As stated in the Constitution, Venezuelan society is a ‘multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural’ state, as reflected in its intangible cultural heritage policies, which promote cultural diversity. The main safeguarding body is the Centro de la Diversidad Cultural (CDC, Centre for Cultural Diversity), which was created in 2006 under the Ministry of People’s Power for Culture. Its mission is to promote the principles of cultural diversity and to generate spaces for intercultural discussion, the promotion of dialogue, convergence and strategic alliances in order to create institutional networks. This must be done with all due respect for the material and natural environment of bearers’ communities and by identifying the value of their cultural practices. The CDC works in close coordination with the Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural (IPC, Cultural Heritage Institute) and has Delegations in 13 regions of the country. Grass-roots activities are facilitated by the existence of 287 Community Councils for safeguarding cultural heritage and diversity (comprising 687 groups that represent various elements) and 24 Cultural Heritage and Diversity Networks which are formed by tradition bearers and cultural activists. A Dirección General de Identidad y Patrimonio (General-Directorate for Identity and Heritage) and a Dirección General de Diversidad Cultural (General-Directorate for Cultural Diversity), both at the Ministry of People’s Power for Culture, also design and manage policies associated with relevant issues.
Venezuela’s legislative framework allows institutions related to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, educational institutions of all levels and non-governmental organizations to execute plans for research into and the documentation, safeguarding, promotion and dissemination of cultural diversity. Between 2008 and 2013, there have been legislative and institutional developments to allow for better safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, including the Law of Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Peoples and Communities and a draft Organic Law of Culture. The Education Law (2009) incorporates bilingual intercultural education into the elementary level education.
Training courses in the field of intangible cultural heritage are focused mainly on anthropological and ethnographic research rather than on the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage itself. The institutions offering training are the School of Anthropology, the Central University of Venezuela; the Anthropology Department at the Universidad of Zulia (LUZ) (includes research in heritage studies); the Centro de investigaciones Etnológicas (CIET, Ethnologic Research Centre), the University of the Andes (includes a Bio-anthropology research group); and the Centro de Antropología, Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (Anthropology Centre, Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research) at the Ministry of People’s Power for Science, Technology and Innovation.
The CDC is the main documentation centre for intangible cultural heritage-related materials with documentation from 1947 relating to Venezuela and other countries in Central America and the Caribbean. Between 2006 and 2009, the CDC recorded music, festivities, rituals and popular religious practices in the eastern, western, Andes, central, Llanos and Guayana regions as well as those of indigenous communities. This was subsequently distributed nationwide in the form of 1,923 MINI DV tapes and 126 programmes were edited. In addition, a photographic archive was created of around 118,016 images of national intangible cultural heritage. The University of the Andes has an audio-visual ethnography unit. Based on research on ethnography and audio-visual creations, this is intended to serve both as an academy and as an extension point of reference. The IPC also operates a documentation centre which collates information on Venezuela’s cultural heritage in Venezuela from various governmental and academic institutions and publishing houses. The La Salle Foundation (Caribe Institute of Anthropology and Sociology) also holds documentation on intangible cultural heritage, especially traditions, myths and legends.
Inventorying is carried out in the context of the Registro de Patrimonio Cultural Venezolano (RPC, Cultural Heritage Register), initiated in 1995 and administered by the IPC. RPC-Venezuela covers all forms of heritage: archaeological; intangible; immovable; movable; natural with a cultural significance; paleontological; and individual heritage bearer. The criteria used for the inclusion of intangible cultural heritage in the RPC-Venezuela are: a sense of belonging and social roots; the vitality of the practice’s transmission in communities; and a sense of collective cultural identity. Elements whose bearers believe are at risk of disappearance or significant alteration are given priority. In addition, RPC-Venezuela accounts for factors which affect the sustainability of the element over time, according to information given by the bearers. It also includes possible safeguarding measures produced by practitioners and institutional technicians allowing for the creation of practice sustainability plans.
Through the RPC-Venezuela website, users can access and formulate observations, make recommendations and send documents, photos and videos regarding intangible cultural heritage of interest to them. Access to information is permanent and free, which facilitates updating the database. The cultural communities are involved from the start by identifying and analyzing their own elements. This ensures their presence during the validation and record updating process. Some bearer communities have grouped into popular organizations, such as the Cultural Heritage Networks and the Culture Committees of Commune Councils. These organizations constitute a platform for bearers to interact with other communities and with the IPC in the inventorying process. For the inventory and other documentation efforts, the norm is to present the tradition bearers with a form of free, prior and informed consent in which permission to divulge customary practices of the bearers’ community is explicitly addressed.
The CDC ensures the promotion and dissemination of cultural expressions of diversity through cultural exchanges and meetings between tradition bearers. Its 13 regional offices also enable communities to engage in better communication with state bodies and the wider population. They offer a programmatic platform for developing intangible cultural heritage research, and for undertaking the dissemination, promotion and safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in response to local interests. The CDC has also organized ten communal expo-graphics, ten travelling exhibitions and four temporary exhibitions of its collection in various museums across the country. The Cultural Diversity Permanent Forum (established in 2006) has promoted several intangible cultural heritage elements with the participation of over 40,000 folk artists and representatives for an audience of over 100,000 people, recognizing bearers’ contributions to dance, music, theatre, crafts, literature and popular art.
The Ministry of Education incorporates content related to local intangible cultural heritage into the social science curriculum for the last three years of primary education. This is supported by the Educational Canaima Project which provides learning resources to primary-school pupils, with over 2,000,000 computers with intangible cultural heritage-related content freely distributed. The Ministry has also applied intercultural education since 2007, primarily through the ‘Strengthening of Bilingual Intercultural Education in Intercultural and Multicultural Contexts’ project. Communities have themselves arranged for the creation of tradition schools known as semilleros (seedbeds), based on educational programmes in which young people are instructed in knowledge associated with their intangible cultural heritage. With the help of local education, they also conduct workshops, talks and conferences for schoolchildren between the ages of 7 and 14.
Bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation has been a priority for Venezuela. An example was the South American Gathering of Popular Cultures: ‘Revealing Experiences, Policies and Manifestations’ (2008), providing a space for exchanging knowledge and experiences between Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Honduras and Venezuela. Venezuela also took part in the First International Gathering on Cultural Diversity, Intangible Cultural Heritage and Development gathering Bolivia, Peru, Cuba, Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela and representatives of the Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of Latin American Cultural Heritage (CRESPIAL). The latter is a Category 2 Center under the auspices of UNESCO, based in Peru and of which Venezuela is a member. Venezuela also participated in the Latin American Gathering of Ministers of Culture for an Afro-descendant Agenda in the Americas, held in Brazil. Venezuela has held three gatherings with CRESPIAL entitled ‘State and Community: A Necessary Alliance’, to discuss various Latin American experiences regarding the administration of their intangible cultural heritage inscribed on the Representative List.
Venezuela has one element inscribed on the Representative List that is subject to reporting here: Venezuela’s Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi (2012). Bearer communities consider that inscription has increased recognition for their element and its importance, both locally and nationally. For example, new practitioners are joining brotherhoods and there is a greater emphasis on dissemination of the activity throughout the country. It has also helped to promote intangible cultural heritage (and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage), increasing awareness of the importance of safeguarding it both locally and nationally. However, inscription has also revived the brotherhoods’ fears of a superficial perception and trivialization of their practices and the development of activities geared towards commercial exploitation. The Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi brotherhoods provide the CDC with continuous, periodic and permanent activity reports on safeguarding activities.