Venezuela. “Tourism is the oil that never runs out”

Venezuela. “Tourism is the oil that never runs out”, exclusive interview with Minister Alí Padrón
By Geraldina Colotti and Veronica Díaz, Resumen Latinoamericano, January 3, 2022.

Alí Padrón, Minister of the Popular Power of Tourism, receives us in his office in Caracas, while the International Tourism Fair is still underway, which this year was held in the state of La Guaira. We began the interview by asking him what is the situation of Venezuelan tourism in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic that is still ongoing. A few days later, President Nicolás Maduro would announce the first seven cases of the omicron variant.

“Venezuela – begins Padrón – is among the top ten countries in the world, out of 193, richest in biodiversity. It is an Amazonian, Andean, and Caribbean country, whose shores are never hit by hurricanes. We are a country that is home to 1,418 species of birds, 48 of which are endemic, that is, they exist only in our territories ”.

As soon as the minister utters the word “bird,” we hear an insistent chirping behind the door, interspersed with little nudges. We looked at the room, the national flag, the portrait of President Maduro and Commander Chávez, toys on the table, destined for the children of the neighborhoods. We don’t see any birds, but the chirping continues insistently. The minister smiles: “She is my nymph, she calls me because she wants to come in,” he says, opening the door.

A beautiful colorful bird enters and flies on Alí Padrón’s shoulder, happy to receive strokes and kisses. A specimen – a female, he tells us – of the hummingbird species. About four inches long, it is bright green above and duller green below, throat and chest gray. Its tail is rounded, mostly green, but the lower half blue-black and white corners. Her name is Spasky, she accompanies us throughout the interview, jumping from shoulder to shoulder and playing with us.

Alí Padrón, a Marxist economist who considers himself “proudly communist,” is necessarily a reflection on the stage that Bolivarian Venezuela is going through and on the policies implemented to confront the deadly economic-financial blockade with which US imperialism and its allies they seek to achieve the coveted “regime change.”

Tourism is, in fact, one of the 17 “productive engines” that draw up the economic plan for the 2022-2024 period, as part of the Bolivarian government’s actions to develop mechanisms that promote the market, production and fair prices, in the permanent battle against speculation and attacks on the currency. National and international tourism – Padrón specifies – is the ninth engine, but no less important, being a subject that covers practically all sectors of Venezuelan society: from gastronomy, to culture, to art, to history.

What tourism model is good for Venezuela today?

A spatially accessible, experiencial, ecological tourism, because despite the pandemic still ongoing, Venezuela is a country with multiple destinations and an infinite potential yet to be developed. A third of the country is covered by national parks, we have 44, and it is a territory blessed by unique natural monuments, such as the Canaima National Park, a protected natural area, located in the Bolívar State, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. Three of the largest national parks in the world are located in Venezuela. In addition to Canaima, there is the immense Parima Tapirapecó, located in the southeast of the Amazon state, and the recently created El Caura, a reserve located in the vital zone of the tropical forest. Elements that form a solid base to continue developing tourism. We must, however, grapple with a history of oil rentism that has favored outbound tourism, traveling abroad rather than local tourism. Now we have to change our vision, according to a productive, exporting economy, capable of developing receptive tourism. Due to the pandemic, tourism has registered a drop of almost 80% worldwide. A decrease that also occurred in our country, despite the fact that Venezuela has recorded the lowest rate of infections and deaths compared to all of Latin America. That is thanks to the containment measures adopted early by President Maduro at the beginning of the pandemic, and the massive vaccination campaign launched, which undoubtedly constitutes an advantage for the recovery of tourism. Still hitting our economy, however, is the persistence of the economic-financial blockade imposed by the United States. However, while many countries are still in the midst of difficulties due to the pandemic, for three months we have resumed the reception of tourists.

What is a tourist looking for in Venezuela?

He/she is mainly a tourist who loves nature, the beaches, the mountains, the forest, culture, relationships with people, the lived experiences of the people, open spaces, he/she does not look for shopping malls or supermarkets. The Russians not only visited the State of Nueva Esparta, Canaima and protected areas, where the population is vaccinated and biosecurity measures are strictly respected, but also some popular neighborhoods in Caracas, in which the community, which we are preparing, is active in the development of tourism and aware that tourism is a tool for growth, it is the oil that never runs out.

From which countries does the largest influx of tourists come?

They come especially from Russia and Eastern Europe. So far we have received more than 6,500 Russian tourists. Only at the Porlamar airport, on the island of Margarita, 400 arrive weekly. At the last Alba-Tcp congress, all member countries approved a project proposed by Venezuela, which is the country with the greatest biodiversity in the continental body. A cooperation agreement to promote tourist destinations in Venezuela, highlighting this advantage. We have excellent relations with Mexico, our national airline, Conviasa, has just reopened a route with Argentina. Argentinian tourists particularly love Venezuela, especially they visit the island of Margarita, and Chileans and Colombians also love it, for whom it is much cheaper to come to our beaches than to go to those of Colombia that unfortunately is not authorizing flights now.

There is an idea that Venezuela is one of the most insecure countries in the world. Is that so?

Do you know how many criminal acts have occurred, for example, against the 6,500 Russian tourists who came to Venezuela? Zero. However, it could have occurred what happens to a traveler in any country in the world as a result of carelessness; but if it had happened in Venezuela, it would have become an issue. We know that we must be very careful, even with our tourist police, due to the hostile campaign I mentioned earlier. A tourist who arrives in Venezuela imagines that he/she encounters great instability. He/she has heard that people have not eaten here for five years and that they walk the streets like skeletons. Then he/she realizes that everything is a lie, as it happened to the American millionaire who, after visiting a large number of countries, visited Venezuela as his last destination due to these rumors. When he left, he ranked our country fifth in the world for tourist attractions. He wrote that our beaches have nothing to envy the Maldives and that he does not understand why Venezuelans living in the United States speak ill of their country. This happened four months ago. Turkish tourists arriving in Venezuela in large numbers have also made the same observations. And the same goes for the many visitors who come to us during international congresses and who are also well received for their political support.

How does the lack of fuel and the difficulty of transportation, due to the blockade, affect tourism?

We come from a very complex situation. Six months ago, only three airports were open, today 95% percent of all airports are operational and routes are increasing, even internationally. For now, only with Turkey, Russia and partly with Portugal and Spain. The aviation sector has been one of the most affected internationally and the situation is now further complicated by the omicron variant. A Nigerian takes 40 hours to reach Venezuela.

In international [meetings] that have the environment as a theme, such as the oceans, the Bolivarian government is not invited, but NGOs financed by the United States are heard presenting a disastrous picture about the environment. How do you respond to these accusations?

The protection of the environment in Venezuela is guaranteed by law, being eco-socialism one of our strategic principles, contemplated in goal number 5 of the Plan for the Homeland. For this reason, we do not promote developmental tourism, that of large supermarkets and large hotel chains, but rather sustainable tourism that aims to minimize environmental impact. Obviously, the only way to eliminate the impact is that there are no tourists, but the national parks must be visited, respecting nature. Of course, there is some environmental damage, as in all countries. But what is happening in Colombia is not being publicized, where entire mountains are being destroyed for the exploitation of coal, and the damage to the environment is gigantic. No one is as outraged as by any episode that occurs in Venezuela. There is a negative propaganda that minimizes the positive information and exaggerates the problems, and this is also the fault of Venezuelans living abroad. It is part of the war against Venezuela, of the international lynching, of the media war that also aims to undermine the self-esteem of our people. Instead, all who come here realize otherwise.

What is your balance of this Tourism Fair?

It was a great success, both for the public and for the projects, also recognized by the international press. In these times of pandemic, only Argentina and we organized a similar event, in which 17 countries, more than 75 delegates, seminars and trade conferences, and a great exhibition of our gastronomy, our culture, and art were present. We have presented and compared our routes and our proposals in terms of ecological tourism, agrotourism, religious tourism…. We ended the year with an occupancy rate in the hotel tourism sector higher than that of the last five years. Despite the complex situation, the economy is growing.

What can Venezuela learn from the experience of Cuba, a sister country that developed tourism during the special period?

Cuba has shown that a crisis situation can be transformed into an opportunity. Before the special period, in fact, Cubans did not make a living from tourism, they did not even think about it. They lived from the direct economic relationship with the Soviet Union and with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance with the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, the economy was based mainly on nickel, cobalt, sugar cane and the primary sector. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of direct support, even without having all the necessary infrastructures, Cuba knew how to treasure its scenic beauty, prepared the people and favored foreign investment through the development of mixed capital under the control of the State. We are also at a turning point, but with a greater advantage than Cuba had then. The blockade, the pandemic crisis and also that of the oil [downward] curve, have forced us to face the need for a paradigm shift. We are at a time of transition from the rentier economy, in which the dominant one was the State disbursing dollars at a price favored by investments that then perhaps did not materialize or had disproportionate prices, to another economy, diversified and productive, in which out of the 5 strategic lines outlined, tourism has a central role.
Original source:

Translation from Spanish by Nino Pagliccia, CONAICOP – Canada