Let me explain. It’s the Butterfly Effect. Only it’s not so isolated and it’s much more deliberate. At issue is, as always, greed and opportunism vs. human freedoms and quality of life.
In the back country of Venezuela, deep in the jungle along the boarder of Brazil, there is a place known as Roraima. Roraima is actually a northern state in Brazil. But the area spilles over into Venezuela. Down to the west of Mount Roraima (on the border with Guyana and the Venezuelan province of Bolivar), there are rivers that run over beds of jasper and cascade over several waterfalls. One of the most famous of these is Salto Kiwi.
For anyone who has ever seen the animated movie “Up!”, the scenery in the movie is based upon this region. And the real thing is even more breath-taking than the animated version. Black volcanic rocks of all sizes and shape abound. And there are those towering tepuis, the large, flat-topped mountains. Below, there is lush tropical fauna. All this leads down hill to the beautiful coasts of Venezuela. But, for me, my greatest fantasy is to wade barefoot in the waters of Salto Kiwi, to sit in the sun-warmed water on a ledge of pure jasper and admire the deep red luster. I have pictures. But there is nothing like the real thing.
Roraima is just one of the beautiful and exotic places I’d like to visit some day. But it, like many other destinations, presents a problem for me. It sits behind a border that I am not welcome to cross. The particular reason I can’t cross this one is because my car is gas-powered. To find out the reason, let’s step back into history a little.
In 1835, the United States of America recognized Venezuela and began to send ambassadors and other official envoys. At the time, Venezuela was struggling to establish itself, and it soon found itself being “helped” by European interests, which soon would begin to exploit the country over debt repayment. In 1935, under Juan Vincente Gomez, newly-struck oil was used as bartering for repayment of debts. As a result, Gomez got rich and foreign interests got oil drilling rights, while most of the people got little.
In the recent years, Hugo Chavez and others have sought to cast off foreign interests in the region and regain control of the vast oil reserves and the monetary windfall that goes with it. The government under George W. Bush was implicated in a failed coup attempt and American envoys were kicked out. Obama has not managed to soften rhetoric for Venezuelan leadership nor to thaw relations between the two countries. As a result, it’s not a good time to be an American if you want to be in Venezuela.
I may be wrong. Perhaps the almighty tourist dollar is welcome in the jungles of Venezuela. But it pains me to see people of two beautiful countries chafe while yahoos running the show are fighting over whose toys are whose. Of course, when politicians start talking, there is what they tell you and then there is the truth. The truth is that there is a lot of black gold and diamonds in the jungle and a lot of people stand to get filthy rich at the expense of those they exploit. For me, it’s only a small part of a remote place in the world that I may never see. For the inhabitants of Venezuela, it is centuries of oppression and repression. Per capita, Venezuelans are rich. But very little money circulates to those away from urban areas or those on the bottom of the income pyramid. Perhaps, if I were the one living where I could walk on jasper streets and sit in jasper pools, I would consider myself lucky to be living in paradise on earth, and I’d be content to have what lots of American money can’t buy. For now, I must be content to have access to the gas that makes my car run and dream of a tomorrow when I can travel to see the wonders I’ve only heard about in stories.
P.S. Seems like everything I look up in reference to this story is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. This chafes me more than a little. The UN should not be in the business of holding land in sovereign countries. Seriously, we don’t need their help to protect our treasures, and no one wants you there.