- 25 March 2013
On Saturday, March 23, Hands Off Venezuela hosted a panel discussion in memory of Hugo Chavez and in solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution. 50 supporters of Hands Off Venezuela gathered at 4200 Cedar Ave. for a lively discussion about Chavez' legacy and the past, present, and future of the Venezuelan Revolution. This followed a spontaneous solidarity rally of 40 people, held in the rain and cold of Minneapolis two weeks ago, the weekend after Chavez's death.
Carla Riehle of the MN Cuba Committee and Hands Off Venezuela facilitated the discussion and ensured everyone had a chance to ask questions and add their own thoughts after the panelists had spoken.
John Peterson, National Secretary of Hands Off Venezuela in the U.S., opened the discussion with an overview of the last 500 years of Latin American history: from the Spanish conquest to Simon Bolivar's revolutionary war of liberation from Spanish control. He explained how Bolivar's dream of a "Gran Colombia," of a united South America, was betrayed after his death. He also gave an overview of Chavez's life and the main turning points in the revolution over the last 15 years. During these years of coups, sabotage, social programs, referendums, and elections, Chavez almost singlehandedly put the ideas of socialism, nationalizations of industry, workers' control, participatory democracy, and more back on the world stage.
Peterson highlighted the role of ordinary Venezuelans at every stage in defending and deepening the revolution, but also explained that the revolution is not yet complete. Now that Chavez has passed away, it is up to the workers, peasants, and urban poor to complete the revolution by taking the banks, landed estates, and key industries under public ownership and running them under democratic workers' control. He also explained that the only way to keep U.S. "Hands Off Venezuela" is to bring about the socialist transformation of society here in the U.S. It is the example set by Chavez, and above all, of the masses behind him, that the imperialists and the local oligarchy and bureaucrats fear. A revolution is precisely when ordinary men and women decisively enter the stage of history and seize their destiny in their own hands. This is what is happening in Venezuela, and as history shows, revolutions do not respect borders!
Linda Hoover of the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition outlined many of Chavez and the revolution's accomplishments. From the many social missions funded by state oil revenues, to aggressively standing up to U.S. imperialism, she explained how Chavez and the revolution have become a beacon of hope for millions around the world. Here in the U.S., the struggle against militarism and imperialism continues, and she ended by quoting James Petras in saying: "Faced with a violent world of imperial counter-revolution, and resolved to stand with the oppressed of the world, Hugo Chavez enters world history as a complete political leader, with the stature of the most humane and multi-faceted leader of our epoch: the Renaissance figure for the 21st century."
Marcial Castro of Hands Off Honduras and the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Hondureña en el Exterior, explained the regional impact of the Bolivarian Revolution, ALBA, and other institutions and programs that have made a real, material difference in the lives of millions of people in Latin America and the Caribbean. He spoke of the many coups that have taken place in Latin America in recent years, including in Honduras, and explained how these are all ultimately aimed at suffocating the Venezuelan revolution and reversing the tide of struggle that has swept the region. He emphasized the need for genuine internationalism, an end to the artificial borders that divide Latin America and the world, and for socialism as the only solution.
Joe Callahan of the Minnesota Cuba Committee explained the close ties between Cuba and Venezuela, a relationship based on solidarity, not exploitation. He explained how tens of thousands of Cuban doctors have helped provide free care in Venezuela and beyond, and how Venezuela has helped Cuba and other countries with subsidized oil. Even in the U.S., Venezuela has provided free heating oil to poor communities, when U.S. oil companies have turned a blind eye and preferred profits over human needs. He gave many examples of the inspiration Chavez and the revolution have meant for Latin Americans and everyone fighting for real change in the U.S. He also got a hearty laugh out of the audience when he commented that so far no one had said the room "smelled like sulphur," a reference to Chavez's famous comments at the United Nations, after G.W. Bush had left the room.
Juan Carlos Estrella, deputy at the Consulate of Ecuador in Minneapolis, Minnesota, offered his greetings and solidarity on behalf of the people of Ecuador. He explained the importance of the Bolivarian revolution throughout South America and the support of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa for the revolutionary process. Regional solidarity, especially between Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia are the beginning of a new approach to internationalism and regional integration. He explained that the next stage of the Bolivarian revolution has yet to be completed: socialism of the 21st Century and the end of capitalism.
Carmen Gonzalez, long-time chavista and supporter of Hands Off Venezuela, gave a passionate speech about the impact Chavez and the revolution have had on the lives of ordinary Venezuelans. She explained that Chavez was the most slandered, vilified, and hated politician in recent memory. The words "tyrant," "dictator," "monster," and worse have been thrown at Chavez by the oligarchy, imperialism, and their bought-and-paid-for media, even after his death. So how is it that ordinary Venezuelans were so affected by his death that they flooded the streets, tears streaming from their eyes, defiantly crying "No Volveran!" ("They [the oligarchy] Shall Not Return!")? Why is it that, when he was unable to attend the swearing-in ceremony for his new term of office, hundreds of thousands of chavistas flooded the streets and swore themselves in as president, saying, "we are all Chavez!" Why is it that they inundated Caracas by the millions of people in the days after his death, sometimes traveling 2 or 3 days, just to see the body of their leader for a few seconds? She explained that the reason for the hatred of his enemies and the love of the poorest layers of Venezuelan society is one and the same. There is deep almost spiritual connection between Chavez and ordinary Venezuelans, based on shared experience and the very real material gains in quality of life achieved by the revolution, all of which represents a serious threat to the interests of the oligarchy and imperialism. As many in Venezuela are now saying: "Chavez is not dead; he has been transformed into millions!"
A lively question and answer session followed, with questions and discussion about the role of religion in the revolution, the relationship between Venezuela and Brazil, and the need for a socialist revolution in the United States. Everyone was enthused to hear about the social missions in Venezuela, and broke into applause when the following words by Chavez were quoted: "this is the century in which we will bury imperialism and capitalism!"
Afterwards, many people stayed to discuss informally, enjoying light snacks and beverages, and perusing and purchasing the various political materials available for sale. $210 in donations were raised to help cover the expenses of the event. The event was filmed and will be broadcast on various local public access channels. Twin Cities Hands Off Venezuela is planning an election monitoring gathering / fundraiser on April 14. For more information, please contact us.
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