During the past year the expected advances in conservation of the built heritage have not been achieved due to the complicated political, economic and social situation in the country. Legal protection is still insufficient, even if work to reform the law on protection and defence of the cultural heritage (1993) is still in progress. There still has not been a definitive proposal. However, it is important to point out that the Cultural Heritage Institute, despite the economic crisis, has received double the number of requests on a national scale. One can conclude that the community is extremely concerned and that the government body is not taking care of its heritage correctly.
Review of past reports
From a practical point of view, progress has been scarce in the historical centres. This is because discussions on municipal organisation and distribution plans were suspended due to reforms initiated in the Venezuelan legal system since 1999. Nevertheless, the Cultural Heritage Institute has taken important steps in the identification of historical centres and in the elaboration of management plans. Between the years 2000 and 2001, 319 centres with urban, architectural and environmental values were identified, and the development of the management plan for the World Heritage site of the cities Coro and La Vela was initiated with finance from the National Council for Housing. An agreement was signed with the same institute so that all projects and works of the 'Rehabilitation Programme of Historical Centres' will be undertaken under the guidelines of the Cultural Heritage Institute. For the rest, the preparation of periodic reports for the World Heritage Committee has energised conversation around this theme - the management of Historical Centres. It has involved all those with relevant responsibilities in the cities of Coro and La Vela.
The historical city of La Guaira was one of the cases raised in the Heritage at Risk Report 2000, due to the landslides in 1999. To deal with the problems caused by the natural disaster, the State has created various administrative bodies that have succeeded each other through time. The first body co-ordinated with other institutions involved with urgent action, and the second found solutions of greater reach. Even though they have elaborated studies on various areas, they still have not executed an integral plan that addresses the problems of the heritage preservation of the Historic Centre and other sites of cultural interest. It is also necessary to take emergency actions to control the progressive deterioration and the 'improvised' interventions that the neighbours undertake to repair the damage.
The Cultural Heritage Institute is undertaking several initiatives, among which are the 'Pilot Project: Education in Heritage and Environmental Values for the State of Vargas' (for which help from UNESCO was recently received), and the elaboration of the Urban Land Registry of the city and of a Geographic Information System. At the same time, the Institute is co-ordinating efforts with local and regional bodies to realise the 'Managing, Rehabilitation and Place of Worth Plan'. To facilitate this project, as well as counting on considerable economic resources, there is a need to create a management vehicle and to plan actions that actively involve the population in socio-economic development, through planned and productive activities that produce a positive result for heritage preservation and the development of cultural tourism.
With respect to the palaeontological heritage, in February 2002, with the Museum of Science's initiative, a group of 112 prehistoric fossils has been 'rehabilitated', among which is the shell of the biggest species of tortoise to have ever existed, the Stupendemys Geographicus. Other fossils recuperated correspond to extinct species that date to 6 million years ago. This material of great scientific and cultural value was found in Urumaco, Falcon State in 1972 and remained in Harvard University, USA, for 30 years under a research agreement. On its arrival in the country, an exhibition was immediately organised in the Science Museum: it will surely be travelling to other museums around the country. In addition, there is a project for the creation of the Paleontological Museum in Urumaco, initiated by a group of local and national institutions and aided by private companies. Among the inhabitants of Urumaco there is a great consciousness and belief in the importance of the site - to such an extent that the Mayor of Urumaco created a department of Paleontologia with the purpose of preserving the sites.
The reclamation of the guardianship of this heritage facilitates the spreading of an understanding and re-evaluation of its importance in the consciousness of Venezuelans, and it provides important material resources for scientific investigation. We hope that this will just be the beginning of the recovery by governmental organisations of the palaeontological heritage that has been dispersed over various countries for many years.
The preservation of intangible heritage, in Venezuela referred to as 'living heritage', has received a good boost by the cultural institutions. They have approved the elaboration of a preparatory dossier for the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, documenting the cultural activities grouped under the denomination of 'the Dancing Devils'. It is a very particular demonstration of people of mixed race in honour of the Saintly Sacrament, with a strong presence in different areas of the country. In the same way the national declaration of the Cultural Heritage of the Nation, the 'Valle de Chuao', has advanced in its understanding of cultural landscapes: a category in which intangible heritage plays a primary role. Meanwhile, the Hacienda Cacaotera of the Chuo, celebrated for being the industrial establishment where the best cocoa in the world has been produced since the colonial era, was included in the tentative World Heritage list.
The recognition that has been given to indigenous languages in the 1999 Constitution is remarkable, proclaiming them to be official languages of the Republic and not dialects. Furthermore, the recent promulgation of the 'Decree for the Promotion and Increase of the Oral and Written Use of the Indigenous Languages', which reaffirms the obligation for bilingual education in Indigenous communities and its use in official documents and means of communication, is another noticeable change. Also, in the last two years, research work has been undertaken in tandem with projects relating to the recovery and diffusion of these languages, particularly in those communities whose languages are in danger of extinction. Other work includes the revitalisation of mapoyo and kariña, and research into linguistic variances among the Arawak from the Amazon.
There are various changes in relation to the 20th-century heritage referred to by our committee in Heritage at Risk 2001/2002. With respect to the re-urbanisation of Silence (1939), the emblematic collection of apartment blocks designed by the Architect Carlos Raul Villanueva, the multiple problems that one is confronted with today are more of a social than architectural nature; this has provoked a government initiative for its rescue. Counting on economic and institutional help to achieve the entire rehabilitation, which will simultaneously address the architectural and social components, the project may become a model intervention from this point of view.
Another aspect of the modern heritage that has had much attention in this period are hotel buildings and complexes, which constitute one of our material legacies of the Venezuelan oil industry and are characterised by national and international architectural projects of great quality. The conservation of these buildings is becoming seriously threatened due to the scarce profit they generate, aggravated by the situation that none have been declared to be part of our heritage.
With respect to the Hotel Avila (1949), designed by the North American architectural group Harrison, Abramovitz and Fouilhoux, a proposal from foreign investors recommends the partial demolition of the existing structure and the construction of a new building. It is planned to keep the planimetric scheme, but discard its main values (symbiosis of building/atmosphere, crossed ventilation, scale, co-ordination of linear volumes). In 2001 a number of meetings were held between various public institutions, and included the participation of ICOMOS and the mediation of the Cultural Heritage Institute, where several proposals for the hotel guidelines emerged. However, they still have not been able to reach an agreement that simultaneously guarantees the entire conservation of the building in its environment and the profitability of the hotel establishment.
On the other hand, the Hotel Humboldt (1956), Architect Tomas Sanabria, buried in the hills El Avila de Caracas and linked by a cable car, has kept its atmosphere and original furniture. For 15 years it remained closed to the public, with the threats that this implicates for its preservation, but today it has been granted to a private entity to promote its rescue and economic sustainability. At present it is undergoing a rehabilitation process, but the intervention is being undertaken by marginalising the original planner, which has generated various complaints by him and by members of the community.
This problematic situation can be extended to the majority of grand-scale hotels that are in the hands of the State, and therefore its economic responsibility. Others exist that are part of international chains, such as the Guaicamacuto Hotel (now the Macuto Sheraton), built by the Architect Luis Malaussena (1955), which was damaged by the 1999 landslides in the Centre Litoral. Those that are closed are progressively deteriorating because of the economic crisis.
However, new threats arise, such as the ongoing danger to the modern petrol heritage, especially the 'forest' of petrol pumps in the Lake of Maracaibo together with the architecture supporting the petrol activity. In reality it is a 'relic cultural landscape' but its use has faded. For this reason, assessment is urgent to ensure that they are protected as elements of our identity and as images of a principal national industry.
Case Study 1: The Caracas Metro - Line 4
Line 4 of the Metro is currently under construction: its trajectory affects the route of the Avenue Lecuna and the majority of the urbanisations of El Conde and San Agustin. The avenue was part of the regulatory plan for Caracas (1951), conceived to organise the flow of motor traffic towards the centre, surrounded by a group of rapid transitory streets that changed the physiognomy of the traditional city to the image of a great metropolis. With the combination of the effect of petrol income, a period of economic prosperity was consolidated that led to a growth in construction and an influx of specialised labour under European immigration. The architecture that resulted in this sector was extremely varied in style, with the use of modern constructive techniques and avant-garde materials.
The urbanisation of El Conde and San Agustin (of the north and the south) was a joint effort of the State and private enterprises - the first expansion of Caracas towards the south-east started in 1919. They constitute notable groups of houses of different styles, reflecting the fashion of the moment: neo-colonial, international, Moorish and Egyptian. The desirable buildings in the corner of Miracielos, over the Avenue Lecuna, are representative of the period 1945-1955. The design of the corner was adapted to the urban edge in a curved shape. The buildings combined residential use in the higher apartments and commerce on the lower floor. There are examples of decorative finishes to the doorways and the railings, and the mouldings and diverse materials differentiate apartments. Almost all these examples of architecture have been demolished by the construction of the subterranean transport system.
The community will be celebrating two years in the fight for the preservation of this heritage, which brought a recourse in the protection of seven buildings. This social action, with the help of Fundapatrimonio, has created a precedent for the protection and safeguarding of modern heritage in the country by recognising heritage that has not been declared, but constitutes a worthy group. The result is extremely positive in that the company Metro of Caracas and other institutions that act in the city have been obliged to solicit permits and the support of the relevant preservation bodies.
Case Study 2: Historic Centre of Puerto Cabello
The Venezuelan colonial city of Puerto Cabello dates from the beginning of the 18th century. It is characterised by Caribbean and Spanish architectural influences and is in danger of being substantially altered. Although declared to be of National Cultural Heritage, the Historic Centre is constantly impacted. In addition, other places of historic, architectural and archaeological value that are not included inside the legally protected boundary are being destroyed.
Two-storey buildings of great architectural quality and historic importance are being affected by uncontrollable urbanisation and occupation of the space. These buildings exhibit exquisite ornamentation in friezes and woods and solid walls in coral stone, but from whatever angle one can notice missing pieces, holes, collapses and other deterioration. A considerable number of houses has been occupied by homeless people, and according to neighbours who live in the vicinity, they have been housed here by regional authorities for political reasons. In addition, one can observe that many constructions are only façades, now that the interiors have completely collapsed.
A call for attention is much needed, so that the local, regional and national institutions consider the importance of the agreed plan and the preservation of this building group of great heritage significance. There must be a stop to unsympathetic projects and action taken to prevent further harm.
Case Study 3: Estate of la Trinidad de Tapatapa - rural architecture, industrial heritage
The big estates - producers of coffee, cocao, sugar cane and indigo - as with cattle and various fruit growing ventures, permitted the creation of great fortunes in the colony. They are essential parts of our rural and industrial heritage, but they are in a process of gradual disappearance due to different causes: changes in the use of the land, the introduction of new technologies that lead to the abandonment of old production methods and dispute over the succession of property.
One of the most important is the estate of la Trinidad, in the Aragua valley, which was owned by one of the most wealthy and influential men of the province during the independence period - the Marquis de Casa de Leon. The Estate cultivated agricultural products that characterised the Venezuelan economy during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Declared Historic Heritage, the villa 'Casona' enshrines an important part of our history as a Republic, transcending episodes of the colonial period and also important events in other epochs. Perched at the top of a hill, profusely decorated with mural paintings and fine wood moulding partitions and enhanced by arcaded galleries, it dominates the entire valley.
A project for its restoration is currently being developed, financed by the Ministry of Infrastructure. However, the already substantial deterioration is increasing, and if urgent measures are not taken the building will become no more than ruins. The building is suffering from abandonment for many years, vandalism, and lack of protection and vigilance. The result will be the continuing loss of many structural features and of archaeological material. The collapse of the roof increases the instability of the building and permits the entrance of water that further accelerates deterioration.
The planners are being urged by the relevant State institutions to complement the project plan with the provision of protection and vigilance, to restrict access and to define a future use that respects its physical capacity and historic importance. There is a necessity to continue to finance the project to avoid further major deterioration and the postponement of its official function. For its part, the IPC is promoting the extension of the heritage recognition of the Employers House, so that the protection covers the various elements and installations of the whole estate as these are of no less value.
Authors: Maria Eugenia Bacci, Juan Carlos León, Soraya Nweihed, Patricia Morales, Francisco Pérez Gallego, Mariela De La Hoz, Luis Guillermo Román, Ileana Vásquez (ICOMOS Venezuela)
Contributors: María Carlota Ibáñez (ICOMOS Venezuela), Floralba Cabrera (IPC).
Informants: Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural; FUNDAPATRIMONIO, Municipio Libertador
Contacts: ICOMOS Venezuela: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural: email@example.com; www.ipc.gov.ve