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.
Part one of this article, which shares some anecdotes and first-hand observations of what they witnessed during the trip was printed in Fire This Time Volume 13, Issue 9 (September 2019).
Part two covers experiences from Venezuela following the Sao Paulo Forum, as Tamara and Alison continue to share in the every day lives of Venezuelans who are fighting back and organizing against U.S.-led war and blockade and in defence of their sovereignty and self-determination. The report begins with a reflection from visiting a neighbourhood communal council, one of the many ways that people in Venezuela have organized their communities within the Bolivarian revolutionary process.
Next, we attended a meeting of a communal council; these are neighbourhood councils organized within the Bolivarian process. They explained their work to Tamara and asked Tamara about the Venezuela solidarity movement in Canada and the work of the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice – Venezuela Solidarity Campaign. Again, they were eager to understand how media in Canada portrays the government of Nicolas Maduro and hoped that we could understand the daily struggles their neighbourhood is going through, but also how they have all come together to make sure everyone has the basics covered. Their council featured some people with years of experience as well as four women who were new and just getting integrated into the work. One of the most outspoken members was a Peruvian woman who had been living in Venezuela for decades. She expressed how the media says so many people are leaving Venezuela, and she has the option to be in Peru, but chooses Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolutionary process.
“Human Rights” in Venezuela: The case of Michelle Bachelet and the U.N. Report on Human Rights in Venezuela?
At the beginning of July 2019, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report about the human rights situation in Venezuela. This report has been widely used by imperialist governments and their major media mouthpieces to condemn the government of Venezuela for a whole range of so-called human rights abuses. At the same time, this report ignores the severe impact of the U.S. and imperialist blockade on the people of Venezuela, as well as the violence committed by the right-wing opposition in Venezuela. Given the UN High Commissioner’s history of compliance and assistance in U.S.-led campaigns to condemn countries for “human rights abuses,” this report’s bias against the government of Venezuela was not a surprise.
During our time in Venezuela, we heard from many people with different perspectives on the fundamental flaws of the report. Many people were frustrated that Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights who was responsible for the report, had met with the Venezuelan government, as well as individuals and organizations that are part of the Bolivarian revolutionary process, but had deliberately silenced their comments and experiences by not including them in the final report.
Within the Bolivarian revolutionary process poor, working, and oppressed people in Venezuela have made tremendous advances towards achieving human rights – and continue to fight for more – which is what the speakers on the panel emphasized. For example, women in Venezuela have made incredible gains, especially from 1999-2014. However, the increasing economic blockade and war against Venezuela has slowed down the pace of advancement – as women in Venezuela must now concern themselves more with taking care of the basic needs of their families and communities. Women in Venezuela make up more than 80% of the leadership in community and social organizations, and therefore are on the frontlines in standing up against the imperialist attack that is denying Venezuelans access to food, medicine, and other necessities.
The Revolutionary Bolivarian Process Confronts Shortages and Sanctions
When we talk about real and fundamental human rights, one example is thinking about access to food. Tamara was lucky to be with Jimmy Gudiño, an elected Councilor for the Municipal Council of the Libertador Municipality of Caracas, on the day of the CLAP distribution. CLAP stands for “Comite Local de Abastecimiento y Produccion” (Local Supply and Production Committees). The CLAP distributes food at low cost to communities and homes across Venezuela. Currently six million Venezuelan families are benefiting from this program, getting food at a subsidy of 98%. Throughout Caracas there was lots of food on shelves, however we were told by many Venezuelans that the prices are unaffordable for many families. This is in contrast with last summer where there were food shortages in many parts of the city, but when the food was available it was affordable and subsidized. Both of these situations are inflamed by greedy private companies and corporations which have been caught selling products across the border in Colombia. In Colombia they can make more profits and at the same time this create shortages in Venezuela which assists in their effort to create distrust and frustration with the Bolivarian revolutionary process. There are also many cases of price-gouging by the private sector which controls the majority of food production and distribution. The CLAP program began in 2016 to provide basic foods to poor and working families. This May, President Maduro announced the Bolivarian Militia would begin supervising the CLAP system to fight incidents of corruption and hoarding.
Tamara saw first-hand how this project is helping to improve the lives of poor and working people. She was, without any pre-scheduling, invited as a guest to hand out bags of food and connect with people. Within the community Tamara met two senior citizens, a mother and her son, who had been identified by the community as at risk and unable to pay for the CLAP bag. Other members of the community offered to pay a bit more for their bags to ensure that this family could take their bags for free. Inside each sack was cooking oil, pasta, flour, dried beans, and other products meant to help families make it through the month.
This important program has been threatened by the United States government, which imposed sanctions on the CLAP program at the end of July during the time we were in Venezuela. This is a cynical and despicable move by the government of the U.S. that once again demonstrates how their blockade on Venezuela is meant to harm poor and working people – and similar to the U.S. blockade on Cuba – create distrust and poverty so that the people of Venezuela will become disillusioned and revolt against the Bolivarian process. However, those who are the poorest and the most in need of the CLAP are also the most loyal to President Maduro’s government and the Bolivarian project, because they are the ones who know that the wealthy oligarchs who used to rule Venezuela and their puppet masters in the United States have nothing to offer poor and working people.
International Solidarity within the Revolutionary Bolivarian Project
The importance of solidarity was also highlighted in a book launch event that Tamara attended at the Mayor's office in La Guaira, the capital of the Venezuelan state of Vargas, to the North of Caracas. Three young Argentinians have just published a book "Más allá de los monstruos" (Beyond the monsters) an anti-imperialist compilation of essays and articles about the geopolitics of Latin America today. Over a hundred Venezuelans attended the event to learn more about this book. Tamara was also invited to speak a bit about the work of the Fire This Time Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in Canada. It was an important demonstration of solidarity against U.S. imperialism amongst peoples.
Despite challenges in Venezuela, there is also a dedicated Cuba solidarity movement in Venezuela. Many organizers in this movement – including Yhonny Garcia, the president of the National Mutual Friendship & Solidarity Movement Cuba-Venezuela – have been organizing solidarity with Cuba since before Chávez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. Tamara had a chance to meet with Yhonny and the members of their group to learn more about their ongoing efforts to build friendship and links, not only supporting government to government relations for Cuba and Venezuela, but people to people relations.
Building Solidarity with Venezuela Against Imperialism is an Essential Strategy
So many of the Venezuelans we met left a lasting impression on us for their friendliness, their warmth, their humanity, and their frankness in discussing challenging and complex economic, social, and political issues that do not always have easy solutions. Informing people in Canada, the U.S. and other imperialist countries of what we heard and saw in Venezuela is important for breaking the attempt by international mainstream media to isolate revolutionary Bolivarian Venezuelans and their President Nicolás Maduro.
However, the much larger task is holding imperialist governments accountable for their actions and attempts to destabilize and undermine the independence of the Venezuelan government and the majority of people in Venezuela that are working hard every day to push the Bolivarian process forward. The most important way that we can help our compañeras and compañeros in Venezuela is by working in our own countries to push the governments of the United States, Canada, and European Union to drop all sanctions against Venezuela and to end their campaign of aggression, sabotage, and threats of war. We must multiply our efforts to build a movement in defence of the Venezuelan people demanding “U.S., Canada and All Other Imperialists Hands Off Venezuela!” and “End the Blockade Against Venezuela!”
Imperialism is deeply threatened by the gains of the Venezuelan Bolivarian process, the more independent revolutionary Venezuela becomes, the more it threatens imperialist military and financial domination and soft-power strategic influence, along with their attempt at hegemony over international markets and natural resources throughout Latin America. Needless to say, Venezuela’s independent government is also a threat to imperialism and it is indeed a source of inspiration for poor and working people in other countries who desire to nationalize resources, redistribute land, and make sure the basic human rights to food, water, housing, education, and health are provided to all. The Venezuelan Bolivarian revolutionary process is the biggest and most clear message to all Latin America and the world for: Imperialists Out!
Follow Tamara on Twitter:@THans01
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