest cell phone in the world, it is likely to be quite competitive.

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Want to study in Venezuela and learn some Spanish? Since you can’t find everything on the internet, we recommend traveling to Venezuela. We promise you won’t find an opportunity like this one anywhere else.

Global Exchange provides a unique opportunity to English-speaking students to get to know Venezuela in a beautiful town located at the foot of Andes.  Mérida is a popular tourist destination and home to the Universidad de Los Andes.

The fall and spring semester academic programs are designed to increase students’ knowledge of contemporary Venezuelan society. The goal is to create links and build bridges between advocates of social justice in the global North and like-minded people in Latin America. Global’s motto is “building people to people ties”, and you’ll leave Venezuela with lots of new friends.

The 12-week program is built around intensive Spanish language training, essential for anyone serious about getting to know the people of the patria querida. Courses focus on Venezuelan history, culture, and politics. You can earn 15 undergraduate or graduate credits while engaging with contemporary and alternative development issues inside and outside the classroom.

Frequent exchanges with community leaders involved in social change on the ground make this a truly one-of-a-kind experience. The people at Global Exchange have worked within the communities of Mérida for many years. They know the terrain, and can’t wait to show you around!

Here’s the link to learn more.

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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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Today there was an exciting development in public diplomacy that brought two communities together: the Venezuelan city of Carora and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These two places have teamed up to build connections through cultural, educational, and economic activities. Notably, it is the first Sister City agreement made between the U.S. and Venezuela in ten years.

The Sister City program allows citizens from the two countries to unite on a local level, which helps build cross-cultural understanding. It can also add a human element to political realities.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said:

Our leaders of our representative countries have not had the warmest relations and that makes what we are doing today more important. If leaders don’t see eye to eye that doesn’t keep individuals from working together. Political leaders come and go, but at the local, grass-roots level there’s still the ability as human beings for us to make the world better.

City officials are looking forward to sharing ideas on issues such as water, dairy production and coffee exchange. Carora is creating a welcome house for visitors from Milwaukee where they can learn about the city’s rich heritage.  It is in fact one of the oldest colonial cities on the South American continent, founded for the first time in 1569.

Considering the cold temperatures in Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s new sister will likely attract her share of snowbirds next winter!

Stay tuned for updates.

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Intercultural education will soon become a reality in Venezuela, if Professor Angela Diaz has anything to do with it.

She spoke at at a public event today in Washington sponsored by TransAfrica Forum. Diaz has been making her way around the U.S. capital,  speaking at Howard University and meeting Members of Congress to discuss the Afro-Venezuelan experience.

Diaz is a member of the Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations (La Red de Organizaciones Afrovenezolanas), has worked tirelessly over the past decade to help create a more inclusive education system. Like the U.S., Afro-descendants and Indigenous peoples in Venezuela have been too often distorted or omitted from public school curricula. Due to the work of people like Diaz, Venezuelan students will learn about all the ethnic groups that built the South American continent.

The new inclusive curriculum has been implemented in 17 states so far. Part of the process involves inviting community elders into the schools to teach.  In one school, grandparents taught students how to make a fish recipe, which is stuffed in a plantain leaf. Fish is a vital resource for residents along the Caribbean coast, many of whom identify as Afro-Venezuelan. Along with the recipe, the children learned about history, culture, art, and the environment. Sharing ancestral knowledge is the key to transmitting what has been left out of the history books.

Diaz emphasized that students are inspired when they can see themselves and their communities represented in their lessons. See more of Professor Diaz’s work with Fundación Curduvare.

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Women make history every day, and the women of Venezuela are doing so by cultivating a community-based economic model. They are embarking on new paths to autonomy within an historic social movement that is improving the lives of millions through “social missiones” that deliver new opportunities.

Government-funded programs such as Madres del Barrio (or “Mothers of the Neighborhood”) promote  social inclusion and community action. Madres del Barrio gives women the tools to succeed personally as well as economically by offering education, training, and interest-free loans. These tools have been invaluable for women, many of whom had never before worked outside the home.

The Guardian Weekly showcases the personal story of one Caracas woman whose participation in Madres del Barrio led her to found the successful Guarayrapana Textile Cooperative. Yovita Vera had this to say about her experience:

It takes a lot of willpower to keep the cooperative working, but we couldn’t have done it without the support from Madres del Barrio. I feel like this government has finally given women the status they deserve. In the barrios, most of the families are headed by women with little or no support from men, so it makes sense for them to be in control of the finances.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, Madres del Barrio deserves a round of applause!

Check out this video about Madres del Barrio in Spanish.

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Yesterday, March 8th, was recognized by countries around the world as International Women’s Day. In Venezuela, there were many achievements to celebrate as well as challenges ahead.

In 2007, the Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free from Violence was passed. It stipulates that 23 women’s shelters must be created throughout the country, but only two have been opened so far, according to an IPS article. Many women  rely on the “rehabilitation centers” of the government-funded social mission known as “Negra Hipólita,” which provides services to those in situations of critical poverty. A new National Institute for Women was also created recently. Its initiatives include the expansion of a helpline for women that now provides 24-hour service.

Last week, the head of the gender team of the United Nations Development Programme, Winnie Byanyima (pictured here), was visiting Venezuela. In a Spanish-language interview, Ms. Bayanyima said “the [2007] law promulgated by the Venezuelan government is very important, but it must be put into practice and monitored.”

The UN, together with Spanish International Cooperation Agency, held seminars in Caracas that allowed participants from Spain to share with Venezuelans their experiences with setting up a three-tiered system of services for women who face violence. The seminars were attended by officials from the government’s National Institute of Women as well as police and citizens.

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