The state of Vargas already has the necessary resources, people and natural areas for development. It just needs a little push to raise the living standards of its people and improve the experiences of those who visit. Political willingness and attention to urban matters are needed to boost a state with boundless resources
A total of 120 kilometers of diverse coastlines, from Chichiriviche to Chuspa, with idyllic white-sandy beaches, perfect for the whole family, as well as unspoiled bays surrounded by magnificent cliffs with wind gusts and strong Caribbean waves. Mountainous weather at El Junko, Carayaca or Galipán. Friendly people whose faces reflect the sunlight, flavors, scents and sounds of a vast cultural heritage. A Colonial quarter. The La Guaira Port and the Maiquetía Airport. Individually or as part of a whole, each of these features highlights the strengths of Vargas, the country's youngest state. A decade after coping with a natural tragedy, it faces a different challenge: becoming a place that offers good living standards for its people and accommodates the needs of visitors.
"In 1998, Vargas municipality became a state and brought hope to its people, from a political, economic and social standpoint, as we knew then that we had the natural resources required, but 12 years have passed and government authorities must honor their huge debt with Vargas, such as the state's territorial division into municipalities to enhance services; decentralization of the port and airport, whose actual income never finds its way back to our state; and the completion of reconstruction plans to minimize risks and improve tourism activities, address environmental issues, develop infrastructure and offer more services," explains former Vargas Representative Pedro Castillo.
Also legal matters and non-existing large-scale urban planning are part of the state's woes.
"There are municipal standards on zoning applicable to the urban development of the region that date back to 1977. Nowadays, 33 years later, the actual needs are entirely different; the population of Vargas has grown and the geographic occupation requirements have changed. Therefore, a new urban plan for the Central Coastal area is crucial for our state. Large cities throughout the world are organized according to the activities they pursue, and La Guaira should not be an exception. The idea would be to design a master plan to establish residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and tourism sectors, based on the occupation of the territory and giving way to the reorganization of Vargas state," notes Vargas Architect Rubén Contreras López.
This young professional emphasizes the importance of the Colonial Quarter of La Guaira. "There are beaches in many different parts of the country, but what sets us apart is our Colonial zone. I envision La Guaira like Cartagena or Old San Juan, a historical city that has been restored and is safe, clean, active and offers its people substantial socioeconomic improvement, so that we can be proud not only of our past but also of our future," adds Contreras, who is a member of the La Guayra Historical-City Foundation.
From his office, he fights for what the foundation believes will be the first step toward the region's recovery: creating an authority for the Colonial Quarter that groups the criteria of authorities, neighbors and communal councils and channels the support of international organizations and other research initiatives fostered by foundations and universities.
Local authorities, however, point out that the concerns listed by Contreras are already being addressed. According to Benigno Calvo Díaz, director of Strategic Planning and Territorial Organization for the Government of Vargas, the creation of a State Council for Planning and Coordinating Public Policies in Vargas will set general guidelines for the Economic and Social Development Plan of the state for the 2009-2012 term.
"We are striving to implement a sustainable economy based on development of endogenous tourism and recreational activities, airport facilities, commercial areas and agricultural and fishing activities, so that wealth may be distributed equally. It should be noted that the Development Plans for states are ordered by the Organic Law on Planning and must be prepared by state governments consistently with the plans, projects and works to be carried out by the national and municipal governments," adds Calvo.
Nevertheless, some analysts who live in the area believe that beyond paper-based plans, there is a need for action and political commitment. "We have natural and human resources. There are also many tourist attractions, such as the cable cart and the large hotels in Caraballeda, which are not being properly used. Also, the income from the port and airport should be directed toward the local economy, but the most important thing is the need for clear rules, equally applicable to all, as well as tourism policies designed for both visitors who stay at five-star hotels and those who get here on foot. Economic activities must also be promoted in each neighborhood, based on its vocation and potential. I truly believe that a plan is needed to make the most of the new land gained on the sea, as a result of the landslide, and turn it into viewpoints and roadside stops to take in the scenery, especially in the east side," says former Municipal Urban Management Director Bruno Gallo.
Others, like local Daniel Lara, focus on details that may make a difference. "More than just painting and planting trees is needed. Solid waste management, public transportation, development of spaces for the population, such as libraries, parks and squares are required; that would be a great place to start."
Translated by Félix Rojas