Every year the Venezuelan Consulate in Vancouver, Canada organizes an evening to remember the anniversary of the passing of the leader of the Venezuelan revolution, Comandante Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. This year Tamara Hansen, coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) & editorial board member of Fire This Time Newspaper, was invited to share her thoughts on this great leader. Below is her talk.
Hello everyone, my name is Tamara Hansen and I am the coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC). I want to thank the Venezuelan Consulate in Vancouver and the Hugo Chávez People’s Defense Front for inviting me here tonight to take part in this event to remember the late leader of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution, Comandante Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. I would like to use this opportunity to remind everyone of the great friendship between Comandante Chávez and another great revolutionary we lost this year, the leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz.
Long live Chávez & Fidel!
Tonight it is hard to believe that we mark 4 years since the passing of Comandante Chávez, on March 5, 2013. Just a couple of days later, Fidel Castro wrote a beautiful reflection on the life of Comandante Chávez, calling him “the best friend the Cuban people have had throughout their history.” Comandante Fidel explained what an honour it was to fight alongside him, writing, “the honor befell us to have shared with the Bolivarian leader the same ideas of social justice and support for the exploited. The poor are the poor in any part of the world.”
What does it mean to support the exploited and the poor? For Comandante Chávez, who was first elected president of Venezuela in 1998, it meant working towards the eradication of poverty in Venezuela. Lee Brown, a journalist for the Huffington Post & Telesur, wrote, “In the 15 years prior to Hugo Chávez, from 1983 to 1998, just 37 percent of the state budget went on social investment. In the 15 years of the since Hugo Chavez initiated the Bolivarian Revolution that figure has shot up to 61 percent.” Why was this investment so important and impressive? Again according to Brown, “when Chavez arrived in office in 1998, Venezuelan poverty levels were at 44 percent. The Revolution has reduced this substantially to 27 percent today. Whilst extreme poverty has declined from 20% to 5.4%.” These accomplishments of the Bolivarian Revolution mirror many of the accomplishments achieved by the Cuban revolution, however in a very different context.
Maduro & Raúl continue the legacy
After the passing of Comandante Chávez, while Fidel declared Chávez the “Best Friend” of Cuba, Cuban President Raúl Castro also reflected on the importance of Comandante Chávez. Raúl stated, “He was invincible. He left victorious and no one can take that away. It is fixed in history.” These words recalled all of the important victories Comandante Chávez made against his political opponents with the support of the Venezuelan people both electorally and in the streets of Venezuela.
In November 2016, it was Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s turn to express his feelings towards Cuba after the passing of Comandante Fidel Castro. Maduro said, "Fidel was a human being beyond what is normal, we all know that. He was and will remain a living legend.” The friendship between Cuba and Venezuela extends far beyond just its leaders. The people of these two countries have come together on many efforts to build and strengthen the gains of their revolutions.
International Women’s Day 2017
Many articles have been written about the work these two great revolutions have done together. Mostly from the point of view of formal trade agreements or the founding powerful regional organizations such as ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). However, these institutions are so much more, allowing Cuba and Venezuela to cooperate on improving food, education, health, transportation, energy, science, sports, culture, technology and the environment for their peoples. Their cooperation has been built on mutual respect and a desire for fair and just trade agreements rather than the free trade model of neo-liberal capitalism, which always leaves the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer.
However, because International Women’s Day is only a few days away, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the respect and advancement of women’s rights in Venezuela and Cuba under the leadership of both Comandante Chávez and Comandante Fidel.
The Venezuelan Constitution passed by referendum in 1999, contains an important provision for women and gender equality, Article 88 states, “The State guarantees the equality and equitable treatment of men and women in the exercise of the right to work. The state recognizes work at home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are entitled to Social Security in accordance with law." The idea of paying women for staying at home and being housewives, continues to be a revolutionary one, not often accepted around the world. Adding to this, in October 1999, Venezuela saw the creation of INAMUJER, the National Women's Institute. In March 2006, Venezuela announced the creation of Misión Madres del Barrio (Mission Mothers of the Barrio). This mission aimed at lowering youth drug use, lowering unwanted pregnancies in young women and girls and finally aiding mothers whose families were living in extreme poverty. In ten years this mission has benefited more than 100,000 Venezuelan women and their families with education, food and recreational projects. This includes providing women living in extreme poverty with a monthly stipend from the government. This was followed in 2009 by the foundation of MinMujer, Venezuela’s Ministry of Women and Gender Equality.
Under the leadership of Comandante Chávez, Venezuela put forward many new and revolutionary initiatives to support women. At the same time, we must recognize that the Cuban revolution had been working on many similar projects since 1959, when Comandante Fidel called women's struggle for equality, "a revolution with the revolution". Working with prominent Cuban women, such as: Celia Sanchez, Melba Hernandez, Haydee Santamaria and Vilma Espin, Comandante Fidel helped initiate the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC) in 1960.
Cuba's first constitution after the revolution, passed by referendum in 1976, included a special article for women and gender equality, similar to the Venezuelan one. Cuba’s article 44 states, "Women and men enjoy equal economic, political, cultural, social, and familial rights. The State guarantees that women will be offered the same opportunities and possibilities as men to achieve their full participation in the development of the country. [...] The State strives to create all the conditions that will lead to the implementation of the principle of equality."
Because of these gains and many others, Cuban and Venezuelan women have consistently been on the front lines defending both the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions. Comandante Chávez, Fidel, Maduro and Raúl have always made sure to give women the credit they deserve, acknowledging on many occasions that the success of these two revolutions is due to the grassroots work and sweat of women.
On September 12, 2012 Comandante Chávez spoke at a meeting with women in defence of the homeland. He asked the crowd, "¿de dónde debe surgir ese conjunto de nuevas políticas para ir logrando de manera mucho más firme la igualdad de género? ¿De Chávez? ¿De las ministras? No. De las mismas mujeres, de las bases populares, de las mujeres organizadas, de los movimientos de las mujeres, como aquí lo estamos oyendo ahora mismo." In English: “Where should new policies to strengthen gender equality emerge from in order to continue our achievements? From Chávez? From the ministers? No. It should be from the same women, from the grassroots, from organized women, from women's movements, as we are hearing here today.”
Long live the revolutionary peoples of Venezuela & Cuba!
Of course these revolution owe a great debt to their unwavering and incorruptible leaders, but these leaders could not pursue their objective of a better world without oppressed and working people who are willing to take action. The great and revolutionary people of Venezuela and Cuba, especially the women of these countries, are to be celebrated for their work and accomplishments under the guidance of these great leaders.
¡Viva Chávez! ¡Viva Fidel!
¡Viva Maduro! ¡Viva Raúl!
¡Viva las Mujeres Revolucionarias de Venezuela & Cuba!
Follow Tamara Hansen on Twitter: @THans01
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