The news channels today have been filled with reports of the death of President Chavez of Venezuela. Love him or loathe him, in the eyes of many of his nation he was a person to be revered. Simply put, when he took over 50% of that population were suffering from abject poverty and deprivation. He reduced that figure to 25%, introduced education schemes, social hosing schemes and inoculation programmes. Some authorities countered those claims and possibly the real truth might now emerge. Other sectors also claimed a disproportionate influence on their activities and registered their opposition and disappointment in these.
As far as conservation is concerned the President appeared to have far less sympathy and interest or afford it much priority. Visiting that country in 2006 I was impressed with the variety of habitats, the sheer splendour of the birdlife and some of the areas already designated. I suppose one has to concede that, attempting to act across the board on everything, is very difficult when large scale programmes, and the necessary funding they require, are needed to combat poverty. Within the country there are some vast privately owned estates which hold some exceptional wetland sites and their attendant wildlife communities. The Government appeared to be at odds with those owners and sequestration of such assets occurred or was threatened. Indiscriminate hunting and habitat destruction took place in some of those areas taken over and the wildlife value would undoubtedly have suffered. Some still remain, indeed, I notice today that Naturetrek are still offering their Llanos birdwatching tour, which includes a visit to an absolute paradise, Hato de Pinero. It would be useful to receive up to date information on the current status of these and an appraisal of what might be needed in the future.
There is no doubt that the country will need to get back on its feet after the devastating news of the loss of their leader. Once the appropriate time has elapsed, one hopes that the new Administration will see the benefit in retaining, at the very least, those areas of the country high in wildlife value. Venezuela is a wonderful country and deserves to prosper. Hopefully it will not overlook the benefits that could accrue from increased wildlife tourism ( and the foreign currency that results from such) and in the benefit that organizations like BirdLife International can offer through advice and support. I think it entirely appropriate for us all to wish the country well in its future.