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Wednesday, 22 December, 1999, 13:23 GMT
Venezuelans 'more united than ever'

couple and buried cars Residents of La Guaira pass cars buried in mud


From initial shock and anger, the Venezuelan press is beginning to echo a more reflective mood developing in the country following last week's landslides.

"We Venezuelans are now more united than ever," an opinion piece in El Universal declared.

The time had come for divisions of the past to be forgotten.

"In some way, through the misfortune that has hung over our country, God is helping us to reunite, helping us realise that strength lies in unity, and not division," wrote Carolina Jaimes Branger.

"I want to highlight the work of everyone, at all levels, who has felt the need to help their unfortunate compatriots and who have lent invaluable support.

"The essence of Venezuela is an old hand supporting a young one; a black hand taking that of a white and an Indian; a rich hand and a poor one; the religious hand taking that of an atheist.

"To be Venezuelan is to sweat for the same goal. To be Venezuelan is to love and respect one another."

And she rounded off with words of hope.

"The solidarity and unity that we have shown has made us grow as human beings. Glory to the brave people!"

The country's controversial President, Hugo Chavez, who only last week won a referendum enabling him to concentrate more power in the hands of the head of state, struck a similar note in comments he made while conducting the clean-up operation.

"The people of Venezuela have a seed of solidarity, which only needs something as big as this to wake it up and realise its potential," La Hora quoted him as saying.

Psychological impact

Other commentators concentrated on the psychological price of the crisis.

"Few people are spared the psychological impact of a disaster which takes a whole community by surprise," one writer said in El Universal.

The most frequent consequences would be acute stress and post-traumatic stress complications. Even those not directly affected by recent events might suffer.

"Not everyone is prepared to connect with such strong emotions as are being witnessed in the shelters, or what one sees on TV," a local psychiatrist was quoted as saying.

"The objective is to learn to live with the pain and allow those most affected to progress and even learn, despite the difficulties," the writer concluded.

Blaming previous governments

But some commentators wanted lessons to be drawn.

"It is with great sadness that I write this commentary," one observer in El Universal said.

"To be a witness to so many deaths, injuries, disappearances, so many victims, so much ruin ... should make us think what can be done so that when tragedies like this recur they do not result in the same enormous consequences in terms of lives, damage and misery."

Some of the blame, the commentator said, lay with previous administrations.

"I have dealt several times in these articles with the matter of the `consolidation' of the El Limon neighbourhood, one of those worst hit by the catastrophe.

"Enormous amounts of money have been spent on this neighbourhood - which always remained insalubrious - and with it many rich, corrupt people have been created to the cost of all of us."

And he ended his piece with a note of defiance.

"Today we can only feel pity towards those who have suffered this catastrophe directly, offer them our solidarity and support, not with simple compassion but with fraternity, and at the same time anger towards those who perhaps might have prevented it."

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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