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Settlement Patterns

Venezuelans referred to their few major cities as "poles of attraction". These poles indeed functioned as magnets, drawing the population from the interior of the country to the urban centers. The 1971 census evidenced the mobility of the population when it indicated that a larger percentage of urban dwellers had come from some other place in the country than from the city where they lived. For example, less than 30 percent of the population of Caracas had been born there.

By the 1970s, the population of Caracas was spilling over into smaller towns and cities in adjacent administrative units. As a result, the Metropolitan Urban Commission was established in 1973 to be responsible for city planning for the entire metropolitan area. By the late 1980s, a rapid-rail transportation system connected the capital with some outlying towns. Another means of relieving congestion was the Caracas Metro (C.A. Metro de Caracas--Cametro), an extremely modern subway system that served a limited area of the capital.

The government sought to encourage reverse migration, from urban to rural areas, but the results proved disappointing. The National Agrarian Institute (Instituto Nacional Agrario--INA) conducted a program providing incentives for rural colonization and resettlement, but ironically, the more economically successful settlements produced such high population growth that they became, in effect, new urban centers. The government also attempted to create other poles of attraction through publicly funded industrialization projects. The best example of this policy was Ciudad Guayana, which at its founding in 1961 was planned to accommodate no more than 300,000 persons. By 1990 the government projected that the city, with its industrial complex and concentration of government services, would boast a population of one million before the end of the twentieth century. During the 1960s, the government also initiated a project to open up the sparsely populated public lands of the Orinoco Delta. Through swamp reclamation, the government expected to make some 1.6 million hectares available for year-round agricultural use. Other programs included the planned settlement of families along the country's frontiers, especially in the area of BolÝvar state near the Brazilian border.

In spite of these various attempts to manage migration patterns, Caracas continued to overshadow all other cities. In fact, there have been years when the capital grew at the incredible rate of 7 percent annually. Such growth caused tremendous economic and social problems and triggered crises in the delivery of public services, especially as oil revenues dwindled.

Different sections of the country reflected quite different life-styles. Caracas was a modern, sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. Its citizens contrasted sharply with the llaneros, persons of the interior plains and cattle-ranching areas, who continued to lead a rugged existence. By the same token, the more conservative Andean peasants also shared few values or perspectives with their fellow citizens from the capital.

The effects of rapid urbanization are strikingly apparent in the poor barrios of Caracas, with their ramshackle ranchos (see Glossary). Most of the inhabitants of these barrios came from fairly good-sized towns or were actually born in Caracas, rather than gravitating directly from the hinterland to the capital city. Studies have shown that residents of the barrios were, on average, even younger than Venezuelan society as a whole. In addition, the average family of four children was overwhelmingly the product of informal unions, and many of the children were not recognized by their fathers. In fact, in cases where the father left to form another family or disappeared altogether, prevailing social attitudes held that the mother should support the child herself, perhaps with some assistance from her own family.

The Venezuelan Children's Council (Consejo Venezolano para los Ni˝os--CVN) was the government agency in charge of protecting the welfare of minors, but it seldom instituted judicial proceedings to compel fathers to support their children. In accord with the Hispanic tradition of maternal responsibility for rearing children, mothers were reluctant to complain to the CVN, and the council itself had few means, and perhaps even less will, to seek out those fathers who had left the household and who no longer demonstrated a sense of obligation to their children. The sprawling capital, with its labyrinth of nearly one thousand separate barrios, served as an effective haven for such individuals.

Data as of December 1990

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