An agreement between a Santa Cruz nonprofit and a bank affiliated with the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a chance to build solidarity between the two countries, Barrios Unidos Executive Director Nane Alejandrez said Monday.
"What we’re trying to do is people to people," Alejandrez said. "They’re in the process of developing these programs. … They want to know from us if they’re on the right track."
Barrios Unidos, the group Alejandrez founded 30 years ago to combat youth violence and gang activity, will receive $100,000 from the Industrial Bank of Venezuela to promote a yearlong cultural exchange between the two countries.
The grant is about one-tenth of the organization’s annual budget.
Delegates from each nation will visit the other to learn what each is doing to keep poverty-stricken young people out of gangs and push them toward higher education.
Barrios Unidos has done similar work in Central America and Africa, but the exchange program is a first for Venezuela.
Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, called the agreement "a bridge between the people with common problems" and a "seed of a much larger project."
Alejandrez credited the arrangement to Harry Belafonte, the singer and civil rights advocate who is a friend of Chavez. Belafonte recommended Barrios Unidos as a group that could help the country deal with gang and violence problems.
"When you look at Venezuela, it’s very poor. Neighborhoods are made out of brick and cardboard," Alejandrez said. "When you talk about a poor neighborhood here, people talk about Beach Flats. But Beach Flats in Venezuela would be more than a middle-class neighborhood."
Contact Matt King at [email protected].
Originally published at: Santa Cruz Sentinel