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      Afro-descendants in the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela

      Speech by Wilfredo Peréz Bianco
      Translated by Tamara Hansen

      To kick off Black History Month the African Descent Society BC organized a daylong "Forum on People African Descent". Mr. Wilfredo Perez Bianco, Venezuelan Consul General in Vancouver, was invited as one of five distinguished guests to speak about the gains made for Venezuelans of African descent by the Bolivarian revolution. His talk was met with one of the loudest applauses of the day. Fire This Time is honoured to print an extended version of his remarks.

      Good afternoon and thank you very much to the African Descent Society of BC for the invitation, and the opportunity to present and share experiences in this important forum, which is a free exchange for discussion, debate and defense of Afrodescendence in the world.

      Afro-descendants in Venezuela

      During the transatlantic slave trade, about 100,000 African slaves were taken to Venezuela and their work fueled an agricultural economy based on coffee and cocoa. Slavery had a deep impact on the history and demography of Venezuela and even after it was abolished in 1854, freedom did not bring equality. Racism persisted throughout the 20th century until today, and African heritage was denied with an emphasis on racial mixing.

      Afro-descendants in Revolution

      The claims of the history of Afro-descendants in Venezuela have always been celebrated in the Bolivarian Revolution, which is based on cultural and social principles, on the rescue of ancestral identity, values and beliefs of the Venezuelan people, as well as the inheritance and struggle for dignity and the defense of the history of Afro-Venezuelans. We believe in non-discrimination, inclusion, equality and equity.

      Since 1998, when President Chávez was elected (exactly 18 years ago), Venezuela has achieved through government initiatives unprecedented advances in the fight against racism and national recognition of our African heritage. Some examples of this include:

      - Adoption of a new Constitution, which establishes that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is "multi-ethnic and a multi-ethnic society" that "guarantees the right to life, work, culture, education, social justice and equality without discrimination or any subordination", guided by the principle of equality between cultures (1999).

      - Creation of social missions to reduce poverty among historically marginalized groups (since 2003).

      - Creation of the Presidential Commission for the prevention and elimination of all forms of racial discrimination in the education system (2005), thanks to the recognition in the Constitution of an intercultural education.

      - The celebration in May of Afrodescendence and Afrovenezolanidad Day (2005) as a tribute to José Leonardo Chirinos, who led the African rebellion for equality, against the Spanish colonial authorities in 1795.

      - Creation of the Liaison Office for Afro-Descendant Communities of the Ministry of Popular Power for Culture (2005).

      - Creation of a Vice-Ministry for Foreign Affairs with Africa, where Venezuela now has 18 embassies (2005), including Angola, Congo, Mali, and Morocco.

      - Since 2006, the World Africa Week, has been held in Venezuela "a space for discussion, debate and exchange of ideas on Afro-descendants in Venezuela, African history, the contribution of Africans to our culture, the fight against discrimination and the development of Afro-descendant manifestations."

      - Subsequently, a new Organic Law on Education was approved in 2009, which addresses the rights of Afro-descendants in five of its articles. "The law requires educational institutions to teach about the history of Afro-descendants and prohibits the media from transmitting messages of discrimination against indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples"

      - Approval of the Law against Racial Discrimination (2011), which was materialized thanks to the impetus of Afro-descendant organizations in Venezuela who have been promoting initiatives to protect and empower Afro-descendants. This Act prohibits organizations and activities that promote racial discrimination; Urges the State to guarantee the right to political, economic, social and cultural participation for all Venezuelans; Promotes tolerance and respect for cultural diversity.

      - The creation in 2011 of the Center for African, American and Caribbean Knowledge, an area of research and formation of African culture that aims to promote the linguistic and cultural productive integration between our peoples to revalue the historical and collective memory of the Ancestral links in terms of the growth and well-being of peoples of African origin.

      - Inclusion of Afro-descendants in the national census (2011). According to it, Venezuela had a total population of 28,946,101 inhabitants.

      The national census conducted in 2011 was the first to allow citizens to identify themselves as Afro-descendants, an important step in raising awareness and in the visibility of this population. As a result, approximately 54% of the Venezuelan population has Afro-descendant roots.

      - Creation of the Council for the Development of Afro-Descendant Communities (CONADECAFRO), whose mission is to strengthen national and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent, in relation to the full enjoyment of rights Economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights and the promotion of a greater knowledge and respect of the diversity of the inheritance and the culture of these people.

      Likewise, since 1999 Venezuela's foreign policy has taken a significant turn in its international relationship.

      The new political reconfiguration of the Revolutionary project promoted the principles of pluripolarity, fundamental for unity, development and integration among the peoples of the whole of America.

      One example of this is that "In mid-2005, Hugo Chavez transcended international relations with the sister countries of Africa, establishing diplomatic relations with 54 African nations, making Venezuela the only state in the world with bilateral ties to this continent ".

      "With this new geopolitical map of relationships, the strategic lines and the creation of an Africa Agenda, generated in our country annual programming of diplomatic, political, cultural, educational and health activities jointly with the African nations under the motto: The Diplomacy of the Peoples ".

      Also on September 27, 2009, President Hugo Chávez installed the II Summit of Heads of State and Government of South America and Africa (ASA), which was a new alternative to redesign cooperation between South America and Africa. "The beginning of this road is the beginning to the salvation of our peoples ... Africa and South America have much to do for this new world," Chávez stressed in his speech during the Summit.

      Regional Solidarity: an example of adversity

      In October 2014, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) promoted a regional and global campaign to combat the Ebola virus, which killed thousands of people mainly from West Africa.

      This is the largest event in recent years and has continued to affect various countries around the world. The Latin American organization supported through the Cuban doctors the logistic sanitary processes that would allow to stop the virus before taking new dimensions.

      President Nicolás Maduro, responding to the call of the Secretary General of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, urged the member countries of Alba to make every effort to confront the epidemic by saying that "we have mutual trust, between countries and governments" to combat Ebola.

      In this way, Latin America and the Caribbean, regional organizations and the new global geopolitical architecture provided the impetus for a new international order with the countries and agencies of Africa, which opened the horizon for multicentrism and pluripolarity that the Eternal Commander, Hugo Chávez, devised for the development, union and integration of peoples.

      Similarly, in 2016 the former Executive Vice-President, Aristóbulo Istúriz, held a bilateral meeting with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this year to discuss different economic alliances. He also held a meeting with the South African Vice Minister of Tourism, Tokozile Xasa, where they agreed on a meeting of tourism practices between the two countries, in the context of the activation of the South African-Venezuelan Joint Commission, such as promotion, services, investment and tourist hospitality.

      As we can see, these laws and policies promoted by the Bolivarian Government for the benefit of Afro-Venezuelan communities have had the ultimate aim of highlighting the relevance and historical significance of Afrodescendence in our country, consolidating the presence of Africanist values and the African diaspora.

      In conclusion, Commander Hugo Chávez, during an interview in 2005, said that "hatred against me has a lot to do with racism. By my mouth, by my curly hair. I am very proud of this mouth and this hair, because it is African."

      Most recently, President Nicolás Maduro said: "We have to be proud of being from mixed heritage, it is the culture of joy, love, rebellion that faced hatred, slavery and racism", while convening the National union in order to eradicate all forms of discrimination in the country that still exists, with the promotion of a new culture of equality, especially through the media.

      Long live Afrodescendence!
      Long live the Afrovenezolanidad!
      Long live Africa!
      Long live the Patria Grande!
      Thank you so much!

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