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Eywitness to the Bolivarian Revolution: Report back from a delegation to Venezuela

The first thing that strikes you as you drive into Caracas is how the skyline is punctuated by tall blocks of government housing missions often bearing the signature of Hugo Chavez painted on their side: a testament to the social progress and investment in human need in Venezuela.

On our fifth day we went to observe the new city of Cuidad Caribia, built on the order of Chavez himself in the mountains surrounding Caracas to alleviate housing shortages and overcrowding. As a “socialist city” it is built in the image of the Bolivarian revolution, with housing given to its inhabitants, a community medical centre and schools and nurseries equipped with computers. All of these services are provided by the government to the citizens of Cuidad Caribia completely free of charge, transforming peoples’ lives.

Visiting a barrio in Petare we saw a community information centre to allow people access to computers and the internet as well as a social production centre making mobile phone covers to bring money and employment into the area, administered by the community. We used a cable car to see some barrios built by the government to cut what was a two hour bus ride into the centre of Caracas from the Barrios into a ten minute journey, transforming traditionally marginalised barrio dwellers’ lives.

The claims of food shortages have been over stated for political reasons by the media. There is food in abundance wherever you go, often subsidised by the government so that even the poor have access. Where there have been shortages of certain products this has been caused by the malicious intent of private companies still under the oligarchy’s control and the government has conducted investigations of warehouses to get these products moving again.

We visited the Caracas campus of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela which has free access to all students, with grants and books available too. This was part of an effort to circumvent the old “autonomous” universities which still place charges in order to keep themselves the preserve of the wealthy elite of the country, conducting a demonstration the week we were there to keep their privileged status.

Under Mayor Jorge Rodriguez Caracas has undergone a “reclamation” where areas have been developed for public use, with parks and squares that just five years ago would not be safe to enter and had problems such as drugs and prostitution are now enjoyed by everyone. As we were there the government began its “Secure Homeland” plan to patrol the crime ridden areas of Caracas and indeed within a week there was a marked drop in violent crime. Meeting the new National Bolivarian Police, recently formed to circumvent the old corrupt police force that served the regime of the elites often only accountable to state and municipal government. They stressed a commitment to community cohesion and good community relations, respect for human rights and crime prevention, something quite refreshing to see from a police force. We learned that remarkably the Bolivarian National Police remarkably are trained in human rights by one of the founders of the Support Network for Peace and Justice, an anti-police brutality organisation.

On arriving in Venezuela any lies that the media peddles about it being a dictatorship soon disappear. We had the honour of meeting the President of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena Ramírez, and learned about the excellent voting procedures that they have, rubbishing opposition claims of electoral fraud. The opposition had begun printing posters and t shirts claiming electoral fraud before the result was even out and presented laughable complaints that the such as complaining that people wore red t shirts when going to vote, that the army collected the ballot boxes (something totally part of voting procedure) and vague claims about stolen voting machines. Audit after audit had shown that the election of April 2013 was totally legitimate, showing how opportunistic and destructive the opposition are and shaming the United States which is totally alone in the international community in still not recognised the result.

Everyone is highly politicised in Venezuela. All over there are political posters, both supporting the government and the opposition. In Plaza Bolivar there is a “hot corner” with a marquee under which people gather to watch speeches and discuss politics. It is so impressive to see such widespread involvement in politics, a complete contrast to the apathy that besets western democracies.

Contrary to claims made by the media, Venezuela has a very healthy civil society. We spoke to trade unionists, youth activists, communal councils, LGBT groups and Feminists whose organisations are thriving and supported by the government in their efforts towards equality and increased participation. Indeed the opposition has been free to organise and campaign against the government, so claims that they are somehow oppressed and attacked are totally baseless.

Even news stalls sell booklets detailing the laws of the land and copies of the constitution, for people to know their rights. Such information would only be available in law libraries anywhere else in the world, but in Venezuela ordinary people are equipped with this knowledge. Stalls are also set up at many metro stations by the Electoral Council and the Womens’ Ministry in order to inform people of their rights and ensure maximum participation

As for any claims that there are attacks on press freedom in Venezuela, one only needs to glance at a news stand or flick on the television for five minutes to see that this is absolute nonsense from the bile spewed daily by the opposition media against the government. Indeed we saw that the Bolivarian revolution has overseen a democratisation of the media as we visited many community radio and television channels in the Barrios and visited the Tiuna El Fuerte cultural centre where young people from the barrios have access to media, music and cultural facilities. Far from it being supressed, the people have taken hold of the media.

For all the false cries of “dictatorship” made by the mainstream media, Venezuela has far healthier levels of political participation than any country in the West and it is about time that was recognised.

However we also got the impression that the Venezuelan peoples’ sovereignty is under attack from the opposition. Opposition student groups are more or less under orders from the US embassy in everything that they do. Estimates put the money that the opposition receive from the the United States at twenty million dollars. Wherever posters of opposition leader Henrique Caprilles Radonski are seen they nearly always have the word “murderer” scrawled across them for his part in urging on post electoral violence in April resulting in ten deaths at the hands of opposition thugs.For all the cries about attacks on the opposition that the media make, it is worth remembering that they are often violent mercenaries paid by the United States to overthrow a government using oil wealth to help the poor and not merely to hand over to foreign companies.

After the election of April 2013, with Nicholas Maduro elected with a margin too close for comfort, one got the impression that now the revolution has reconsolidated, with the people learning to have faith in Maduro as they did Chavez and with the opposition having disgusted many of their former supporters with ten deaths in post-electoral violence.

A key part of our trip was to see the development of a regional alliance in Venezuela to counter the power of the United States. We met representatives from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) which includes Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia as well as other countries in forging an economic, military and political alliance to strengthen the nations of Latin America and stop them relying on, or indeed falling victim to, American corporate interests. This plan was laid out as we attended a talk by Roy Daza of the foreign ministry. We also went to see the offices of TeleSur, a Latin American news channel dedicated to countering the dominance of the United States in the media and allowing the continent to broadcast itself to the world on its own terms.

One of the achievement things we saw of this alliance was the Dr. Salvador Allende Latin American School of Medicine. This is a medical school where governments from across Latin America, as well as some African countries and Palestine, send their young people to be trained in medicine for free and then return to their home countries to be community doctors. These young students we met were filled with a real sense of duty and responsibility in studying to serve their communities and their continent. It was a wonderful facility with a wonderful ethos and inspiring students and teachers, but the most amazing thing about the medical school was to think of all the good that will come of it as its students graduate and return to their home countries to treat those lacking access to healthcare.

It was incredibly moving to see Latin America finally standing up after centuries of repression and colonialism. There is a real determination from the people we met that Latin America will no longer be the United States’ backyard, serving only corporate interests but that they will ensure the sovereignty of the people and make sure no one is marginalised that is truly inspiring.

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