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Showing solidarity with those building a better world

latin-american-leaders (1)Aaron Kiely previews the Latin America ¡Adelante! Conference 2013 taking place this Saturday (7 December) at Congress House. The Latin America is now in its 9th year, and offers a unique opportunity to hear all about the latest developments in the region.

40 years ago the democratically elected left-wing President of Chile, Salvador Allende, was brutally overthrown by the forces of US imperialism in alliance with the forces of domestic reaction. Yet, today, led by countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, progressive governments and social movements in Latin America are honouring his legacy by combating US intervention in the region, and showing unity through regional alliances for social justice and US domination.

Domestically they continue to challenge the logic of austerity in a world dominated by neo-liberal dogma, instead transforming the lives of millions of people, extending health and education provision and enhancing social equality.

I saw examples of a better world being built for myself in the summer on a youth and student delegation to Venezuela. We saw the truth about the revolution, rather than the ongoing media distortions about the situation in the country under President Maduro. Indeed, the very things our communities are losing in Britain are being given to the most disenfranchised sections of Venezuela society. And the results are amazing.

We spent 10 days visiting the social programmes delivering free healthcare and education (including at university level), the new social housing schemes, meeting with social movements such as LGBT and Black community groups, discussing with different political parties and with the head of the electoral commission, looking at the media in Venezuela and experiencing first hand the revolution under way in the arts and culture.

Personally for me, the visit was quite a life-changing experience. To see people who look like me, leading one of the most advanced and important struggles in history was beyond incredible. It was exciting and dynamic on an immense scale.

One example of this incredible change we found was that you can’t turn your head in Caracas without seeing a crane that is building housing. And it’s high quality housing, virtually free, with priority for those with large families, disabilities and those affected by landslides that left many homeless a few years ago. Over 400,000 of these homes have been built in less than 2 years with a target of 4 million by 2019!

Inside these homes are fully furnished, with fridge freezers, televisions, cookers – all energy efficient, and fully air-conditioned. And when you think about it these are the things that could have been afforded to Venezuela’s population years ago – but instead of Venezuela’s wealth going to the people, it was literally extracted from the ground and given over to the United States.

At Saturday’s conference, two sessions organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign will not only look at these tremendous advances but also explain how we can offer our support against right-wing attempts to destabilise the country’s progressive, elected government.

As well as in Venezuela, similar changes are taking place elsewhere in the continent under the leadership of numerous governments and these will be a key focus of this Saturday’s major conference. They are taking place in other key fields of social policy too – from health to education, to building welfare states to lift millions of people out of poverty for the first time.

But there are other lessons to learn from Latin America too – in particular from some of the most inspiring and brave struggles in the world against neo-liberalism, including the impacts of neo-liberalism in the field of education.

In Chile for example, the student movement provides an inspiring example for our ongoing battle against tuition fees. Students organised a series of wide scale protests in 2011 which enjoyed support from broad sectors of society. Several of the student leaders who came to prominence in 2011 won seats in the national congress at the recent elections. In one of the highlights of this weekend’s event, Roberto Navarette from Alborada Films will be showing clips and discussing his documentary on the Chilean student movement, in just one of over 20 workshops.

So there is a lot we can learn from Latin America – both in terms of positive alternatives and effectively struggling against neo-liberalism – and I hope you’ll join me to learn more this weekend.

NUS Black Students’ Officer, Aaron Kiely, will be chairing a panel on Racism & Domination in the Caribbean & Latin America – from Slavery to Neo-Colonialism alongside the Haiti Support Group, Caribbean Labour Solidarity and Dr. Monica Morena-Figeroa at the event this Saturday. The all-day Latin America 2013 event will be packed with plenary sessions, films and seminar-workshops on a wide variety of themes with speakers from numerous countries of the continent, together with knowledgeable experts, writers, campaigners, leading trade unionists and academics.

Other topics include regional cooperation, President Mujica of Uruguay, the peace process in Colombia and trade unions in Guatemala. Over the course of the day we will hear from over 50 contributors from Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Argentina plus British academics, campaigners, politicians, trade unionists, and others to include: Owen Jones, Seumas Milne, Robin Blackburn, Salma Yaqoob, Tariq Ali, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Victoria Brittain, Prof. Doreen Massey, Lindsey German and Dr. Costas Lapavitsas.

Tickets are available here at £10 waged / £8 unwaged in advance (£12 / £10 on the door).  For the latest information on speakers, panels & more follow us on twitter @LatinAmerica13 or the facebook event here.

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