Close to 2,000 representatives of communities from all over Venezuela arrived in Caracas last Monday to participate in the country’s 7th National Cultural Diversity Conference. The summit, which had as its main meeting space the Teresa Carreno Theater in the capital, took up a range of topics including indigenous rights, land demarcation, the fight against discrimination, and the promotion of popular art and music.
“The discussion has been enriched by many representatives of indigenous communities because for many of them, the concept of geographic space has a connotation different from that of other inhabitants of the country”, said Venezuelan Vice Minister of Identity and Cultural Diversity Benito Irady regarding the question of native land claims raised at the conference.
Irady pointed out that the event, in bringing together a variety of different ethnic groups, has presented an important opportunity to “reflect on certain forms of discrimination” that still persist in the country.
Venezuela, like many Caribbean and South American nations, is highly diversified in terms of its racial makeup, yet discrimination does continue to exist in many social and economic sectors. While prejudice may not be as extreme as it is in many northern countries, a constant debate around how to work towards a more multi-cultural concept of what nationhood means has been a fundamental point of conversation among indigenous and afro-descendant groups.
To this end, the conference addressed a 16-point agenda that included the re-thinking of geographic boundaries, political divisions, human rights, and cultural patrimony.
“We’re heading towards the need to deepen the debate around the word culture which will allow us to understand the universe as a concept where university professionals and practitioners of oral traditions coexist”, Irady said on Monday.
The week-long meeting has also taken up a series of important issues facing popular Venezuelan cultural expressions including the preservation and promotion of autochthonous art and traditions.
“This conference is proof of the growth that we’ve experienced after so many years of abandonment”, said musical composer Isber Salazar from the state of Nueva Sparta. “So many people were losing the true roots of their culture and identity and this is an opportunity to strengthen popular Venezuelan culture”.
For Vidal Colmenares, a composer of traditional music from the Venezuelan plains, the fact that Caracas’ main theater is hosting a conference on local customs and musical expressions is evidence of how the government of President Hugo Chavez is encouraging the growth of the country’s unique cultural achievements.
“Twenty years ago, this theater was closed to us. Now we feel protected because our work is being recognized and we’ve learned that we’re important Venezuelan citizens”, Colmenares said.
Since its beginning in 1999, the Chavez administration has invested heavily in preserving Venezuelan popular culture by providing greater funding to the arts and mandating local music programming in radio transmissions.
“The people are the ones who make and have the wisdom. What we do is support the work of the creators”, said Culture Minister Pedro Calzadilla during the opening ceremony of the summit. “This is our history and our memory”, Calzadilla asserted. The 7th Conference of Cultural Diversity will continue through this weekend and will present the conclusions of the event’s numerous conferences and workshops on Sunday.