Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world. That, coupled with a government perceived to be anti-big business, has caused many companies to worry for their future. But rum producer Santa Teresa has turned the issues into positives using a sport little known in the Americas- Rugby. John Holman went to the company to find out more.
JHO VENEZUELA SUCCESSFUL BIZ
The Venezuelan countryside. Hot, humid and spacious, perfect for planting sugar cane, distilling rum and playing Rugby The game is little known in this baseball mad country. But Santa Teresa, a top rum producer, is using this high pace contact sport to reach out to the violent neighborhoods surrounding its company headquarters.
Francisco Alvorado , Santa Teresa Rugby trainer: “Rugby teaches the values of respect, humility, teamwork and that’s very important for the young we have to reinforce those values so they don’t end up in gangs on the street.”
He should know. Francisco was a local gang leader. As was Jose. These two were bitter enemies.
Jose Rodriguez (with Francisco laughing): “I wanted to grab him and (puts Francisco in headlock) kill him. I used to want to strangle him.”Now they’re best friends and play together for the company team.
PTC The Santa Teresa team is mainly made up from young men in the barrios here. They’ve learned rugby in Santa Teresa and they’re now number 1 in their regional league.”
The company takes in 15-hundred local school children for rugby sessions at its headquarters. Francisco is now a full time trainer. Rugby is just part of a wider strategy that includes a gruelling 2-year work program for local criminals looking to change like Leo. Leonardo “I decided to enter the program, one, because they were going to give me training and, two, because outside they were going to kill me or I was going to kill myself with drugs.”
Venezuela has the second highest murder rate in the world. Robbery, killing and extortion are daily threats in many areas.Santa Teresa realized it needed to get involved when a gang attacked a company security guard some 10 years ago.
Lucylde Gonzalez, spokeswoman, Santa Teresa: “If I have a community next door that has problems with housing, education, that affects the company if you have criminals, they rob your vans, your employees have problems even if you close your doors and we don’t want that.”
Leo is now working in the factory full time. He says his friends who didn’t take the course, known as Proyecto Alcatraz, are all dead.
Lucylde Gonzalez, spokeswoma,n Santa Teresa: “In the 11 years of Proyecto Alcatraz, 6 gangs have been dismantled and the number of homicides has gone from 114 per 100 000 residents to 14 and that’s an enormous reduction that no other municipality in Venezuela has.”
The company’s social programs have allowed it to find common ground with a socialist, populist government known for hostility to big business. Inside the factory things are also going well. It’s reaping the reward of a push to remarket Venezuelan rum from moonshine for the masses to a top quality product.
Lucylde Gonzalez, Spokeswoman, Santa Teresa: “In Venezuela before rum was seen as a low prestige drink, so we’ve done things to like the seal or origin and worked as an industry to make the world see the quality of Venezuelan rum.” Santa Teresa now sells over 15 million bottles a year. But its success and identity remains tied to local communities, and to rugby.
John Holman, CCTV News reports from Venezuela.