Caracas fights for facelift to woo tourists, residents

Caracas does not figure large on the map for the thousands of tourists who flock to South America every year lured by the promise of ancient civilizations, mysterious jungles and pulsating rhythms.

Even for residents of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas - once a popular home-from-home for waves of immigrants drawn by its quality of life - is today synonymous with insecurity and traffic nightmares.

Now a slew of new initiatives is aiming to give the city a more human face: more parks and green spaces, wider pavements, the renovation of the historic city center, more police patrols and more open-air cultural events.

"I think people are prepared to fight more now for their open spaces than they did before," said Cheo Carvajal, author of the "Caracas By Foot" column in a Venezuelan daily and a leading advocate for the rights of pedestrians and cyclists.

"There must be a pressure from below from citizens demanding their rights, and from above with concrete policies to recover such spaces."

But at night, when Caracas, a city of four million residents, turns into a ghost town because of fears of robbery and violence, when traffic jams can last for hours and onlookers seek out the bright lights of the shopping malls, it is apparent there is still much to be done.

"We need more public open spaces, and people have to get over their fear and visit these public places and take care of them, instead of remaining behind closed doors at home," said young mother Patricia Medina.

About 14,000 people were murdered in Venezuela in 2010, which has a homicide rate of 48 in every 100,000 - a near-record in Latin America. According to non-governmental organizations the rate in Caracas is as high as 100 murders for every 100,000 residents.

- Reclaim a city -

And here in oil-rich Venezuela, where gas is the cheapest in the world at just pennies for a liter, about five million vehicle journeys happen every day - 24 percent in private cars - clogging the city streets.

"We can't reclaim a city by insisting that it is dangerous. Caracas has potential, and we have to take risks to highlight this. The more that people take back the streets, the safer they will be," Carvajal added.

One resident Sofia Bautista is helping to lead the way.

"For several months I have been doing yoga in the park. It's the perfect place because Caracas has such rich nature. But even doing this in a group you are still a little bit afraid because of the stories you hear about robberies and attacks," she said.

The city's historic center is also one of its least safe places, where the dirt, insecurity and lack of pedestrian walkways need to be tackled.

"We are going to transform Caracas into a much nicer city," pledged Jorge Rodriguez, mayor of the Libertador district, the most heavily populated in the capital. "Caracas will win a place on the tourist routes," he vowed.

For the July celebrations of the bicentennial of the nation's independence from its former Spanish rulers, the city center was spruced up, historic buildings were renovated and a host of cultural events have been organized to breath fresh life into streets.

But sharp, and apparently irreconcilable differences between allies of firebrand President Hugo Chavez and several opposition mayors have not helped forge a common political will.

Architect Daniel Fernandez Shaw, who has taken part in several urban projects in Caracas for the past 40 years, said "compared to other cities like Quito or Bogota we have not seen much planning" in the Venezuelan capital.

Above all, Shaw said, the transformation of the city needs to come from improving the conditions in working class districts, which would need an investment of some 320 billion euros ($459 billion), in a nation where social inequality remains huge.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice