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Solidarity

This August, Caracas, Venezuela will be home to the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students, a festival of politics, art, and culture. The meeting will be held from the 7th to the 15th and will be a convergence of young students and workers from across the globe, united behind the slogan "For peace and solidarity, we struggle against war and imperialism!"

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Around forty people representing twenty organizations attended the most recent Philippines-Venezuela solidarity activity on February 18 and launched the Philippines-Venezuela Solidarity Association. Jose Clavijo, the Charge d' Affaires of the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was a guest speaker and the documentary "Venezuela Bolivariana: People and Struggle" was shown. The event was organised by the socialist labor centre the BMP and co-hosted with the Women and Gender Institute at the Miriam College Campus.

Organisations represented included: Partido ng Manggagawa, Kalayaan, Sanlakas, Freedom from Debt Coalition, RCPD, Philippine-Iraq Solidarity, Philippine-Cuba Solidarity and Friendship Association, Peace Camp, BMP and several of its local unions, members of WAGI, students and teachers from Miriam College. Gigi Francisco of WAGI  and Sonny Melencio, Vice-Chairperson of BMP, opened the meeting.

The film, an inspiring introduction to the Bolivarian revolution led by President Hugo Chavez, was described as "stunning" and "inspiring" by the participants. The discussion included comparisons with the People's Power uprisings in the Philippines and how in the Philippines, unlike in Venezuela, the momentum of these mass upsurges had been contained. There were also comments about the need for the Philippine left to study and learn from the unfolding revolution in Venezuela.

Workers at the meeting were interested in how workers in Venezuela were responding to company closures and lockouts by taking over the factories and placing them under workers control, with the support of the Chavez government. Participants also discussed the recent initiatives to set up workers militias or people's defense units, indicating the deepening of the revolution as people were armed.

There was also a tremendous interest about the health and the education "missions" of the revolution. Attempts by Venezuela and Cuba to set up the Bolivarian Alternatives for the Americas (ALBA), as an alternative economic bloc of Latin American countries opposed to the imperialist backed Free Trade Area for the Americas, was also reported on.

The meeting noted the ongoing threat to the revolution posed by the US, as well as the more recent ratcheting up of the anti-Chavez statements by the US government and the campaign in the US media against Hugo Chavez.

When volunteers were called for to set up a coordinating committee several hands shot up as leaders of mass organizations and networks, solidarity campaigns and activists with already heavy workloads, making a commitment to supporting the solidarity campaign.

The main aims of the Philippine-Venezuela Solidarity Association will be to disseminate information and be on alert to launch protest actions in defense of the Bolivarian revolution.

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The dates for the WFSY have changed. Please take note of the new ones. We are enclosing a part of the text sent by the Venezuelan National Preparatory Committee announcing the new dates for the festival:

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As mentioned in the report on the meeting in Parliament the Venezuelan Ambassador to London, Alfredo Toro Hardy, has given his support to the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. We provide a link here to a video of Mr. Hardy speaking as well as a transcript of his speech in Parliament.

The video can be found here. We reproduce the transcript below.


-- Grand Committee Room, Houses of Parliament, 2nd February 2005

Alfredo Toro Hardy (Ambassador to London of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela): Thank you very much, it's a great pleasure to be here tonight. I would like to express the gratitude of President Chávez for this movement, this network that has been so active, in which you have group of MPs, that under the leadership of Mr John McDonnell have been able to put down several motions in favour of the Venezuelan government. As well we have a group of authorities from British Unions, and of course we have a grassroots movement, Hands Off Venezuela, which has been tremendously active in promoting solidarity towards the Venezuelan government.

President Chávez is well aware of this effort, and as a matter of fact I spoke with him a few days ago and he mentioned that he would like to pass through Britain in a trip he must make to India at the beginning of March, to get in touch with you all and to personally convey his gratitude for this effort. Of course, this hasn't yet been scheduled but we are looking forward to it and we really hope he will be able to make a short stop-over here in London to meet you all.

Mr Galindez just made a very interesting approach to the problems being faced by the government internally. Perhaps I could talk a little bit about the problems being faced externally. And essentially I would like to refer to the problems that the Venezuelan government has vis-à-vis the Bush administration in the United States. Essentially I would say there are three areas in which differences emerge: political differences, economic differences and two different perspectives on foreign policy.

As for the political differences, I would say that President Chávez' government has been making a tremendous effort in order to empower the majority of the population that traditionally have been excluded. In order to do so, he has promoted a participatory model of democracy in which people have to act, in which people have to defend, people have to be vigilant of the political process. And as a result of that, since his election in 1998, he has promoted all of this. In any case there have been eight electoral processes in which people have been involved participatorily. In all those eight elections, in addition to the one that President Chávez won in 1998, President Chávez himself, his policies or his candidates, have won.

Notwithstanding that fact, the United States keeps insisting that we don't have a true democracy in Venezuela. The reason maybe lies in the fact that in the concept of American democracy there is a clear distinction between what they scornfully call "mass democracy" and what they call "liberal democracy". For them, there is an anti-majoritarian view of politics that goes against this kind of participatory democracy that we tend to promote in Venezuela. And in essence, what they clearly fail to understand is that throughout history - and again, I must say that for them the essence of democracy is the protection of minority - what they fail to understand is precisely that Venezuela, throughout its history, has had governments of the minorities, for the minorities, and by the minorities; and with the exclusion of the majority. And that is precisely what we are trying to correct. This difference is a fundamental difference which is very difficult to overcome.

But there is also the economic element. From an economic point of view, the United States tries to impose a market economy like in America, and they tried to impose the Washington Consensus within the region, which of course implies a decalogue of principles like trade liberalisation, privatisation, fiscal reform, and so on and so forth. But the fact is that within the application of these policies the results have been quite clear. Latin America is probably the only region, or certainly the only region in the world, whose economic indicators in the '90s were much worse than they were in the '70s. According to the Latin American Commission of the United Nations, Latin America's GDP decreased by almost 2% between 1997 and 2003. During that same period the number of people living in poverty in the region was essentially increased, as a matter of fact we have twenty million more poor people in 2003 than we had in 1997. So this whole concept of trying to promote this American concept, this market economy concept, of trying to promote economic growth through a market economy with a final end of generating a "trickle-down" that someday, sometime, someplace will generate social justice, is clearly not working in Latin America.

What President Chávez proposes is just the opposite: emphasising the human being, emphasising education, health-care, social and civic consciousness, new political parties, social capital. That is, trying to promote a more human society and a much more productive citizen. At the end of the day, instead of a "trickle-down" it's a sort of a "trickle-up", in which a much more conscious and prepared citizen will be able to produce prosperity.

There is also the main difference from the point of view of foreign policy. The United States promotes unilateralism, unipolarity, prevention of international laws, and of course a tight control of Latin America within the context of the Free Trade Area of the Americas; whereas Venezuela with President Chávez' government proposes co-operative multi-lateralism, multi-polarity, international law, and of course a Latin America as independent as possible, within the context of a Free Trade Area of Latin America.

Of course, this last point is perhaps the most sensitive for the Americans because they would like to see us as a part of their economy. But the example of Mexico speaks for itself. Mexico is a bordering country to the United States, which has a very powerful ethnic lobby within the United States. And notwithstanding that reality, Mexico is in a very difficult position as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexico had to relinquish some fundamental sectors of its economy in order to integrate itself to the United States, among them agriculture. Those sectors have been totally swept off, and notwithstanding that fact, Mexico is cornered because it's incapable of competing with the Chinese products within the American market. If that happens to Mexico, what may happen to the rest of Latin America? Hence, President Chávez' emphasis on creating our own model of Latin American integration. It's not only about jobs, but it's rational.

There are some fundamental differences, but at the end of the day, we need the solidarity of all of you. It is fundamental because we are facing a tremendous campaign which every day is felt, through the mass media, the declarations of Washington authorities, and through many governments which are close allies with Washington. We need your solidarity and we are very grateful for it. Thank you very much.

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 We are very delighted to publish this report on Jorge Martin's speaking tour in Ireland. The author is a young Republican Socialist based in Belfast with a long experience in anti-imperialist solidarity such as the "Boycott Coca-Cola" campaign and the movement against the imperialist war on Iraq.

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"How many people are you expecting to attend this evening?" Jorge enquires of me over a cup of coffee in Belfast’s An Culturlann and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how to answer his question. Despite a flurry of promotional activity during the previous week, it was difficult to predict how many people would break a growing pattern of political apathy in West Belfast and actually bother to turn up to the event.

To compound my concerns, I had just heard that Sinn Fein had organised a protest to highlight what they see as a "Crisis of Democracy" meaning a lot of their activists would miss the film and the debate that I hoped would follow. I cursed the irony of this eventuality.

As the political pressure was heaping upon them, Provisional Sinn Fein planned a protest against an attack on the bourgeois democratic system that the "Venezuela Bolivariana, people & struggle in the fourth World War" film so clearly illustrates as corrupt and undemocratic. Alas, I thought, it was an opportunity missed.ireland2.JPG

At ten to seven, there was only myself, Jorge and another guy who had volunteered to take some photos and I had secretly resigned myself to the event’s failure. Then as luck would have it, a small group of people arrived at the theatre looking a little lost and after some investigating downstairs, I had found a large group of people looking for the room in which the event was taking place. After directing the crowd upstairs, I was bouyed to see more and more people arriving until there was a crowd of around 45 people sitting in the row of the small arena, a handsome number at an event of this kind.

The promotional activity had paid off, it seems. During the week running up to the event, myself and some kind volunteers had spent a couple of days plastering up around 200 posters around the working class areas of West Belfast. A fortune was spent on text messages, emails were sent to thousands of recipients and every newspaper with a wide readership had been hit with a torrent of daily press releases on the event.ireland1.JPG

When Jorge arrived in Belfast, he didn’t really have much time to “enjoy” the cold weather as he was giving an interview on a Belfast community radio show as well as an interview to a journalist who writes for the Andersonstown News (a tabloid sensationalist type local paper but with a wide readership none the less). Now he had settled down to give a good sized and well represented audience an introduction to the film.

The feelings in the arena were tangible during the emotive scenes in the film. The audience were noticebaly moved by the scenes of the Venezuelan people showing the power of collective action in the face of often brutal repression and the applause at the end indicated how well the film’s contents were recieved.

The potential debate however was somewhat unfulfilled. The large numbers attending perhaps intimidated some audience members from enquiring on the subject. Jorge however gave a clear and lengthy summary of some of the more up to date events in the revolution as well as elaboration on some of the important points in the film and as is generally the case in these matters, futher debate carried on in the pub long after the film ended.

Next stop Derry, and after meeting some comrades, Jorge and myself set off for BBC Radio Foyle where Jorge was afforded a brief interview with the afternoon talk show DJ Mark Patterson where the night event was plugged and the revolution was given a brief summary.

The Derry event was held in Sandino’s Bar which is seen as a bar visited by progressive and leftwing people as evidenced by the name. Despite a lower turnout than the Belfast event (some 20-25 people), the film sparked a greater degree of debate. The audience contained a good representation of the city’s left wing, including the SWP, SEA as well as the IRSP and some People’s Democracy members.

The scenes of state violence used to quell the Caracas riots in 1989 mirrored that of the scenes of Derry’s Bloody Sunday and this was picked up by the audience who then drew further parallelles between the Venezuelan Bolivarian process and the Irish class struggle.

The third and last event took place in Strabane, a large border town some 20 miles from Derry, but due to unforeseen difficulties, the venue of the event had to be changed, but the local IRSP comrades gently provided their offices to host the meeting. The audience was made up of young Socialist comrades who despite their young age, took to the film’s message of the collective power of the people. Some debate took place after the event and I was heartened to see some of the young comrades avail themselves of some of the literature provided by Jorge Martin.

The speaker made an important point in his address at the Belfast event. "The Venezuelan Revolution is having a positive effect in Cuba in that it is giving renewed heart and encouragement after forty plus years of isolation." During a time when radical politics is on the decline here in Ireland it has also given me and others like me hope that there is still a place and role for a true democracy of the people.

The Venezuelan Revolution of the people’s conscienceness is today’s reference to all progressive people’s struggles throughout the world and I hope to use it as such when I debate with other brothers and sisters about the future direction of the class struggle in Ireland. I also hope some of the others who watched the film during Jorge’s short visit do the same. Just for that reason, Jorge's visit has been extremely useful and I look forward to working with him and the Hands Off Venezuela comrades in the future.

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