Experiencing Venezuela


The revolution in Venezuela was like that moment when an individual finds his/herself. That was my first impression at (the Independence Hall) the National Pantheon. That first day, as we arrived at the Independence Hall, my knowledge of Venezuela, all I knew about Venezuela was that a man named Hugo Chavez had been president. After, visiting the Independence Hall, my knowledge expanded in an instant. That’s because those 142 independence fighters whose remains lay there captured the history of Venezuela.

I learned about the countless invasions and the heroes and people that resisted them and fought to restore their rights taken by the oppressor. In particular, in 1854, years before the 1863 US Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were freed in Venezuela and five years after a bloody war, a successful land reform was carried out. The fight against the Spanish landowners couldn’t but be one of the most vicious wars.

However, this land reform by weakening the Spanish played a decisive role in Venezuela’s independence.

Just in that moment, we had the opportunity to witness the changing of the guard for Simon Bolivar’s remains. Simon Bolivar, unfamiliar to us then, would be mentioned again and again in Venezuela. That is because his dream of a unified Latin America still remained strong. His likeness and his name were celebrated everywhere to keep his dream strong. If we had not understood the history, his images everywhere might be misunderstood as idolization.

That first day of studying history in the National Pantheon made the rest of our trip easier to understand and absorb. That doesn’t mean that it was all easy. Sometimes, the same images  in the murals everywhere were hard to digest. If the diversity is damaged, it could have negative repercussions. Nonetheless, Chavez, who sought to set right the national consciousness by creating the Independence Hall, had taken the first step in recovering Venezuela’s identity. The second day, we visited the socialist planned city of Caribia.

Set outside Caracas, this city was created to house those that lost their homes to natural disasters. Roughly 20,000 households attend the school, medical clinics, and Mercal within the city while working at the nearby cement, water-tank factory, or working at the nearby cities. After three years of free housing, the residents have to pay off their homes little by little. Still, the cost of housing is a hundredth that of surrounding areas.

In our visit to the schools, we were able to the learning and eating facilities. Breakfast and lunch are provided for free. School bag, supplies, etc. are provided for free. While the exercise facilities and garden were still incomplete, I could see them coming along.

The residents find their jobs in their community such as in the community radio, textile factory, bakery, and they provide their products to the community to counter the economic war. However, I think improving competitiveness of their products should be one of their targets as well. The free medical care was operated in a surprising way. Medical treatment was provided not by Venezuelan doctors but by Cuban ones. The Cuban doctors were filling the positions vacated by Venezuelan doctors who had gone to work in the private sector. These doctors accepted their two year service abroad separated from their families matter of factly. It was another aspect of socialism I got to witness.

Every year in Caracas, about 170 medical professionals are created through free education. The cuban doctors will keep doing this until it has enough medical professionals to entrust its free health care system with. However, we are going to have to see about when that day arrives. In a system already exposed to capitalism, it will not be easy for them to turn down the lure of material wealth. I have to see Cuba first but I guess that the way the Cuban social system deals with the pursuit of wealth may be different from Venezuela’s, not just its educational philosophy.

When we visited Hugo Chavez City within Caracas, the afternoon had come and gone and the sun was setting. We followed students receiving musical education from El Sistema to their recital hall. Strangely enough, their recital hall was the outdoor stage at the Naval base. Seeing students and soldiers jumbled up together enjoying the festivities was a strange sight. It was strange every time I saw civilians and soldiers intermingling and interacting freely with each other. However, in Venezuela this was the result of a transformation within the military from being oppressors in the past, to now communicating and interacting with people.

The students’ performance and song was great. I felt great affection towards these students that had opened themselves up to us so much. This was a system that took children from difficult situations and gave them confidence and hope in the world. This was a system that had started before the revolution. However, who started it is not important. What is important is that because of this program the students are growing into individuals that can make their voices heard. And, they can have enough generosity to express such warmth towards foreigners like us. Even if they do not grow up to become great musicians, I hope that their warmth remains.

To accomplish this, children should not be sacrificed in the greedy fight between adults. Nonetheless, the political arena remains unstable. In a world in danger of veering towards the extreme right, I hope that we, on the opposite corner of the planet, can extend solidarity so that their light of hope is not extinguished.

As Simon Bolivar intended, until that day we can protect the liberty of the weak from the powerful!

Miyoung Cho (4.3 Jeju Research Institute, travel writer)