Two reports from the World Social Forum in Caracas

We have received these two reports from Hands Off Venezuela Canada delegates to the World Social Forum in Caracas in Venezuela. They give both a personal and a political view on events in Venezuela.

We have received these two reports from Hands Off Venezuela Canada delegates to the World Social Forum in Caracas in Venezuela. They give both a personal and a political view on events in Venezuela.

Caracas is a city unlike any other in the world. Unlike in Canadian urban centres, the population of Caracas is brimming with political and revolutionary energy. In the Cafes, restaurants and bars, the pleasant Latino music is overwhelmingly drown out by the constant sounds of political debate and discussion. Virtually every open surface on walls, streets, trees and even cars and trucks is covered with revolutionary graffiti and messages. The government ministries have brand new banners across their fronts reading "Forward to Socialism". Murals of Bolivar, Che, Marx and Chavez stand out on practically every major avenue.

The Forum has barely started and the international delegates are already fully aware of the huge difference in mindset that exists amongst the masses of Venezuela. Said one member of the Canadian delegation on his third trip to the country, "It is very clear to me that this revolution truly belongs to the people, to the poor, not to any sort of government official or strong man."

Locals come up to the delegate quizzically asking, "Chavista?" Which of course receives an enthusiastic affirmative response, resulting in cheers from every Venezuelan within earshot. "Ground Zero" of the revolution is indeed an experience that shocks the system and shows social progressives what the path to real change looks like.  Educational workshops begin tomorrow all over the city, with over 100,000 participants attending thousands of events and lectures.
One of the largest events to be held is a workshop on Workers Control being presented by Marxist.com and featuring Orlando Chirino, general secretary of the UNT, as the keynote speaker. Many Venezuelans, it is clear, realize that their revolution is not yet complete. There is still a huge disparity between the rich and the poor in Caracas. As one looks at the wall of the city, the more recent the graffiti is, the more radical the message. Graffiti from the referendum like “Vota No”, is fading and is being replaced with messages like “Bolivar, Marx, Socialismo!” The awareness of the masses of their revolution is huge, they know it belongs to them and they know only they can carry it forward, and there is no sign that the workers, youth and poor of Venezuela are ready to back down. As the forum carries on, the workshops will provide both education and an outlet for voicing different view amongst foreign and local activists, which should provide a window into the future of the Venezuela and the revolution.

Julian Benson
Hands Off Venezuela Ontario (Canada)

Revolutionary Greetings from Venezuela,

It's quite extraordinary being here, I don't know where to start, but I'll try to leap into a few of the most interesting bits.

For one thing, society here is far from transformed. The gaps between rich and poor are more glaring then anything I've ever seen. The rich eastern part of the city looks alot like Toronto but with more street vendors. It's modern, clean, filled with trees, and well dressed people. The west on the other hand, where we're spending our time, has clearly had no money whatsoever put into it in the last 30 years or so. The roads have holes, tiled or brick sidewalks have very few tiles or bricks left (I'd assume they were used to build homes), and many buildings are missing entire floors. For example, one long apartment building has the bottom three floors or so simply missing and looks like it's sitting on stilts, with only the concrete pillars left. People here are also absolutely paranoid about security. Big steel doors you'd expect to see in a medium security prison are everywhere. For example, in the building we're staying in, we have to go through four big steel doors just to get in. To top it all off, the locks are in awful shape, and we've often ended up taking five minutes of jiggling the key to get through just one of them. The building also has a broken buzzer system, and the hot water doesn't work anywhere in the building (including the restaurants downstairs). It's fairly clear that the last plumber here just clamped shut the hot water pipes for the whole building and left it at that. It gives showers the feeling of a polar-bear swim. These neighbourhoods were clearly cutting edge back in the 70s, the match of ANY Canadian city at the time. For example, a comrade's apartment, which is in a very bad part of town now, has a massive patterned mirror covering the living-room wall, mohagany frames around interior doors, and despite being only two bedroom, it has two bathrooms as well. Unfortunately, it is as everywhere in complete disrepair. When I was taking a shower there after first arriving, the water went down the shower drain, and then came back up the floor drain in the other bathroom and ended up flooding the hallway.

However, there is great hope here, to an extent that can't possibly sink in without seeing it first hand. There is graffiti everywhere, but out of all of it, I haven't seen one tag that wasn't either a political slogan such as 'Forward to Socialism' (can't remember the translation) or an election add (lots of 'Vota No' signs still). One tag we saw in a barrio read 'Chavez Bolivar Marx Socialismo'. It is truly inspiring.

These barrios are on the way from the airport to the city along the old highway, and have piles of garbage everywhere and raw sewage in ditches. The houses in these areas are precariously perched on the sides of mountains and look like the slightest wind would knock them down. They are mostly made of flimsy, hollow bricks. In one of those barrios, there was a little canopy setup beside the road with three or four people sitting on lawn chairs underneath and a sign on the front that said 'Parliamentary Office'. I wish I could have gotten a photo of that and will have to try on the way back.

Speaking of photos, last night I picked up a little disposable camera with 37 exposures, so I'll have photos when I get back, but can't send them digitally from here. I've taken two so far (one of a big mural with a hammer and sickle and another of a small vegetable farm in an abandoned lot in the middle of the city), and I'm trying to be careful so hopefully out of the 37, at least 25 or so should be good.

People here really know how to cook. The food is incredible, if you are careful to avoid things which have been sitting out too long. Beer costs less then $1, and we bought tall glasses of Scotch Whiskey for about 50c Canadian... so the exchange rate is quite nice... for us gringos anyway. People in the west of the city (poorer part, but not a barrio) are generally very nice. When you pass a group of people talking on the street, it's about 50/50 odds or so you'll hear them talking about politics. It's incredible how drastically the mass consciousness of the people can change. It's something that I understand dialectically and have for a while, but seeing it in person is none the less remarkable. In the east, it's a different story. People generally are very rude, and seem pissed right off that the Social Forum is here. There is also alot of theft in that area. Just yesterday, Julian got taken for $30 by two very friendly con-men/thiefs. The murder rate here is also extremely high (something like 10,000 killed PER YEAR), and we've seen evidence of that. For example, next to one fast-flowing rain-water canal, we saw a complete set of woman's clothing and a purse. I hate to think about what happened to the former owner.

One interesting (and telling) tidbit is that there are actually considerably fewer homeless people here compared to any large Canadian city. It's true that the barrios are all squatters, but it just rubs in the ridiculousness of how we don't allow people to build a house on abandoned land in Canada.

Well, that's it for now, I'll try to get to a computer again before too many days (though I'm sure the schedule will be nasty for it), and I'll see you all in a week.

In Solidarity,

John Haggerty
Hands Off Venezuela Vancouver (Canada)

P.S. Mexicana airlines is GREAT, tons of leg-room and even free beer!!!

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