Cruising the islands off the coast of Venezuela is a no-miss opportunity. An article by an American couple in last January's cruising world magazine called it their favourite cruising grounds in all of the Caribbean
. Crime on the islands is totally unlike the built-up areas on the mainland - yes, there is some petty theft, but little beyond that. They also spoke of the fact that they noticed none of the simmering animosity that one senses on many of the other islands in the Caribbean
, and posited that perhaps it was because there is no history
of slavery on Margarita. I don't know the reason for the graciousness and generosity of the Margaritianos, but can confirm all of those comments and more.
I attended an I.A.P. (internation association of prosecustors) conference on Margarita Island in July which was attended by prosecutors from around the world , including - I know, hard to believe, the USA! The Americans had been told that there is a travel advisory and frankly, were shocked to see the reality of the Island as opposed to the Bush government
propaganda. Again, they felt safe and were amazed at the infrastructure.
On the other hand, one can understand the reluctance of some in going to Venezuela if they read only, or primarily the propaganda available in the U.S. The president, Hugo Chavez, won by landslides in the last two elections and the CIA-backed coup attempt against him on 2002 failed after the locals broke him out of jail within 48 hours. No, this isn't a Chavez spouting off at the mouth; rather, there is one book by an American lawyer, and another by an Oxford professor of South American studies which confirm the money
trail. It is also noteworthy that the US was the only country on the planet to recognize the military junta as the new leaders of the country - and did so only 5 hours after the first bloodshed (and before there was any semblance of actual control, let alone stability).
I know, I know, Bush and Rice have claimed the elections were rigged (and he and his brother may have some experience considering Fla. and hanging chads), but actually they were monitored by the UN and by the private organization for world democracy led by former President Jimmy Carter. Indeed, two weeks ago Chavez lost
his referendum on constitutional reforms including the elimination of a maximum of 2 terms for the president. Democracy is definitely alive and well in Venezuela despite the efforts of the CIA to overthrow him.
Chavez has also repeatedly indicated that he will only nationalize monopolies or resources (such as oil). Even there, he has renegotioated with all of the oil
companies, who are now in partnership
with the people of Venezuela; significantly, they are all still making bucketfulls (or should I say barrelfuls) of money
The infrastructure has seen huge improvements. Yes, I know he has promoted an idea that appears communistic to many Americans (universal health
care); but in Venezuela unlike England
etc., etc. there is still a 2 tier health care
system, allowing private hospitals/clinics as well as the public ones!
Yes, he brought in 1500 doctors from Cuba
in a deal for oil
, but he is providing health care
in areas on mainland Venezuela where people had never seen a Doctor. He has also provided scholarships to 1500 Venezuelan students to study medicine around the world in order to be able to replace them. I know, I know, rampant communism! On the other hand, as in health
care, there are both public and private universities in Venezuela.
The highways, water
plants, airports, hospitals, schools have all seen gigantic investments and, here's the kicker
, the people seem happier and have an optimisitic view about the future! Compare that with North America! Personally, I am happier travelling to and staying at a place where the people have a sense of progress being made and who are not ripe for revolution!
I could go on at some length but urge sailors to consider other sources for information on the subject, if it worries them, than the US media. For example, a year ago an item on CNN referred to 'Chavez, in his continuing move towards Cuban-style communism, yesterday seized the nations largest producer of electricity'! The next day the BBC and papers such as the Toronto Globe and Mail confirmed that he had indeed nationalized the electrical
industry ( a monopoly), but had purchased
it from the previous owners. The American president of the american company that sold the controlling interest to the Venezuelan government
confirmed that the deal "respected shareholder's rights". Again, while to some it may seem like communism, many European countries (and until recently, Canadian provinces) had nationalized electricity.
There are many reasons to cruise the islands off the coast of Venezuela and very few not to. I can assure you that fear of the political climate is not a vaild reason. Instead, you will be travelling to a place where there is terrific inexpensive health care, marina facilities with quality repairs
at extremely low cost, diesel fuel
for 4 cents a litre (about 16 a gallon), beautiful beaches and bays including a number that are still virtyally unspoiled and uninhabited. And despite incipient communism, crazy entrepeneurs from around the world are continuing to invest. Toyota opened a large assembly plant on the mainland only 2 years ago. More importantly to the cruising sailor, a local in Porlamar (the capital of Margarita Island) has set up a wireless high-speed internet service
in the largest anchorage and has made it available to anchored boats at reasonable daily, weekly and monthly rates. Boy, service
has sure dropped off under Chavez - I mean, how third world is that!
Further, one bar near the harbour in Pedro Gonazles provides free wireless internet
service to customers. Yes free. Of course, you have pay about a dollar with tip for a drink at the establishment.
Please don't be scared off. Leave your politics at home. Respect the rights of the people of other countries to elect leaders who are not puppets of another country and who value their own people over the interests of international corporations.