Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This is me.

So summer is finally here for me, or it will be in a week! This summer is going to be my first summer staying in the US, and not going to Venezuela, since I was 12! I'm looking foward to staying home the whole summer and getting more involved at BLBC. As much as I look foward to the relaxing summer ahead of me, the real fun is going to be this fall, when my family goes to Gatlinburg in August and on a Caribbean Cruise later on in the fall!!! Definately getting excited about the latter of the two trips!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Venezuela Research Paper

Brittany Huff
Prof. Floyd
English 102
What’s Happening in Venezuela?
So when I first walked into my English 102 class at the University of Louisville and heard the teacher talk about an eventual 20-page paper we would have to turn in, my mind began wandering over the possible topics to write about. I soon settled to research further the country of Venezuela. Venezuela is a particular passion of mine, being that I’ve traveled there every year since I was 13. I’ve seen firsthand the poverty and struggle it can be to simply provide a family with one meal… let alone three good meals as we are accustomed to in the United States. This surprised me greatly and seemed to be a contradiction to the fact that Venezuela is a very oil-rich nation. At that point, I set out to look into the political history and economic history and try and find out if Venezuelans have always lived in poverty. I had known all along that there was indeed a good amount of money in Venezuela, but that it didn’t travel down to all of its citizens. Only the elite are receiving it, hinting at the phrase, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
As I began to further research this topic, I surprisingly didn’t find what I had expected to. My first surprise was to find that Venezuela, while still a third world country, it is supposedly in much better shape than many other countries. When I first went to Venezuela, I thought I had seen the worst of the worst, but apparently I had only seen the best of the worst. I realized that in America we are so spoiled that when we see poverty, we don’t know how to deal with it; however, in the world as a whole, Venezuela is not even near the top of the list for countries living in poverty.
Another surprise, and one that intrigued me a great deal, that I discovered was the way in which many articles referred to Hugo Chavez and the supposed ‘love and support’ that the Venezuelans had for him. I’ve heard many articles claim that Chavez has made the poor his top priority, creating all types of welfare for them. But that seems to counter everything that I’ve seen with my own eyes on each of my visits to Venezuela. I’ve worked with the poor, and over the years that I’ve been going there, I have seen no change. Hundreds of people still climb up the mountains of trash to find food, clothing, or anything else they can use to form some type of makes-shift shelter for their families. If Mr. Chavez is supposed to be the leader of the poor and helping redistribute the land and money, why is it that the same people are still digging through garbage and waste to find what little food they can to survive on?
Also, in the five different trips I’ve been to Venezuela, I have worked with the poor, I have made friends there who grew up all around the poverty and I cannot recall ever hearing them or anyone else say anything positive about Hugo Chavez. As long as I’ve been traveling there, I’ve always gotten the picture that Chavez was a pompous dictator. In fact, this past summer, during the Copa American Cup Championship, which was held in Maracaibo, Venezuela, the whole stadium erupted in anti-Chavez chants and dances. Venezuelan citizens dancing and shouting along against Chavez, quite the opposite image of a popular and loved president. But my main question would be that with all the opposition, how is it that Chavez won the 2006 presidential elections by a landslide? Possible conspiracy? There are already rumors of illegal campaigning on Chavez’s behalf.
I soon realized that my goal for this paper was changing. I originally wanted to point out exactly why things were the way they were. However, I quickly came to the conclusion that when you are pertaining to a country with a population of over 26 million people, there’s never going to be one simple answer. The actual truth might not ever come out about whether or not Chavez is actually who he claims to be, but my overall objective in this paper is to not simply take what we are handed as the truth. Not to simply accept information as truth, but rather to question it before acknowledging it as so.
The Beginning
Venezuela’s past is plagued by civil war, numerous constitutions, bloody battles, economic insecurity, political unrest, numerous coup attempts and enormous government instability. However, the country has ironically managed to be able to unite just enough to keep their independence. Over the years, there has been constant battling for power between the two main groups in Venezuela, the Federalists, commonly known as the Liberals and the Centralist, known as the Conservatives.
“Garden of Eden”
Venezuela was first seen by those other than the natives around August 1948, when Christopher Columbus became the first white man to set foot in Venezuela (Haggerty). It is thought that Columbus possibly mistook Venezuela’s beautiful shore for the biblical and mysteriously beautiful “Garden of Eden.” In 1500, explorers Amerigo Vespucci and Alfonso de Ojeda discovered the once pure Lake Maracaibo, which reminded Vespucci of Venice; hence the land was called Venezuela, meaning, “little Venice.”
Over the next hundred years, Venezuela’s value in the eyes of outsiders increased with the discovery of two of its major resources: pearls and people. Although the pearls were snatched up rather quickly, slave raiders gradually moved inland over the years (History of Venezuela).
A Country is Born
On July 5, 1811, Venezuela claimed independence from Gran Columbia. In 1830, Gran Columbia was overthrown, resulting in the independent countries of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Columbia. Simon Bolivar, who is said to be responsible for bringing the three countries their independence, left General Jose Antonio Paez to lead Venezuela’s military. After Bolivar’s death in 1830, Paez took full control of the newfound country.
Paez generally presided in favor of the Conservative Party and in 1830 ratified Venezuela’s first constitution. The constitution called for a centralist state that supported slavery, the death penalty for political crimes, and freedom of trade and commerce. This Conservative Party rule, which lasted till 1848 was one of the few times of political balance in Venezuela’s history, despite the fact that the decades surrounding this short-lived age were full of instability.
The Beginning of a Legacy of Chaos
In 1840, those who opposed Paez found a leader in Antonia Leocadio Guzman who created Venezuela’s Liberal Party. The new political wing wanted to do away with slavery, protect the poor, and broaden the range of people who could vote. In 1848, Venezuela saw its second president in General Jose Tadeo Monagas. Monagas was elected with the public’s understanding that he was a man of conservative values; however shortly after gaining power Monagas began showing favor to the Liberal party, granting them positions of power. Paez attempted to rebel against Monagas, but was unsuccessful and was exiled later in the same year that the soon to be dictator took power. Jose Tadeo Monagas soon brought to power his brother Jose Gregorio Managas and the two acted as dual Liberal dictators for the next decade. During their reign they banned slavery, broadened the qualifications to vote and outlawed criminal punishment. The Liberal Party would have loved this government, if it only enforced the laws. However, the government was quickly losing respect from all sides of the political arena. When the brothers tried to do away with the constitution and force their own, doing away with the restrictions of re-election, the country had finally had enough. In 1858 Venezuela’s first successful rebellion occurred leading also to its first Civil War between the Liberals and Conservatives over power of the country.
Eventually, the Federalists gained power in 1863 under the command of General Juan Falcon and General Antonio Guzman Blanco, with General Falcon becoming the next president. They developed a new constitution the next year with the Liberal stances. Under the Falcon, administration appointed leaders who were allowed to rule at state and national levels, the majority of whom were negligent. Political unrest created the opportune time for Conservatives to take back control, again under Jose Tadeo Monagas, in 1968. After Venezuela’s second Civil War, the Centralists were again uprooted, leaving the Federalists to take back control once more, this time under the rule of Guzman Blanco in 1870.
Blanco had the effect of a breath of fresh air upon the country; pulling the country out of chaos in less than 24 months. His vision of political and economical reform brought Venezuela to its next constitution in 1872, granting voting rights to all males in the country and direct election of the president. Setting up a primary education system, Blanco encouraged learning; but the ruler also encouraged individualism. He felt the Roman Catholic Church had too much power over the population and in order to spread the idea of religious freedom President Blanco cut all the church’s religious aid and privileges, made civil marriage legal, closed all convents and exiled the archbishop. However, this action would be cause for uprising in today’s time; the public still backed Blanco in the 1873 election. Throughout his continual rule, he continued to help the overall health of society by building many public places and monuments and enhancing the modes of transportation with the development of various main roads and ports.
Many viewed Blanco as a revolutionary of reform; but a growing number of others saw him a tyrant. When his rule ended in 1888, the country was once again thrown into political confusion. It wasn’t until 1892 when Joaquin Crespo finally took control. It was during his reign we first begin to see interaction between Venezuela and the United States of America, during a disagreement between Venezuela and Great Britain regarding the boundary lines between Venezuela and British Guiana. The United States sided with Venezuela and asked Britain to settle the dispute. Although this interaction seems meaningless, it is part of a main relationship I want to further address later in my research.
It 1899, Venezuela’s leadership once again changed hands and fell into the power of General Cipriano Castro as a result of his military seizing control. Castro was seen as a tyrant, causing constant rebellion. Castro named General Juan Vicente Gomez, his godfather, as his vice president. This move turned out to be the worst decision Castro could have made; when in 1908, while Castro was in Europe seeking medical help, Gomez successfully overthrew his godson and became dictator. Gomez was a dirty ruler; controlling elections, forbidding any organized political activity, and making it so that only he had the power to appoint government positions. He manipulated the political system to give himself total control, making the legislative and judicial branches all but useless. Gomez used corrupt tactics to ensure his position; illegal arrests, exiles, and assassinations were just some of his practices.
“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”
But Gomez also discovered another tactic that would become status quo for Venezuela forever: exploitation. It was during Gomez’s time, when Venezuela began to realize their potential wealth in what would become their main resource for the next century. During this time, after World War I, Venezuela became the largest exporter of oil and the second largest producer of oil. Again the relationship between Venezuela and United States comes into play, with the United States being the largest country in oil production at this time. Gomez started to use the newfound tactic of exploiting its oil exports. Venezuela dramatically prospered from these exports, wealthy enough to pay off all foreign debts, develop roads, railways, and ports, and to create more government jobs. However despite this abundance in wealth, the main problem we want to address also starts here with the drastic uneven distribution of wealth. Only the elite of society benefited from the majority of the money that was pouring into the country. Most of the country lived in poverty and their lack of food, housing, health, and education were continually dismissed by the government. Meanwhile, Gomez became the wealthiest man in Venezuela until 1935, when he died. The saying ‘The rich get richer and the poor get poorer’ became a reality at this point in Venezuela’s history.
Gomez’s war minister succeeded him to the presidency. Lopez worked to bring some of the public’s freedoms back until 1937, when he restored the former dictatorship, at which time he felt his position was being threatened. Lopez still worked to bring the country into better times with the proposal of a development program, which would build public schools and hospitals. His successor Isaias Medina Angarita continued the program and continued along the lines of Lopez. In 1943, after a war-caused decline in oil revenues, Anagarita passed a law that increased the country’s profit margin of oil.
1945 brought another first for Venezuela when President Anagarita was overthrown by a political party. Democratic Action party leader Romulo Betancourt led the county for over 2 years; when in 1947 Venezuela received its next constitution and elected Romulo Gallegos as president. The new constitution made this the county’s fourth constitution since the country was founded a little over a century earlier. The Democratic Action’s support of labor unions, housing, health, education, and agricultural development created deep-rooted resistance from the opposing conservatives, resulting in another coup in 1948 and Major Marcos Perez Jimenez taking power in 1950. The country was taken back to the dictatorship that the two previous rulers were trying to get away from. Once again, political activity, labor unions, universities and press were outlawed. The public was once again becoming agitated with its dictator.
In January 1958 Venezuela’s own navy and air force came together and overthrew Jimenez. In 1959, Romulo Betancourt was became Venezuela’s leader once again and began to work with and formed an alliance with the Christian Democrats, those in the Social Christian Party. The team worked to improve the high amount of illiteracy and poor health within the country. However, instability and rising opposition led to a depression in 1960-1963. Venezuela helped to found the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960-1961. By 1961 Venezuela had cut ties with both the Dominican Republic and Cuba, after assassination attempts were made and Cuban attempts to help communists in the country.
The Democratic Action won the next election, naming Ron Leoni as president in 1963 and causing the Christian Democrats to be replaced by the Democratic Republican Union. However, the Christian Democrats won control back by winning the 1968 elections sending Rafael Caldera Rodriguez to power. This switch of power was the first peaceful change of control that Venezuela had ever seen. Rodriguez helped the country’s foreign affairs by patching things up with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other Latin dictatorships. Carlos Andres Perez came to the presidency in 1973, bringing the Democratic Action back into power. After an oil boom that same year, Venezuela once again received a rush of wealth. However, once again that famous quote came into play and the elite became richer and the poor continued to suffer in poverty. Yet the boom did not last long and soon the country was headed in the opposite direction, gradually going from economical stand still to steady decline. Investors became concerned about the declining economy under the rule of Luis Herrera, of the Christian Democratic Party elected in 1978 and Jaime Lusinchi, of the Democratic Actions elected in 1983. By December 1988, Venezuela’s most beloved politician, Carlos Anres Perez returned to power. However, it soon became evident that country had lost its love for Perez, when riots and looting were a major problem as a result of Perez’s choices while in office. The protests only continued for the next 2 years. Among the protest leaders was Hugo Chavez Frias, who attempted a coup against the president; air force officers later set up a second coup. But the president escaped both times, only to be forced out of office in 1993. President Rafael Caldera took office again in 1994 and during his second rule, released Chavez from prison.
During the 1998 elections, the majority of Venezuelans were living in poverty. The people wanted change and the public viewed Hugo Chavez as that change and elected him as president. Chavez and a majority pro-Chavez assembly ratified a new constitution in 1999. Chavez was overthrown in April 2002 but was back in office in less than two days. Chavez had those who were willing to rebel against him removed from power and exiled those that were willing to assassinate him in order to remove him from power. Later the same year rebellions spread throughout the country and a strike was organized, causing massive damage to the economy. However the president stayed strong. Chavez was elected to another six-year term in 2006, by a supposed land sweep . The re-election has been under suspicion of illegal campaigning (Caracas). From his earlier coup attempts, resulting in his 2 year incarceration, it is clear that he considers himself above the law (Gale). Throughout the remainder of his term, which still continues today, Chavez has acquired a public close friendship in Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and an open disdain for the United States. Some say that Chavez looks at Cuba and sees where he wants Venezuela to get to, although Chavez denies that to be true. Last year, President Chavez proposed a constitutional referendum that would allow Chavez to run for re-election as long as he wanted to. The referendum was rejected in a narrow vote 51-49. This defeat signaled the first defeat the current president has faced since becoming the nation’s president.
When it comes to the analogy of someone’s life being like a roller coaster that phrase rings true in the life of Venezuela. This country has seen nothing but political chaos since it first became a country over a century ago. Rebellions and revolutions have been a constant throughout the many years. Has this chaos factor managed to become an average part of this culture or are Venezuelans still waiting for the day when they can live in peace altogether?
From the looks of things and from the way they’re president carries himself, it seems that peace will continue to elude Venezuela.
Two Arguing Countries… or A Bully Among Nations?
“I think that the first people who should read this book are our brothers and sisters in the United States because their threat is in their own house. The devil is right at home. The devil, the devil himself is right in the house. And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here. (Crosses himself) Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today. This table that I am now standing in front of, yesterday ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the President of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as 'the devil' came here talking as if he owned the world. Truly as the owner of the world. I think we can call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the President of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism he came to share his nostrums. To try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title, 'The Devil's Recipe'” (“President Hugo Chavez Delivers Remarks at U.N. General Assembly”).
For years America has watched as a feud has developed between our own President George W. Bush and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The United Nations’ General Assembly meeting in September 2006 was definitely one for the books, marking Chavez’s speech to the General Assembly in which he openly referred to President Bush as the Devil numerous times, dropping the insult six times in a single paragraph alone. Chavez has never been slow to announce his disgust with the United States’ President, giving him the nicknames of Mr. Danger, the Devil, Danger Bush-Hitler, the world’s worst assassin and the number one mass murderer on the planet (“Pres. Hugo Chavez”). For the record, I was able to find no such incidents in which Bush had been quoted to say anything so malicious in return about Hugo Chavez. The September meetings were a clear sign of Chavez’s distaste for America.
However, Americans are presented with their own share of biases against Chavez. The media is quick to point out the close friendship between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro. As mentioned before, Chavez has been accused of looking at Cuba and seeing Venezuela’s future. The picture to the right probably is a better overall representation of what Americans are led to believe; that Castro is simply feeding Chavez word for word instructions on how to run the country of Venezuela. And with the ingrained demonization of Fidel Castro in the minds of many Americans, this simply fuels the feud between the two countries and their leaders.
Therefore, it is no surprise that tensions between the political heads of both Venezuela and the United States have been high, however, the economic relationship seems to tell a different story. Venezuela is ranked the 6th highest exporter of petroleum. With that said, it’s quite interesting that the US gets almost half of all that comes out of Venezuela. But it doesn’t stop there. The US is the biggest of Venezuela’s import-partners at 33%, which means that out of everything that Venezuela imports, 33% of it all comes from the United States. These countries are in a consistent trading relationship with each other; however, Chavez is constantly blaming the US for anything that goes wrong. In the 2006 speech, he made the claim that, “protects terrorism when it wants to,” adding to the allegation that the United States is a ‘model of domination.’
“Sowing the oil”
Over the years Venezuela has been known for their exploitation of petroleum production, being an oil-rich country (“Venezuela” Encyclopedia Britannica). In fact during between the 1940’s up until the 1970’s Venezuela was the world’s largest producer of oil. The country continues to be the 6th largest in oil exportation. The country relies on its oil to sustain the majority of the economy.
Venezuela has so many natural resources at their disposal, but continues to rely mainly upon their oil supply and the extortion of it. There are many resources that Venezuela could take advantage of including deposits of bauxite, gold, diamonds, coal, salt, and limestone. There are also large amounts of nickel, phosphate, copper, zinc, lead, titanium, and magnesium. But the majority of these resources are untouched.
Much of the oil production takes place along the shores of Lake Maracaibo; which is now horrendously polluted as a result of years of dumping chemicals into the once beautiful waters. You can see in the picture to the right the extent of the; the green swirls and sections are what is known as Duckweed. Scientists have still not found the exact cause of this ‘plant’, but are pretty sure it is fueled by ‘untreated sewage… and other industrial wastes’ (“Lake Maracaibo”). The carelessness of the country and the government has resulted in this nasty green plant that literally can’t be controlled. With no treatment yet found, the ‘slime’ must be physically removed. On my trips to Venezuela, when crossing the famous bridge over Lake Maracaibo, one can always see a boat going around and cleaning the water. As a result of this, the whole lake has essentially become contaminated. However, the shoreline runs on for miles and is open to hundreds of people; many of whom are living in an already poverty-stricken area, are also living beside a huge pool of sewage and waste. Unfortunately, as the picture above shows, many are unaware of the pollution right outside their windows; daily bathing and playing in the water.
This aspect simply adds to the ever deteriorating living conditions many Venezuelans have to deal with their whole lives.
After seeing this with my own eyes, I was changed forever. I set out to find out why this was happening, but in the end, there is never going to be a simple point-blank answer. It is a mixture of things. A mixture of history, leadership, government, environment and mentality. The truth is things may never fully, or partially, turn around for the country of Venezuela. The only hope of rebound would to have something dramatically drastic happen. However, Venezuela’s roller coaster history has been full of leaders who thought they had what it took to make that change, but after decades upon decades of leaders, Venezuela is still vastly living in poverty. History may be doomed to repeat itself. And all the while the elite first class, keep living their fancy lives while others are digging in the dump for the roof over their head. And in the United States, we can only imagine what the latter life is like. It is time we open our eyes to what is going on in the world, and not just accept what we see on TV or what our neighbors tell us as the inevitable truth. It is time we look, each for ourselves, and not blindly accept everything we hear as what actually is. We need to learn to look and see and find out for ourselves.