The November 20-30, 2008, Venezuela solidarity brigade organised by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network spent its first days in the capital city, Caracas, meeting community activists and hearing reports on the progress of the Bolivarian revolution.
On November 20, the 30 brigade participants from Australia, Canada and New Zealand heard talks from Green Left Weekly journalist and researcher at the Miranda International Centre (CIM) Federico Fuentes, as well as Professor Marcelo Alfonzo, the head of the Institute of Experimental Medicine at the Central University of Caracas.
The following day, the brigade visited the Endogenous Development Zone in the impoverished suburb of Catia, including tours of a shoe-making cooperative, a T-shirt cooperative, a hospital clinic of the Barrio Adentro medical program and an organic garden.
The brigade toured the famous revolutionary “Barrio January 23”, where we viewed a Barrio Adentro primary care clinic, the Che Guevara community centre, the Simon Bolivar Coordination complex, which includes local radio station “Voice of Barrio Enero 23”, and branches of the Mission Robinson primary education program and Mission Science.
On November 23, the brigade formed into three groups to observe the elections for governors and municipal mayors in several neighbourhoods of Caracas. We were escorted by United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) militants to a number of electoral booths where we were able to talk to voters lining up to enter the booths, noting the festival-like atmosphere prevailing in these areas. We were also permitted to enter the polling stations and observe the highly advanced, computerised voting system that Venezuela uses.
The following day, the brigade divided into two groups to visit two of Venezuela’s regional centres: Merida, south-west of Caracas, and Valencia to the west.
THE VALENCIA SUB-BRIGADE
Fifteen brigadistas took a bus from Caracas to Valencia on November 25. For five days, we were welcomed and looked after warmly by the members of La Communa Renascir del Sur (Rebirth of the South) in Valencia.
They picked us up in a bus from Valencia’s main bus terminal and took us to lunch at a friendly restaurant. In the afternoon, we were taken near where a large rally was happening to inaugurate the newly elected PSUV mayor of Valencia, Edgardo Parra. This was the first time the revolutionary forces had won this position after some 40 years of right wing control.
However, as the crowd was too large to get into the rally, we were taken instead to Campo Carabobo, the site of Simon Bolivar's decisive battle in 1825 to win independence for Venezuela against the Spanish colonialists.
After that, we visited the house of the Mothers of Barrio May 1st where we received a rousing welcome from the mothers receiving assistance from this social mission. That night, we were again given a warm welcome by leaders and members of La Communa, at Club Sanchez.
On November 26, we were taken to the offices of the National Union of Workers (UNT), where we received highly informative briefings on the struggles of the trade union movement in Venezuela from Ismael Hernandez and Osman Canizales, a leader of the construction workers' union.
We then visited a local radio station, Radio America, where Coral Wynter did an interview with one of the local journalists.
Lunch with the Club de Abuelas de Jose Gregorio followed, with food being provided free under the government's Casa de Alimentacion program. We then visited the abuelas' (grandmothers') new building, currently under construction.
We were then taken to a campus of the Bolivarian University (UBV), which also involves Mission Sucre. There we attended a meeting of students and staff discussing the future of education programs at the university.
The day finished with a fiesta, under the slogan “Con Chavez, Con Cerveza” (“With Chavez, With beer)!
November 27 began early for some of us, with Coral being interviewed at the private DAT television channel about the aims and activities of the AVSN brigade. Later, we visited a Barrio Adentro clinic and met the Cuban doctor there, followed by lunch with the abeulas again.
That afternoon, we were given a fascinating tour of four communal councils - all part of the 18 communal councils currently being coordinated by La Communa - Parque Florida, Castrera Sector 12, Castrera Sector 15 and Jose Gregorio. We were invited into people's homes, which are the meeting places for the communal councils in this area.
Then followed a trip a Barrio Adentro 2 hospital clinic; CDI Parque Florida, which contains an impressive range of specialised medical units, including a rehabilitation centre. We then visited a Mission Robinson literacy school, La Castrera.
That night we had a final meeting with members of La Communa at Casa de Marianela, where they showed us an informative powerpoint presentation on the aims and workings of the commune. The evening finished with a fiesta at a La Communa leader’s home.
On November 28 we travelled by several buses to Valencia terminal, Maracay bus station, and then over mountains and through rainforest to the seaside villages of Choroni-Puerto Colombia where we booked into a hostel. We spent November 29 swimming in the Caribbean, eating fresh fish and having drinks at the waterfront in the evening.
On November 30 we travelled back over the incredible mountain road by bus to Maracay, then caught another bus back to Caracas. It was a tiring but very enjoyable and educational five days.
THE MERIDA SUB-BRIGADE
The sub-brigade to Merida arrived on November 25 and attended an orientation talk about the area, before having some time off. Dinner at vegetarian restaurant was followed by a presentation by Carmen Theresa about women’s participation in the revolution and the recent elections, joined by Pablo, an activist involved in the Frente Francisco Miranda (youth organisation) and the natural disaster prevention mission.
On November 26, we travelled to Los Curos where people from the local communal council gave a detailed talk plus powerpoint presentation about their communal councils, socialism and community, and their proposals for five steps to change communal councils into communes. They took us on a tour of the community and showed us some of the communal council’s projects: a “grandparents kitchen”, housing that has had the asbestos roofing changed; a childcare centre; and to meet engineers who are designing two-storey houses to accommodate more people.
That afternoon we met with young activists from a variety of organisations (the National Youth Institute, the Merida Youth Institute, Youth of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the Revolutionary Marxist Current, the Cultural Mission and the Socialist University Movement). While we waited for them we had a discussion with two PSUV regional leaders. With the youth, we talked about the PSUV’s youth wing, education, student movements, and experiences in building youth organisations.
On November 27 we had a beautiful trip up to Mucuchies and visited a worm farm project. That afternoon we met with a worker from a local waste plant that was briefly taken over and put it under workers’ control before being repressed by state police.
On November 28 we visited a petro casa in the morning, then ate lunch in the government city dinning area before some free time in the afternoon.
On November 29 we met with staff from the pro-government newspaper Paso de los Andes in the plaza and had an in-depth discussion about the newspaper and the politics of the recent elections. We then went to Radio Ecos where we spoke to some of the workers then sat in on one of the workshops that was part of the jornada (training day) they were having that day. In the afternoon, we visited TV Tatuy, a television collective that “arms” the poor with cameras and encourages them to make their own news.
On November 30 the two sub-brigades joined up again in Caracas for the final session of the brigade, a meeting at the Latin American Parliament building with LAP deputy and Venezuelan Communist Party leader Carolus Wimmer, and journalist and author Eva Golinger who spoke about the political situation in Venezuela following the November 23 elections. A very successful solidarity brigade ended with dinner at a Chinese restaurant that night.
For those brigade participants who did not have to leave the next day, we had two extra events on December 1: a visit to the Ochoa Rodriguez Children’s Heart Hospital and a meeting with Jose Poyo, leader of Venezuela’s delegation to the Latin America Indigenous Parliament.
By Coral Wynter, Jim McIlroy and Tamara Pearson, three of the five co-leaders of the November 2008 AVSN solidarity brigade.
THE NEXT AUSTRALIAN SOLIDARITY BRIGADE TO VENEZUELA WILL TAKE PLACE FROM APRIL 15th-25th, 2009. FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO REGISTER FOR THE NEXT BRIGADE, VISIT THE "SOLIDARITY BRIGADES" SECTION ON THIS HOME PAGE.