The Hands Off Venezuela campaign had a good presence in today’s anti-G8 protests in Edinburgh. A couple of London based supporters joined their comrades in Edinburgh to inform the protesters about what is happening in Venezuela. 

“Make poverty history” was the main slogan visible in the Meadows where a wide range of groupings gathered. Primarily the finger was pointed to the terrible plight of African people dying from starvation. Hands Off Venezuela tried to focus on the miserable conditions people in Latin America are forced to live in. At the same time the campaign also tried to bring the message that a real change is possible and that this change is being implemented in Venezuela. Whilst the majority of the population still live in poverty, it is clear that the Bolivarian revolution has shaken the country from top to bottom and has brought about a considerable improvement to the lives of ordinary people. The literacy programs, access to healthcare for poor people, land reforms have all served to tackle poverty in a very rich country where the majority of the people have nevertheless been living in deep poverty for ages.

Our intervention, however, was not merely to cheerlead the formidable achievements that have been made through the revolution. We had very lively debates with interested people discussing the history of the country, the events surrounding the 2002 coup and most importantly, the way forward. What are the lessons to be learnt from the last few years? Since president Hugo Chavez repeatedly stated that capitalism cannot be reformed and that we have to go forward to socialism, this issue proved a very interesting point of debate.

Plenty of our leaflets were distributed, books, pamphlets and DVDs were sold, raising more than 100 pounds in total. An amazing number of people signed the Hands Off Venezuela appeal and expressed their interest to get involved and to stay updated about the Venezuelan revolution.


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One of the international guests at the Annual General Meeting of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union, was Ruben Dario Linares Silva, national coordinator of the Venezuelan National Workers' Union (UNT) and vice-president of the United Transport Federation in Venezuela. The RMT congress took place in Exeter in South West England from June 26 to Friday July 1.

Ruben Linares

The RMT has been very supportive of the Venezuelan revolution for a number of years and has been closely collaborating with the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. A delegation from the RMT, including general secretary Bob Crow and president Tony Donaghey, was present at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre earlier this year when Chavez made the speech in which he said that the Bolivarian revolution had to go towards socialism. A whole number of RMT branches have also affiliated to the campaign and the union's president spoke at the recent public meeting in London with UNT representative Anastacio Rodriguez.

Speaking to the RMT conference on Monday, June 27, Ruben Linares thanked the RMT for having invited him to attend their conference and explained the basic aims of the Venezuelan Revolution and how they have improved the conditions of working people and trade unionists. He explained how the new Bolivarian constitution had become a weapon of struggle: "Our revolution is armed, it is armed with this constitution," he said, showing the delegates one of the pocket size editions everybody in Venezuela carries. Ruben also described how the policies of Thatcherism, "which started in your country 25 years ago, also hurt our peoples, the policies of privatisation and neoliberalism". The Bolivarian Revolution "has put an end to privatisations, no more privatisations," he emphasised, describing this move as part of a continent-wide rejection of Thatcherism in Latin America, including the uprising in Arequipa, Peru, "which defeated the privatisation of electricity".

Ruben Linares, a very powerful speaker, described how Chavez has said that the only way forward is socialism "and socialism is what we are building in Venezuela, taking into account the local conditions". The mood in the conference was electric as delegates identified with the revolutionary spirit he was bringing from Venezuela. Ruben Linares ended his speech paraphrasing Che Guevara: "Let those who are born know, let those who are yet to be born know, the workers are on struggle, and we were born to be victorious, we were not born to be defeated"! The whole conference exploded in a heartfelt standing ovation.

Three quarters of all delegates signed the Hands Off Venezuela petition, and many took information and leaflets from the campaign and were generally very enthusiastic to get involved. By the end of the day, most delegates were wearing the distinctive Hands Off Venezuela stickers and pledged to take the message back to their branches and regions.

The visit by Ruben Linares, a national coordinator of the UNT, who also met with the TUC International Department, is an important step forward in the struggle to get the UNT recognised by the international trade union movement.

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On the occasion of the National Conference of UNISON (public sector workers union) the Hands Off Venezuela and the Colombia Solidarity Campaign supporters in UNISON organised a meeting on the evening of June 22 to catch the attention of the delegates attending the conference of the biggest trade union in Britain. The appeal of the meeting went beyond the UNISON conference and there were several students from the University of Glasgow, some Labour party members as well as Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) members who were responsible for organising the meeting.

Andy Higginbottom, Colombia Solidarity Campaign Secretary, opened the meeting. Andy explained the relationship between paramilitaries, government and multinational companies in Colombia who are right behind the onslaught that the social and trade union movement has suffered over 20 years. This repression has worsened since Uribe Velez was elected as president of Colombia in 2003. Andy illustrated the level of collaboration of the Colombian army and the paramilitaries by saying that the same soldiers wear the armbands of the Colombian army and the AUC (the main far right paramilitary group), depending of the actions they are going to execute. He also presented the Coca-Cola boycott as a tactic to denounce the violence that this company is employing against their workers in Colombia.

Ramon Samblas, Hands Off Venezuela spokesperson, followed on by explaining the improvements that the Venezuelan Revolution has brought about. It was really inspiring to hear that four new universities had opened their door with the aim of providing education to these layers in society that had never had this chance before.

“But all of that [the social programmes on housing, education and healthcare] has not been free from harassment and attacks from the US administration and the Venezuelan oligarchy. They can see that their power is slipping through their fingers and they have organised reactionary attempts to defeat this movement,” Ramon said to the audience. He went on explaining the different attacks on the part of US imperialism against Venezuela: coup d’etats, lock-outs, terrorism, diplomatic harassment, amongst other. The HOV activist reported on the experiences of workers’ co-management and finished up his contribution explaining the need for “going all the way through”, completing the process and install socialism in the country. The debate that Hugo Chavez has sparked about the need of the Venezuelan Revolution to follow a socialist path will help for sure.

Rosie Kane, SSP Member of the Scottish Parliament reported on her trip to Cuba where she had the chance to meet Fidel Castro. The MSP was invited to Cuba to attend an international event where people from all over Latin America and beyond denounced the crimes of imperialism. During three days, hundreds of people gave accounts of the abuse and violence they had suffered because of the terrorist methods of US imperialism. All these accounts were broadcast by Cuban TV which reaches the neighbouring islands and some Latin American countries. While in Cuba, Rosie spoke on Western hypocrisy and the need of tackling it together with the system that sustains it, capitalism. In her contribution, she despised British media because of the lack of interest in the struggle of the Cuban people against US imperialism. She illustrated this with an anecdote that happened to her the day after she came back from Cuba. A Guardian journalist phoned her and asked her, “What do you think about the architecture of Scottish Parliament building?” Her answer was “For Christ’s sake, I have met the leader of the Cuban Revolution and you are asking me about the Scottish Parliament Building!” She finished her contribution by saying that we have to support all the revolutionary movements that are taking in Latin America and the groups that are developing solidarity with these movements from Britain.

When the main speaker, Colombian trade unionist Juan Carlos Galvis started his speech there were 80 people packed in the room. Extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate everybody. Some people had to stay outside because there was not enough space for them all. Juan Carlos spoke on behalf of SINALTRAINAL (Colombian beverages and food workers union) about the actions that the trade union had taken at a worldwide level against the abuse and violence that his trade union had suffered by Coca-Cola. Juan Carlos has been working for this company for 16 years.

He explained how SINALTRAINAL had opened four court cases against this company in the United States with the help of one of the US trade union that organise workers in the food and beverages industry. Horrifying examples were given of the level of violence against them by Coca-Cola altogether with the Colombian paramilitaries. The only “crime” they had committed was to organise workers and stand up for their rights. Amongst the methods used is the hiring of paramilitaries to kidnap, threaten and assassinate his trade union colleagues and the accusations of “rebellion”. In Colombia this is the first step to be accused of colluding with the guerrilla groups to “justify” the assassination of trade union, student or peasant activists. Jorge Humberto Bernal is one of Juan Carlos comrades. He was kidnapped by the paramilitaries in Cucuta. He was abducted, blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van. After he was driven around the city of Cucuta for 45 minutes, he was brought to a room where he was shown pictures of a SINALTRAINAL protest outside Coca-Cola bottling plant. He was told that if SINALTRAINAL carried out more protests, he and his comrades would be killed. Juan Carlos himself had suffered the threats of the paramilitaries.

The Colombian brother also explained the origins of the World campaign against Coke. After the company refused to even respond a document with basic demands to stop the violence against their own workforce SINALTRAINAL decided to launch a worldwide boycott against Coca-Cola in July 2003. After two years, the boycott has supporters in Britain, Ireland, Spain, France, Switzerland, US, Canada, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela and many more countries. Juan Carlos finished his speech vowing to fight against multinationals and therefore against capitalist globalisation. His speech was welcome with a standing ovation. Juan Carlos replied saying that the applause must go to all these that have shown solidarity with his Colombian fellow trade unionists.

A lively debate developed with some UNISON delegates asking other UNISON delegates to support the Hands Off Venezuela motion due to be debated at the Conference the very next day. Others asked for practical ways to implement the boycott and the question what to do to stop imperialist intervention against Cuba and Venezuela was raised. There were also people from the audience that highlighted the revolutionary movements in Bolivia and Ecuador. Above all, there was a feeling in the audience to go out and build solidarity with the movements that will expel imperialism from the continent and build a socialist society.

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The Hands off Venezuela campaign was established in Austria following the international appeal made in December 2002. We started our work with the distribution of the international appeal and the collection of signatures in defence of the Venezuelan revolution. 

The main force behind the campaign at this time was Der Funke. From the very beginning we directed the campaign towards the labour movement, in particular towards the Young Socialists (YS) and shop stewards. We have used conferences, district meetings and branches to move resolutions, distribute leaflets and hold public discussions in order to spread awareness of the developments in Venezuela and in the labour movement. At the last national conference of the YS in October 2004 HoV supporters submitted a resolution calling for the expulsion of counterrevolutionary organisations from the IUSY (the International Union of Socialist Youth). This resolution created a heated debate and received the support of many delegates.

In January 2004 the campaign organised a speaking tour with Hermann Albrecht, a trade union activist from Venezuela. During the recall referendum we showed our support for the revolutionary process by holding a rally in front of the Venezuelan embassy in Vienna and explained our perspectives for the Venezuelan revolution: “Hands off Venezuela – forward to socialism”. Just two months later the campaign, which had in the meantime established a close relationship with the Bolivarian Circle of Vienna, successfully thwarted an esqualido (a term used to describe the opposition in Venezuela) meeting by picketing the venue. The notorious ProVeO (Pro Venezuela Organization) tried to use the prestigious “Latin American Institute” to promote their anti-democratic positions in Austria. This was the first and last public meeting of the so-called “opposition” to be held in Austria, and was a big success for the international campaign.

At the Austrian Social Forum (ASF) in Linz in June 2004, the HoV campaign held a joint meeting together with the Communist Party of Austria. Despite the fact that Oskar Lafontaine was speaking at the same time, more than 40 people came to the meeting, making it one of the biggest single-issue meetings at the forum. The campaign then also took part in the organisation of the World Youth Festival to be held this August in Venezuela.


Through all these activities and through the inspiring example of the Venezuelan Revolution itself, we were able to build and involve other political forces in the campaign. A meeting was held last weekend with several people representing different organisations, currents and campaigns in order to discuss the perspectives of the revolution in Latin America and the basis for a joint effort to spread awareness of what is happening in Venezuela.

Several organizations were represented including: the YS Vienna and several district organisations of the YS, the youth organisation of the Trade Union of Private Employees, the Austrian-Cuban Friendship-Association, Energy for Cuba, the Bolivarian Circle and the Marxist tendency Der Funke. Jorge Martin, international secretary of the Hands off Venezuela campaign, was the special guest and gave those present an insight into the history, development, principles, and successes of the campaign.

Despite differing angles, stresses and perspectives, all participants agreed on the basic idea of establishing a campaign to defend the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions.

The meeting passed a joint resolution. The campaign agreed on three main objectives for the work of the campaign in Austria:

a) To struggle against imperialist manoeuvres and aggression against the Venezuelan and Cuban Revolutions.

b) The establishment of direct contact and links between the Austrian and Venezuelan trade union movements in order to facilitate the work in favour of the recognition of the UNT in the Austrian and international labour movement.

c) To participate, on the principles of anti-imperialism and working-class solidarity, in the alternative summit to be held parallel to the summit of European Union and Latin American heads of state in Vienna in May 2006.

Sandra Stern (GPA-youth and President of the Austrian Preperation Comitee for the WFYS in Caracas), Martin Konecny (YS Vienna), Carlos Troger (Bolivarian Circle Vienna), Emanuel Tomaselli (Der Funke) at the podium

The next step for the campaign will be to establish a jointly managed www.haendewegvonvenezuela.org website which should be online sometime in July. All the organisations, currents and campaigns that agree to the basic resolution of the campaign will have access to the website to publish material on Venezuela and Cuba. There will also be discussion forums on the website. A special section will also be maintained in order to keep a close eye on corporate media reports on Venezuela.

Although all the ideas could not be discussed in depth at the plenary discussion due to a lack of time, all participants felt that the most difficult first step had been taken and that many more things would be undertaken by the “Hands off Venezuela” campaign in Austria. 

Workshop discussing the set-up of the campaign

As a final remark we would like to highlight a contribution made by a shop steward who was present at the meeting. Just a few weeks ago a delegate to the national conference of the ÖGJ (Trade Union Youth of Austria) raised the example of Venepal, the CNV and workers’ control of industry in Venezuela in general in the debate about the nationalisation of key industries. These examples helped the young trade unionists to sharpen their position on this vital issue. The ÖGJ now demands the complete nationalisation of Austrian industry under workers’ control.

This graphically shows that the revolution in Venezuela and Latin America is an inspiration to the most advanced layers of the working class in Europe. The experience of our comrades in Venezuela will help to sharpen their ideas, methods and programmes in order to fight capitalism in imperialist countries.

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The month of May and the first couple weeks of June have seen the Canadian Hands Off Venezuela campaign firmly establish itself in the province of Alberta’s capital, Edmonton, a healthy-sized city of around 1 million people. The combination of encouraging union support and impressive initial public event turn-outs shows promise not only for the growth of the campaign in Edmonton, but in the spreading of the campaign to the province’s other major city—Calgary.

Back in April, members of the Canadian Marxist Journal, Fightback, the New Democratic Youth of Alberta, the Alberta Federation of Labour Youth Committee and the Edmonton Chilean community met to discuss promoting the Bolivarian movement as well as officially getting the HoV campaign started in Edmonton. The first event planned was the June 4th free screening of the documentary “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” at the Edmonton Art Gallery movie theatre. The main purpose of this event was not to launch the HoV in Edmonton but to educate and inspire people about the Venezuelan revolution, in preparation for the campaign launch the following Saturday.


Before the film began, the 74 people in attendance heard Miriam Martin, one of HoV Canada’s organizers, speak on the history and current political situation in Venezuela. During the film the audience was very vocal of their disgust towards the perspective put forward by Venezuela’s private media, which is notorious for its extreme and sensationalist anti-Chavez position. What drew an even more angered response from the crowd was any instance in the film when a representative of the CIA was shown expressing their “concern with President Chavez’s interpretation of democracy”. The end of the film was met with a very enthusiastic applause which segued nicely into a lively discussion that included topics ranging from the character of taxation in Venezuela, to the benefits of workers’ control of production to what we can do here in Alberta to raise awareness.

Miriam Martin

On the following Saturday, June 11th, sixteen of the more dedicated individuals who had attended the screening came to the HoV Edmonton Kick-Off meeting held at the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 30 hall, to participate in the formulation of the Edmonton campaign and once again hear Miriam Martin speak. This time Miriam focused more on the latest developments in Bolivia and their relation to Venezuela as well as how the struggle in Venezuela was coming into direct conflict with American imperialism. After her lead-off, discussion, both political and organizational, helped shape the character of the campaign in Edmonton, giving special attention to work amongst youth and organized labour.

Plans were set out by the group to act upon a resolution passed in May 2005 by the Alberta Federation of Labour, a union network with over 30 union affiliates, representing over 125,000 workers in the province. The resolution called for the support of the progressive reforms being put forward by Chavez, the denunciation of foreign aggression against Venezuela, and for solidarity to be established between the labour movement here and the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. The feeling was that this resolution would be the perfect pressure mechanism to encourage the AFL to take that extra step in endorsing the HoV on top of encouraging the AFL’s affiliates to endorse the campaign themselves. Presentation meetings are already being set up with many major unions to achieve these ends.

Roland Schmidt

One of the most exiting opportunities is the potential for the Edmonton group to help bring over one of HoV’s main international organizers via a University of Alberta program called the “Revolutionary Speakers’ Series”.  In the past this series has brought over people like Ralph Nader and Michael Moore.  Although not exactly “revolutionary”, this does exemplify the ability of the series to bring in influential individuals.

The freshly formed organizational committee has already set their meeting for the upcoming Friday, June 17, to iron out a division of labour for the organizers and plans for a screening of the other acclaimed documentary on Venezuela entitled “Venezuela Bolivariana”. Also, some of the organizers will be going down to Calgary shortly to meet with interested parties there in hopes of setting up a Calgary branch.

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