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Impressions of South America

I must admit, I was a bit nervous to go to Venezuela considering all the news I had heard from the States. My fears soon disappeared upon my arrival at the airport. It was a very modern airport with a very friendly staff. As delegates to the World Social Forum, we were treated with the greatest of hospitality. This was the case throughout my entire trip in Venezuela.

My week in Caracas continued to be an eye opening experience. I had never been in a country that was going through so many political and social changes. People were stirred up. The supporters of the current Venezuela leader, the Chavez Administration, and the opposition alike, were very active in their participation in the political process. Everyone had an opinion.

My time in Venezuela was mostly spent reporting on the activities of the World Social Forum. I was invited through the Women, Food and Agriculture Network from Iowa to travel with an agrarian delegation from the United States. There were 10 delegates from the USA that were representing various family farm and farmworker organizations throughout the country. Many of the delegates commented on the similarities that are being experienced by all small growers worldwide with the globalization of agriculture. We had the opportunity to visit with cooperatives that were being formed to take advantage of agrarian reform initiatives to redistribute land that had been sitting idol. Coop members were very excited to be working together with others toward the common goal of self sufficiency, rural life and small scale commercial food production.

From my brief time in Venezuela I observed a country in a state of transition. In any transition there are positives and negatives. It is a country with as much range in its political and economic dynamics as with the variations in its natural wonders. On the one hand, it is one of the world's largest exporters of oil, 4th largest to the US, and yet it has historically maintained an 80% poverty rate. The current president, in attempts to reverse this, is encouraging the use of oil revenues to fund social programs. Criticisms from the opposition include a concern that the private sector is suffering as a result and that oil resources are being used to support and strengthen local social programs and other developing nations, and yet the Chavez government is alienating the US, which is one of its largest sources of oil revenue.

The Venezuelan people are friendly, generous, joyful people. The country is full of beautiful natural resources. They sit cozily on the Caribbean coast and enjoy a wide variety of ecosystems distributed throughout the country. Caracas is a bustling modern city that was funded primarily from the oil industry. There is a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that grow in Venezuela due to its tropical climate. My overall impression of Venezuela was positive despite its controversial leader. It's a lively place with a lot of potential to provide for all its citizens. My wish for Venezuela is that they are able to balance their enhanced social programs with their private sector without compromising democracy, their natural resources or their international relations.

I must admit, I was a bit nervous to go to Venezuela considering all the news I had heard from the States. My fears soon disappeared upon my arrival at the airport. It was a very modern airport with a very friendly staff. As delegates to the World Social Forum, we were treated with the greatest of hospitality. This was the case throughout my entire trip in Venezuela.

Visiting the rural areas of this small yet unique and diverse country is like taking a step back in time. Farms, cars, and infrastructure appear to be set back in the 50's. Even the culture is a bit in that fashion. People prioritize friendly conversation over work, they take a 2-3 hour lunch and they drink their "mate" throughout the day, sharing it with others as they discuss politics, family and futbol (soccer). Most farms combine grass and pasture fed cattle with row crops. Cheese, meat and wine are staple items on the Uruguayan dinner table.

I spent ten days in Brazil and did not stay in one place more than two days. Although it showcases some of the best beaches in the world, my time was mostly spent traveling through oceans of soybean and cotton fields. Brazil is a wild place full of wild animals and wild opportunities. Its people are as warm and colorful as the climate and the natural wonders. The catch is, along with the natural beauty comes natural dangers and risks. The coastal cities are huge while the rural areas are typically sparcely populated. That trend has started to change with the agricultural boom of the last 10 years. Rural cities have been growing but that is changing as quickly as it started. In the last two years growers have been hit hard.

This diverse and strongly European-like country was fascinating to discover. Although many people in the United States assume all of Latin America is the same, each country is definitely distinct. Argentina is no exception. Traveling through the rural areas, speaking with growers and ag professionals, I quickly got a sense that this is a strong, stable people that work hard and honor their tradition.

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