In Fire This Time Volume 13 Issue 8 we published, “Fire This Time in Caracas, Venezuela at the Sao Paulo Forum: The Only Thing that Guarantees Triumph is Unity!" with a report from the Fire This Time delegation to Venezuela in July 2019 for the dynamic international Sao Paulo Forum. Alison and Tamara, members of the Fire This Time Editorial Board, also took the opportunity while in Venezuela to spend some time outside of the forum meeting with Venezuelans and conducting interviews. This article in three parts will share some anecdotes and first-hand observations of what they witnessed during the trip.
Why Are We Involved in Venezuela Solidarity? What is the Bolivarian Revolution?
In 1998 people in Venezuela elected President Hugo Chávez. This began the Bolivarian revolutionary process where poor, working, and oppressed people in Venezuela have made tremendous gains for their basic rights and dignity. Among many other gains: healthcare, education and housing are no longer privileges in Venezuela, but human rights. For example, healthcare, including medications, is free in Venezuela, and so is public education all the way through university. In the last five years alone, the government of Venezuela has built nearly 3 million homes that are available for free or low-cost to the most marginalized people in Venezuela through the social housing mission “Gran Misión Vivienda.”
President Hugo Chávez passed away in 2013, and since then democratically elected President Nicolás Maduro, together with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has led the Bolivarian revolutionary process. During the last Presidential election in May of 2018 President Maduro was re-elected for a term of six years, receiving nearly 68% of the votes (6.3 million votes), of course some of the most right-wing parties boycotted the election and many imperialist countries, including Canada and the U.S. said they would not recognize the results. Despite this, millions of Venezuelans went to the polls in favour of their candidate, President Maduro.
Throughout the past 20 years the government of the United States and their allies (including the government of Canada) have been attempting to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela and reverse the tremendous gains achieved by poor, working, and oppressed people in Venezuela. To achieve this, imperialist governments have carried out attempted coup d’états, threats of war, cruel sanctions, economic sabotage, and provided their ongoing support for Venezuela’s violent corrupt counter-revolutionary opposition. So, their support of the right-wing boycott of the May 2018 presidential elections came as no surprise.
Today, the people of Venezuela are facing an economic and financial blockade imposed by the U.S., Canada, and the European Union (EU). While these governments have tried to say that their sanctions are targeted at specific personalities or government officials, Venezuelans see it very differently. They are no longer using the term “sanctions” and now refer to this international right-wing campaign as a “blockade” and charge that an estimated 40,000 people died as a result of the blockade from 2017-2018. These statistics are backed up by a recent report by the Washington, DC-based, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), "Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela". However, this criminal blockade, combined with continuous threats of war by the U.S., and the attempted installation of their puppet Juan Guaido as “interim President” of Venezuela in January 2019 has not stopped the people of Venezuela from defending their hard-fought-for sovereignty, independence, and self-determination.
Having the opportunity to see Venezuela first-hand left us clearer than ever before that the people of Venezuela are mobilizing to defend the Bolivarian revolutionary process and the democratically elected government of President Maduro. Although their voices are deliberately eliminated by mainstream media in the U.S. and Canada in order to justify the regime-change agenda of imperialist governments, talking to people on the streets of Caracas we experienced their determination and their courage first-hand.
Throughout our trip, many Venezuelans approached us wanting to explain why they support the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and President Nicolás Maduro. It became clear that Venezuelans who support the revolution understand that the media outside of their country – especially in the U.S., Canada, and Europe – is portraying the government of Nicolás Maduro as a dictatorship and accusing his government of a multitude of democratic and human rights violations. Around the Sao Paulo Forum, and also in visits to different areas outside of the Forum, many Venezuelans approached us for the explicit reason of explaining why they are personally invested in supporting the Bolivarian revolutionary process and asking us to share everything we saw and heard with people when we returned to Canada.
Each of these encounters reminded us of the importance of building an international movement in solidarity with the people of Venezuela for their self-determination and their right to continue building their revolutionary Bolivarian project.
Grassroots and Mass Support for the Revolution
On July 27 a march and a rally were held against U.S. imperialism in Latin America as part of the Sao Paulo Forum. As thousands of people marched down the streets of Caracas towards the front stage, the mood was defiant, but also festive and joyful. There were giant Venezuelan flags, printed and hand-made signs of all sorts, and people in costumes performing street theatre. This may come as a surprise to people in North America, but we did not see violence or fear, instead, we saw a people full of strength and determination. Despite hardships and shortages – brought on by brutal U.S. sanctions and right-wing sabotage of Venezuela’s economy – people from all walks of life used their Saturday to take to the streets with friends, family, and co-workers; to listen to revolutionary music and political speeches; and to show the world that they will fight to defend their independence and sovereignty.
As the march approached, we stood on the side of the road with the Fire This Time banner, which features an image of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. Dozens of Venezuelans stopped and came over to ask to take photos with us and to know where we were from. We made many friends who accompanied us during the rally: Marcos, Semprún, Hernan, and Elba who reminded us to wear our backpacks on our fronts to discourage petty theft and invited people over to take photos with us. Elba is a hotel worker and Chavista (a supporter of the Bolivarian revolutionary process). She was a petit woman who jokingly volunteered to be our “Guardaespalda” (bodyguard) staying with us for about two hours. Like so many others, she wanted to know what the media says about Venezuela in Canada and to tell us about the challenges and gains she has seen through the revolution. We shared snacks, political materials, and she gave us some of her handmade soap, all that she asked of us was that we let people in Canada and the U.S. know about the reality in Venezuela.
We also had the chance to visit many community projects throughout various municipalities in Caracas (a city with a population of about 3 million people), specifically: El Panal 2021 commune and “La Estafeta” cultural centre both in the Libertador Municipality, and the Comuna Apacúana and the “Otra Beta” Movement Centre both in the Municipality of Sucre.
The “El Panal 2021” commune is in the hills below the Cuartel de la Montaña, where President Hugo Chávez is buried. The commune and the 23 de Enero neighbourhood where it is located, are known for their revolutionary spirit and high level of organization, which was apparent throughout the commune, not only within the presentations we received, but also painted on to the walls for all to see. In some ways, an urban commune such as El Panal 2021 can be compared to a community center or a neighbourhood house, with programs ranging from classes for seniors, to recreational activities, to skill-sharing workshops. However, the commune also goes well beyond that, by providing services for free and teaching members to create things they are able to sell through a bakery and clothing factory, in order integrate production and make the centre more sustainable in the long-run.
El Panal 2021, which today includes about 10,000 families, was started with resources from the revolutionary government, and today is working towards becoming a self-sufficient community. In fact, the clothing factory which now produces a range of products, including the backpacks that are distributed to children in Venezuela free of charge, was the initiative of President Hugo Chávez. The commune has also recently purchased a generator for the community, which will ensure that the community radio and other services, including the Misión Barrio Al Dentro health clinic (which provides free, primary care services to the community, in cooperation with the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela), will continue to have power during blackout periods.
The Comuna Apacúana is a much newer and smaller commune then El Panal. At the Comuna Apacúana, Alison attended a Sunday morning weekly planning meeting and educational session for their urban agriculture project. This commune formed two years ago when a large house in the neighbourhood was left abandoned. People from the neighbourhood took it over, turning the house into a community centre and the grounds into a garden that enables the community to better confront U.S. sanctions and economic sabotage. All kinds of people were at the meeting: students, teachers, retired people and families, ready and willing to learn about urban agriculture and work together to build their community. It was a beautiful experience to see people taking an active role in their lives and in the Bolivarian revolutionary process, where one of the most present impacts of the past twenty years is that poor, working, and oppressed people in Venezuela who never had a voice, or a mechanism to work together to achieve gains in their communities are now armed with the resources, knowledge, and confidence that they need.
END OF PART ONE
Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01
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