Saturday, 13 March 2010

Let me introduce you: Libertador, in Carabobo, Venezuela

Libertador is a municipality in the state of Carabobo. It is, together with neighbouring Southern Valencia to the East, the Western part of the very key electoral district created on the government's last gerrymandering round. The party winning the majority there in September 2010 will get three extra deputies at the National Assembly.

There are several municipalities with that name in Venezuela, the name a product of Venezuelans' obsession with military figure Simón Bolívar. This Libertador municipality is located where the Battle of Carabobo took place.

The municipality is 558km2. That is about 23.6 per 23.6 km. It is very densely populated for Venezuela: it has anything from 180000 to almost 300000 people. We don't know exactly how many are there. In Venezuela you have to give your ID number if you buy a book or a mixer legally, but there is no real control of who lives where, specially in poor areas.

There are several "hallmarks". You have

  • the Campo Carabobo, which is a memorial for the famous battle, a place for military parades and visits from school children

  • the state prison
  • the largest landfill or rubbish dump of the state and one of the largest in Venezuela

Venezuela's Prisons

The prison in Libertador (actually 3 in 1) is an example of Venezuela's prisons. They were built in 1959-1963 and were built for 1200 people. They have at least 3024 persons now. The state spends less than 2 dollars for each prisoner per day, whereas the US and Europe spend more than 50 dollars. Last year 106 prisoners were injured in fights or any other act of violence and 53 were killed. That is 1 out of 57 prisoners. There is a complete report about the situation at the site of the Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones, when it is not down.

Venezuela's Rubbish Dumps

Venezuela's environmental record is horrible, even if capital consumption is not as high as in the US or Europe. The big problem we have is that we are processing our rubbish as we were doing two hundred years ago, when most rubbish could degrade easily and our population was just 1/30 of what we have now.

In a country as Belgium or Germany one tone of rubbish is mostly recycled, the fumes completely filtered, the heat reprocessed, plastic, glass and a lot more is taken out of the rubbish through safe procedures, a lot of the rest is transformed into material to be used for road construction and at the end you get one kilogram of useless rubbish that gets stored in special areas. In Guásima, you throw everything into dumps, wait until the poor or just some illegal "recycling teams" take with their bare hands reusable batteries, some plastic, some (some) glass and then you burnt it all. You then push it further into the ground. There are some areas with some "isolating material" that should prevent that toxic waste from getting into the groundwater, but the whole process is a joke. The rubbish of more than 1.5 million people of an industrial city end up here.

Every second week or so there are big fires that last for a couple of days. Mothers have to take their kids inside their homes, hope for the wind to turn in the other direction. Thousands of people have breathing or skin problems.

For more than a decade the people of this municipality have been asking for external help but nothing happens: the national government ignores everything, the different municipalities keep fighting each other and politics always gets the upper trump. Everybody accuses the others of not contributing to solve the issue.

Last year a new dump field nearby was built for 20 million Bs (which seems suspiciously little), with one collection area where the rubbish is also squashed to reduce its size and two areas for depositing toxic waste over a rather primitive "geomembrana" or protective shield to prevent leackage into the underground. The mayor hopes to open it up in mid 2010, but she is still waiting for the national government to give them the control of it. Until 5 municipalities with the vast majority of the state's population use the site without giving much for it.

Meanwhile, the pollution is so high that it is spreading: the underground water ends up going into Southern Valencia and from there into the Valencia Lake.

Murder in the Land of Freedom

Approximately 200 persons died in the 1821 Battle of Carabobo fighting for Venezuela's independence. in 2006, 175 people were murdered in this municipality. In 2007, there were 177 murders. In 2008 there were 214 people who got murdered here. Last year, there were 232. The municipality has one of the highest murder rates in a country that as a whole the highest murder rate of South America. Bogotá and Medellín are almost Swedish compared to this.

Below you have the total amount of murders in the municipality month by month. Remember the region is around 23.6 km x 23.6 km large. The red column is December (I got the data from Notitarde, which got it from the state police).

Public Resources in Libertador and Southern Valencia

There is not a single general hospital for the Libertador population. There is actually not a single general hospital even for most of Southern Valencia, with half a million people. All these regions are served by one single general hospital, the Hospital general de Valencia, which is also the hospital for central and northern Valencia and many other regions.

Public schools are incredibly overcrowded in this and neighbouring areas. There are many pupils who do not have books ore even desks. There are no real public libraries. If you speak Spanish, read this about a school there.


Most people living in Libertador have to go somewhere else to get a job, any job: some work in construction, some work in the service sector mostly as unskilled workers. A huge amount of people are just street vendors. There are just a few minor industries around.

The Political Zoo

Libertador makes up, together with several parishes of the Valencia municipality, the newly gerrimandered mega-electoral district the chavista regime concocted for securing three deputies. Below you see how the results for the 2008 election of the Libertador Mayor. There is a ridiculously large amount of parties, something unique to Venezuela and perhaps Somalia. If several opposition parties actually merged or disappeared, the result would be much more than the sum of the resulting votes. Several of Valencia's parishes in this new district have much more support for the alternatives to the regime. Still, if people voted as they voted in 2008, we would not win that circuit.

We need to change that. This is going to be very difficult, particularly as the Proyecto Venezuela party prefers to let everybody sink than to cooperate and lose their opportunity to be candidates. This is going to be very difficult, as the other parties are not trying to analyse the needs of the people in those areas and do not spend time there. They are getting votes from Libertador and Southern Valencia mostly because in spite of themselves. Only a few courageous Venezuelans working for the opposition - some people I know - are spending a lot of time in those areas listening to people's needs and talking about proposals.

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