Venezuela pics online

image: matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

Click to see the complete gallery

Finally! After many months I’ve uploaded images I took in Venezuela back in April of this year. It was not an easy trip, I was only in the country for about a week and tried to do way too much. It usually takes me that long just to get a feel for a place before I feel comfortable walking around taking photographs, which was very hard to do on this trip. I brought only one fixed 35 mm lens so as to not stand out too much, and I also kept my camera in my bag most of the time since having uninsured gear in a tough city like Caracas is not fun — everywhere we went Venezuelans told me to be careful because I would get jumped for my gear.

Crime is high in Caracas, but I was really impressed meeting those organizing against it. In many communities in Venezuela, there is an energy similar to one I felt in Palestine earlier in the intifada, or even in Chicago in 2003 when tens of thousands were organizing against the war in Iraq. Another thing that impressed me was that just walking around we came across health clinic after health clinic that I could just enter and be treated for free by well-trained Cuban doctors. This made me feel constantly safe — the complete opposite to being in the states with no health coverage. Needless to say, I will be back in Venezuela soon.

Many thanks to my sister for her initial invitation to visit and her assistance with everything thereafter.

Venezuela, 24 hrs after arrival

image: matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

Each time I write about a place, I find myself starting off by writing about its beauty. Well, I was going to try to avoid that this time but couldn’t. Venezuela is gorgeous.

The air is so thick from the humidity, and with all of the deep green from the tree covered mountains it feels like pure oxygen entering your lungs. The barrios are also incredible. Anyone who knows me knows that I love people, real and honest people, who I usually find in working class areas. Caracas is full of these barrios where most of the city’s largely working class population lives.

But before I write about the barrios I want to mention something else that struck me today. Could you imagine walking in downtown Chicago and coming across a tent setup by the government where volunteers played videos produced by the government and handed out pamphlets on the government’s policies?

Walking through downtown Caracas we saw a few of these today. And it’s not just a one way thing where the government’s policies are being told to the people in a propagandistic manner. No, if you have a question, if you want to know how the new policies regarding health care or education will affect you, go ahead and ask it. Shout it out even, and one of the volunteers or other people around will be happy to respond, or shout back if they disagree.

There are probably similar things in the states, but usually the rhetoric of politicians is so far above our heads. During the elections I remember asking friends if they understood what McCain and Obama were talking about. The issues are so removed from most of our daily lives, I mean what the hell is “pork belly spending”? I want to know, in plain English, how the policies of the government will affect my daily life, and I think that is nearly impossible to find in the US.

Here, and I’ll admit this is just a first impression, but it seems the government’s policies are very transparent so that the people can understand and know what’s happening. And when the government is providing free health care and education and better employment opportunities to the masses, why lie about it? Why have to hide those policies in complicated rhetoric? Why not just be upfront and let people know how they are benefiting? Of course, there are those not happy with the government, and they are mostly the ones from the minority who controlled nearly everything in the country before Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998.

Back to the barrios: The homes in the barrios remind me of the densely populated areas of Cairo, and the large buildings look similar to what Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing projects used to look like before they were torn down. Except there is one thing different here: the color. Everything is so colorful. And as a photographer it makes me drool.

It’s so refreshing to see an urban landscape void of huge advertisements everywhere you turn. It’s also nice to take a picture in different parts of town and not have the same shot of a 7-11 quickie mart, McDonalds or other chain store. Unique, different, special. What is happening to that in Chicago? I feel every time I come back more and more of that is disappearing. And it’s definitely not just Chicago. These days most US cities look quite similar, as are may other cities around the world.

Today we went to the 23 de Enero (23 of January) barrio and met with one collective, Alexis Vive. Named after a man who was killed in the two-day coup (backed by the US) of 2002, the cooperative has been covered in the Western media as a new military component of Chavez’s socialist revolution in Venezuela. I will write more about this group, but to report about their activities in such a way is ridiculous.

They have cleaned up much of their barrio. They have cut down on drug use and provided areas for children to play. I asked them about the media’s claims of their militancy, and they responded that Chavez is “militarizing all Venezuelans” to take part in the revolution. They also said “Chavez is ours.” When I asked who they’re referring to when they say “ours” thinking they meant the leftist groups or supporters of Chavez, he quickly responded that he meant all of the Venezuelan people.

There is democracy in Venezuela. Agree with it or not, people are active in the political process on every level. Yes, the government has done things that have been called into question, as I think they should be. But when you encourage people, all people, to get involved in the political process democracy starts to become something real, something tangible. As an American, other than voting for one of two candidates every four years, democracy is not something I can say that I know much about.

Bolivia: Legacy of Che Guevara endures

image: lainie cassel
image: lainie cassel

My sister’s first published article:

The role of Cubans as a mechanism for development is a trend that began in Venezuela under the direction of President Hugo Chavez and has recently been adopted by countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador.

As Latin America shifts towards the left, Cuban citizens have become the island’s most important “export”, proving to be a potent threat to US influence in the region.

The poorest country in South America, Bolivia’s majority indigenous population has faced a long history of poverty. However, under the direction of the first indigenous president, Evo Morales, the government promises a drastic change from the past.