A Potpourri of Venezuela, Colombia and Cartagena – Part 1

You’ve all heard of Irish Stew and of Hungarian Goulash:  today I’m telling you about a trio of places that makes up a potpourri—surely as hot and tasty as Goulash and Stew. I’ll touch on them in order of our passing by or stopping at.

So, I’ll begin with a country that is vital to the United States—and other countries around the world—Venezuela.  It comprises a mainland and many islands in the Caribbean, and borders (more or less) with Guyana, Brazil and Colombia, although there have been border disputes between all three countries and Venezuela.  The current fight is with tiny Guyana.

But, let’s back up a few centuries.  People have lived in this area at least 15,000 years. The modern world learned of the land when in 1499, a fellow whose name you’ll recognize sailed in along the coast of Venezuela.  Here, he saw villages that people had built over water, reminding him of Venice Italy, so he named it Venezuela, which means “little Venice.”  Others have said that the local natives were called Veneciuela … so you take your choice.  Spain colonized this area in 1522, killing the locals who were descendants of Carib Indians; an uprising for independence began in 1811, but in 1812, a terrible earthquake hit Caracas, so those attempts failed.

In 1821, Simon Bolivar (the Liberator), who is recognized as the liberator of several South American countries (Ecuador and, obviously, Bolivia), led a revolt against the Spanish, which resulted in a messy decade of fighting until 1830, when the country became somewhat settled—and free of Spain.

For the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was in continual turmoil and/or dictatorships. In 1958, the country began a series of somewhat democratically elected presidents.

File:SaltoAngel4.jpg

Angel Falls – By Paulo Capiotti [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The economy of the country began to reach heights with the discovery of huge oil deposits, reaching its best until the l980’s.  But huge public spending and internal and external debts of the government during the Petrodollar years of the 1970s and early 80s led to a collapse of oil prices during the l980s, all of which crippled Venezuelan economy.  When the money went south, so did the dream of democracy.  Major coup attempts, two in 1992 and one in 2002, have led to rising poverty and crime and increasing political instability in the country.

Venezuela is a beautiful country:  the Andes mountains in the west, has part of the Amazon Basin, and has Angel Falls, the world’s largest waterfall… a wide diversity of plant and animal life…maybe among the widest of any other country.  The Orinoco River drains a large land mass, one of the largest in Latin America…not just South America…Latin America.  Cloud forests and rain forest are particularly rich, for example, with 25,000 species of orchids.

File:Manatee.jpgNotable mammals include the giant anteater, jaguar, and the capybara, the world’s largest rodent.  There are also manatees, river dolphins, and Orinoco crocodiles—which can get as long as 26 ft., plus a host of bird species—ibises, ospreys, kingfishers, and the yellow-orange turpial, the national bird.  Mining, logging and shifting cultivation (known as slash/burn cultivation, I think) have endangered many of these animals and plants.

Venezuelans have been sports figures in the U.S., primarily in baseball. Several are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Soccer is also a popular sport.

Artists and writers have achieved worldwide recognition, as have architects…all heavily dominated by Latin American culture.  Ninety-six percent of Venezuelans are nominally Roman Catholic, but I doubt that includes regular church attendance.  It usually doesn’t in Latin America.

Income: petroleum sector accounts for about half of the GDP and for around 80% of their exports. Spanish is the national language

Since we really aren’t welcome there, let’s go on to the other two ingredients in our cultural “stew”…but I hope you know that Venezuela is a beautiful country; it just needs good people to lead it…. Next time, we go on to Colombia and one of its major cities, Cartagena, which we WILL visit.

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