Venezuela’s Virgin of Peace showing signs of age

At 27, the Monument to the Virgin of Peace is showing her age and is in need of repairs. (Layisse Cuenca for Infosurhoy.com)

At 27, the Monument to the Virgin of Peace is showing her age and is in need of repairs. (Layisse Cuenca for Infosurhoy.com)

By Layisse Cuenca for Infosurhoy.com—08/07/2010

TRUJILLO, Venezuela – The Monument to the Virgin of Peace needs a makeover.

That’s what Gladys Rodríguez, a ticket seller at the monument’s visitor’s center, said when she looked at the world’s tallest statue of the Virgin Mary.

The 27-year-old iconic landmark that is 46.7 meters (153 feet) tall and is perched atop a hill 1,700 meters above sea level in the state of Trujillo, about 375 miles west of the nation’s capital, is falling apart.

“Not before – or now – has the [government] provided money to take care of it,” Rodríguez said. “We have always funded [its maintenance] with the money collected from tourists’ visits.”

The monument of the Virgin Mary holding a white dove in her right hand is the centerpiece for one of the country’s top tourist attractions. The statue, which is on La Peña de la Virgen hill, is surrounded by a complex that features a recreational park and a chapel, which also houses concerts. Admission to the complex costs $8 bolívares (US$1) for adults, $5 bolívares (US$0.66) for children and $4 bolívares (US$0.50) for parking. The complex also offers postcard-quality views of Lake Maracaibo, the largest lake in South America.

But the facilities need to be updated so all visitors can enjoy the venue and especially the statue, which took sculptor Manuel de La Fuente 18 months to create, Rodríguez said. She said equipment used to assist the handicapped and the elderly hasn’t been maintained.

Deyanira Vásquez, 34, traveled with her family from Caracas to visit the monument for the first time, but not all her relatives were able to go all the way up to the top of the hill.

“It really is something beautiful and the view, although it is cloudy today, is impressive,” she said. “It is a shame that my grandmother was not able to go up.”

A civil association was responsible for the complex’s maintenance until six months ago, when the Trujillo state government took control of the venue.

“On November 20, 2009 the Virgen de la Paz civil association transferred the Monument of Peace to the Trujillo government,” Alexander Ramírez, attorney general of the state of Trujillo, told the government-run newspaper Correo del Orinoco.

But it hasn’t been a smooth transition, Rodríguez said.

“The current management put up new posters, but with wrong dates, height [of the monument] and other details that we have to correct when visitors ask,” Rodríguez said, adding the “elevator hasn’t worked in years” and the bathrooms are not in the best condition for public use.

Ramírez said the city government plans to invest $32 million bolívares (US$7.4 million) to renovate the park surrounding the monument, in addition to building a “three-star hotel with a capacity of 60 beds” to attract more visitors, according to Correo del Orinoco.

Víctor Rincón, a Trujillo resident who also recently visited the monument for the first time, said it’s “surprising that we have something so important in our state and we don’t take care of it properly. Still, the gardens are beautiful and the swings (in the children’s play area) are in good condition.”

Ana María and Letty Suárez woke up early to travel from the Midwestern state of Lara to thank the Virgin for answering one of their prayers.

“The monument is clean and they take care of the parks,” Ana María said, “but the bathrooms need to be renovated.”

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