DAILY CATHOLIC WEDNESDAY December 22, 1999 vol. 10, no. 243
NEWS & VIEWS
VENEZUELA'S TRAGIC CHRISTMAS
Bishop of La Guaira Loses Family and Residence in Floods
CARACAS, DEC 21 (ZENIT).- The end of the millennium has brought a tragic Christmas to Venezuela, a country rich in natural resources, but brought to its knees after decades of corruption and poor management, forcefully manifested during the current natural disaster. This tragedy was not altogether unpredictable, as the rainy season always entails mudslides in the areas surrounding Caracas. These natural conditions were aggravated by illegal construction, human invasion of gullies, and the natural lack of foresight of people who live for the present, impoverished by the irresponsibility of so many governments.
This catastrophe hit Venezuelans just at the moment when they were experiencing the uncertainty of a 180 degree turn in the political rudder, steered by Hugo Chavez, a charismatic president who is supported by the people's desire for change from a situation of exhaustion and exploitation. The President has taken command of the situation, and with all his military energy, crowned by a red beret, sleeps in the devastated Maiquetia airport, from where he directs all the rescue and assistance operations.
President Chavez is tapping all his charismatic charm, dancing among the homeless, embracing those who weep, and singing with the volunteers, in order to restore the people's morale. "The worst is over," the 45 year old former parachutist said. "Now we must begin the reconstruction." This populist leftist, who calls himself a friend of Castro and who appointed Jose Rangel, a prestigious man of the left ,as his Foreign Affairs Minister, has said time and time again that the disaster will make possible social planning on a large scale, and has blamed decades of poor urban administration for the present loss of human lives, because the poor were precariously balanced on the hills surrounding the capital in shanties devoid of foundations.
The unpredictable President has made a novel announcement: this drama could spell a new life for many if they agree to go south, where the land is rich and needs hands to cultivate it. Rivers and streams continue to flood their banks, sweeping away everything in sight. There are areas of the state of Vargas, east of Caracas, where people have remained buried by 7 meters of mud, and where excavators cannot operate. It is the worst catastrophe of the century for Venezuelans.
Bishop Francisco de Guruceaga of La Guaira, a locality next to the capital's airport hit by the full force of the floods, lost his mother, sister and residence. The Mayor of La Guaira, Lenin Marcano, has confirmed a list of some 25,000 dead.
The towns of Caraballeda and Carmen de Uria are utterly devastated. The
majority of people have been evacuated and they look like veritable
ghost towns. The homeless are being sheltered in sports centers,
churches, schools and military barracks, where doctors and volunteers
give assistance and distribute aid. The religious were among the first
to mobilize, opening their centers and houses to shelter the homeless,
especially orphans. Venezuela is in need of the world's help this
Christmas. Caritas has already announced aid centers, as have other
humanitarian organizations and Venezuela's embassies throughout the
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NEWS & VIEWS