Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez '13 on Hugo Chavez and Santeria in Venezuela
Years ago a group of us headed down from the Venezuelan capital, to visit a friend's ancestral home in the country's interior. Over aged rum and playing cards, one member of our group -- a very proper Caracas society girl -- headed into the kitchen to fetch more ice for the table: A scream. Shattered glass. When we found her she was deathly pale, and crossing herself. Upon a decorative silver platter, the decapitated head of a small goat had been positioned as if to stare up at one from the icebox. Its eyes had been gouged out. And a laurel crown had frozen fast to its head.
Our host was mortified. "I am so sorry," he explained sheepishly. "You see I have an aunt who's a Santera and she sometimes uses the house for ceremonies. You know how it is. Every family has them."
Folk religion has always held an important place in Venezuelan culture. As early as 1953, the Cult of Maria Lionza, a tradition which celebrates the country's European, African, and Indigenous roots was deemed important enough for a statue of her to be erected at a primary intersection of Caracas' main highway. From a tall pedestal the goddess looms proudly over speeding cars: Bare-breasted astride a tapir, as would-be worshipers dart dangerously through speeding traffic to lay wreathes and gifts upon her.