On the weekend of March 4-6, some 500 people from across the US, Canada, Latin America, and Europe gathered in Washington DC for a series of workshops, plenary sessions, cultural events, and demonstrations as part of the Venezuela Solidarity Conference (VSC).
Despite visa problems for a number of Venezuelans who were to present at some of the workshops and plenaries, the conference, held on the George Washington University campus was a resounding success. Some 40 workshops were presented on a wide range of topics topics such as Venezuelan history, the health care missions, the role of women in the revolutionary process, organizing solidarity in the U.S. and Canadian labor movements, the role of Afro-Venezuelans, the Venezuela Constitution, building an Emergency Response Network and implementing a calendar of Venezuela solidarity actions, the Citgo "Buycott" campaign, and the case of Luis Posada Carriles among many others. Click here for the full list of workshops offered (although some were unfortunately cancelled at the last minute).
In addition to the workshops there were a number of plenary sessions which discussed the U.S. Agenda for Latin America, Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, and the forming of the National Venezuela Solidarity Network. The discussions ranged from the economics of ALBA and the Citgo heating oil program, to the role Plan Colombia and the importance of defending the Cuban Revolution as well. Some speakers presented a solid grass roots and working class perspective, while other had a more liberal focus, with some participants limiting their efforts to seeking votes for the Democratic Party.
On Saturday evening there was an well-attended public event with speakers, poetry, and music at All Souls Church.
Dozens of organizations worked closely and harmoniously for several months to organize this event, showing what can be done when people from the most varied backgrounds come together around an issue as important as defending the Venezuelan revolutionary process. Many of these organizations were represented at the conference with tables of books, pamphlets, leaflets, films, T-Shirts, stickers, and other Venezuela and Latin America solidarity-related items.
Miami's Bolivarian Youth
Some organizations, like the Bolivarian Youth of Miami are an excellent example of grass roots, labor-oriented organizations in solidarity with the revolution. There were also many trade unionists present, working to bring greater working class awareness of events in Venezuela. The US / Canada Hands Off Venezuela table was visited by hundreds of people, and was always buzzing with discussions on the international HOV campaign and the situation in Venezuela. Many conference attendees stopping to have their picture taken with the HOV banner. Click here to see a list of organizations that co-sponsored the event.
On Monday, March 6, dozens of conference attendees visited their legislative representatives in a morning of lobbying.
Later that same day, at 12:00 noon, some 70-80 people gathered in front of the offices of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the largest-ever demonstration against this thoroughly anti-democratic institution. Chanting "Hands Off Venezuela! Hands Off Haiti!" and carrying posters and banners calling for the shutting down of the NED and opposition to military action against Iran and other countries, the demo was a big success. Media from the Associated Press, ViveTV, and Radio Nacional de Venezuela were present.
The small crowd then marched to the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, located just 4 blocks away, to protest against the funding the trade union federation's "Solidarity Center" receives from the NED. [The NED also funds the The International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and the Center for International Private Enterprise (Chambers of Commerce)] Click here for the flyer used to promote this event.
All in all the conference was an exhilirating and energetic event, with the hundreds of delegates leaving with a sense of having participated in the beginning of what we hope will become a truly broad network that will successfully defend Venezuela's revolutionary process against foreign intervention. It was a terrific opportunity to meet hundreds of other grassroots solidarity activists from around the world, to learn from their experience, and to share ideas about taking the Venezuela and Latin America solidarity movement to the next level.
Plenary Session of the VSC
What Next? Building the Venezuela Emergency Response Network
So where do we go from here? Hands Off Venezuela supports fully the actions committee proposal to build a Venezuela Emergency Response Network (ERN), which was aproved by acclamation by the final plenary session of the conference. Several organizations and individuals are working to coordinate and develop the ERN. The ERN will link up tens and hundreds of thousands of people around the world in order to respond to provocations against Venezuela both large and small.
The first tier would be the coordination of email, phone, and related campaigns in response to Venezuela-related legislative initiatives, media disinformation, and inflammatory rhetoric from persons in the public eye.
The second tier would involve calls for and the organization of public demonstrations in response to critical provocations and interventions such as coup or assassination attempts, electoral manipulation, economic sabotage, or invasion by either the U.S. or its proxies.
For example, if Pat Robertson were to again call for Chavez' assassination, we could coordinate a massive email / fax / phone call / letters-to-the-editor response. If there are more serious provocations, we will have a network and plan in place in order to mobilize on the streets against it.
Calendar of Grassroots Venezuela Solidarity Actions
As part of doing local outreach to build the ERN, and following on the success of the December 2, 2005 international day of action to mark the anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, the Venezuela Solidarity Conference also approved a Grassroots Calendar of Actions in order to coordinate solidarity activities around the country and around the world. The first action is:
April 11-19, 2006
WEEK OF ACTION TO COMMEMORATE THE REVERSAL OF THE APRIL 2002 COUP AND VENEZUELA’S STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE: April 11 is the anniversary of the 2002 U.S.-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez. By April 14, in an unprecedented example of the power of the grass roots, the Venezuelan masses had reversed the coup and brought President Chavez back to power. This event marked a decisive turning point in the revolutionary process. March 19 is the anniversary of the start of Venezuela’s Struggle for Independence. During this week, we will organize demonstrations, educational, and cultural activities in solidarity with Venezuela.
Coordinating the ERN and the Calendar of Actions will require tremendous effort and collaboration by hundreds of organizations and individuals across the US, Canada, and the world. We are raising money in order to hire someone part time to coordinate this important work. We invite you to make a donation of any amount through the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign in order to build the ERN. All donations are tax-deductible, please feel free to contact us for more information.
Donations can be sent to:
PO Box 4244
St.Paul, MN 55104
We also accept donations online at:
The Venezuela Solidarity Conference and the formation of a Venezuela Solidarity Network (VSN) are important steps in the growing movement of solidarity with the people of Venezuela. Despite differences among some of the delegates as to how the VSN should be organized and implemented, we are hopeful that it will develop into a truly broad solidarity movement. In our opinion, the most positive aspect is the commitment by a number of young and working class activists to build and promote the ERN and Calendar of Actions at the grassroots level. Hands Off Venezuela is committed to energetically developing this work.