Mérida, February 21st 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – From costume parades, to beaches, theatre, and bullfighting, Venezuela has stopped for Carnival over the last week. Some festivities have received organisational support from communal councils, and the government has also reported a significant decrease in motor vehicle accidents.
Carnival began last Wednesday and ends today. Held 40 days before Easter, it is based on a mostly Catholic tradition where people held a large feast to dispose of rich food and drink before lent. Spain brought the tradition to Venezuela and other countries in the region when it invaded Latin America. For Venezuelans it has become a time to be with families and to have fun, with parades and other cultural activities that are held across the country. Many youth maintain the tradition of water fights in their neighbourhood, and adults also throw water bombs at passersby from cars.
The National Recreation Plan, which was carried out across 58 beaches and 18 states of Venezuela, has counted on the collaboration of 6,280 communal councils, according to vice-minister for physical activity and recreation, Jose Teran.
He said the councils had helped with the organisation and carrying out of the activities. Areas forming part of the plan also prohibit alcohol consumption and promote traditional Venezuelan games.
On Margarita Island, a spokesperson for the ministry of communes, Marie Gil, said communal councils had helped create 120 “grandparents” committees to participate in activities especially designed for the elderly.
Various transport officials have reported to the press that 120,000 people travelled via the main bus terminal in Caracas during the Carnival period, and 350,000 tourists visited far eastern Sucre state. The government has also set up tourist information tents, security patrols and tents, and first aid sites.
Minister for tourism, Alejandro Fleming, said the average occupation of Venetur hotels (a network of eight hotels nationalised by the government) during Carnival has been 78%, with its Margarita Island hotel 100% occupied.
Freddy Nanez, president of cultural fund Fundarte, said that in Caracas the mayoralty had renovated and improved a number of public spaces, including five theatres, so that those spaces could be “dedicated to the people, who need recreation”.
Activities in Caracas over the past week have included theatre, multicultural festivals, concerts, a giant parade, face-painting and other festivities in the zoo, a competition for best costume made from recycled material, music, dance, and circus shows. Most of the activities are free.
Nanez also commented that the number of children in the streets in costumes representing people from Venezuela’s history showed a “recovery of the historical image and appreciation for our nationality”.
With bullfighting and beauty contests, Merida state has been the exception. A bullring was built there in the 1960s, and bullfights original held in December, but because of the rainy season, were quickly transferred to Carnival time.
Six bullfights, with six bulls per event and eight in the last one, are held, and matadors come from Venezuela, Colombia, France, and Portugal.
The bullfights, organised mostly by the opposition city mayor but also receiving support from the pro-Chavez state governor, bring in large amounts of profits for a small number of businesses, and many animal rights and other grass roots organisations oppose them.
A coalition called Merida without Bullfights organised a march, yoga and lifestyle activities, alternative cultural events and concerts, body art, a mural painting, activities for children, projections of environmental films, and a market for reception of recycled materials and the purchase of agro-ecological products in order to protest what it calls “torture” and to offer an alternative program.
The coalition has also called for a referendum on the bullfights, with the city mayor responding that he would meet with the group soon to discuss it.
Also in Merida, a state with a larger rural sector, there was a procession of hundreds of cowboys, men, and women on horses, agricultural exhibitions, milking competitions, an orchard exhibition, Frisbee tournaments, and a celebration of San Benito, a saint son of African slaves.