CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that the world's tallest waterfall has been called Angel Falls too long and should revert to its original indigenous name instead of commemorating the U.S. pilot who spotted it in 1933.
He called for renaming the Venezuelan falls Kerepakupai-Meru, saying during his weekly television program that Indians had a name for the majestic waterfall long before adventurer Jimmie Angel flew over it.
How can Venezuelans could accept the idea that "the highest waterfall in the world was discovered by a man who came from the United States in a plane?" Chavez asked.
"We should change that name, right? With all respect to that man who came, who saw it."
He initially said the name should be Churun-Meru, but then corrected himself after receiving a note from his daughter Maria pointing out that the Pemon Indian name of the waterfall is Kerepakupai-Meru.
"That's the name ... the name of the Indians," Chavez said.
The waterfall, which is among Venezuela's most famous tourist destinations, is the world's tallest at 3,212 feet (979 meters), with an uninterrupted drop of 2,648 feet (807 meters). It plunges from one of the tabletop mountains, Auyan-Tepui, in the rugged, forested landscape of Canaima National Park in southern Venezuela.
Angel's quest to find a cloud-shrouded, flat-topped mountain where he had previously discovered gold led him to become the first outsider to spot the waterfall in 1933. The Missouri-born pilot died at age 57 in a 1956 plane crash in Panama.
"One could say he was the first one to see it from a plane," Chavez said. "But how many millions of indigenous eyes saw it, and prayed to it?"
Chavez has renamed various places and institutions during his nearly 11 years in office, including successfully pushing to change the country's name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, after South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
"No one should refer to Angel Falls anymore," Chavez said, adding that at least his supporters shouldn't – even if his opponents prefer to keep using that moniker.