Afro-Venezuelans - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Most of Venezuela's rural Black population subsists on crops cultivated on conucos, or small agricultural landholdings, where they grow maize, plantains, manioc, and sweet potatoes for their own consumption. Some families also grow citrus fruits, mangoes, avocados, and cacao for commercial trade. Chickens and pigs are raised mainly for the sale of eggs and meat. Despite agricultural development policies initiated by the national government in 1960, most small farmers continue to rely on traditional, labor-intensive methods of land cultivation. Along coastal areas, fishing is an important activity.

During the 1970s and 1980s, tourism emerged as an important economic resource for some Afro-Venezuelan communities. In Barlovento, Venezuelan and foreign tourists crowd into Curiepe and other towns for the Fiesta de San Juan (23 to 25 June). The Corpus Christi Devil Dancers (Diablos Danzantes) of Aragua, Miranda, and the Distrito Federal have also become important tourist attractions.

Trade. Agricultural products and labor comprise the principal units of trade. Items for tourists, such as miniature drums, bandannas, and hats, are peddled during fiestas.

Division of Labor. Gender roles follow those of the general Venezuelan populace, although they are generally more flexible in Afro-Venezuelan communities than in other groups. Men and women share in daily activities, but women have more domestic and child-rearing responsibilities than do men. In farming, men have traditionally plowed and seeded crops, whereas women have weeded and helped with the harvest. Men find occasional work in manual labor. Women secure economic opportunities and financial independence from men through market activity, selling animals and agricultural goods, and also by finding work as cooks and domestic servants.

Land Tenure. Conucos comprise the principal form of land tenure. The Agrarian Reform of 1960 gave many Afro-Venezuelans title to their land. Through the 1970s, however, agricultural development programs failed to incorporate Venezuelan peasants into the country's successful petroleum economy, spurring migration to urban centers in search of jobs. With Venezuela's economic downslide in the late 1980s, the economic picture for Afro-Venezuelan landholders remains precarious.

Beginning in the 1970s, Afro-Venezuelan coastal lands have been threatened by the construction of beachfront condominiums, especially near Caracas. Tourist activity and the development of lands for recreational usage are also a threat. Afro-Venezuelan communities on Isla Margarita in Nueva Esparta have been particularly affected by the large-scale tourist industry there.

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