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Hands Off Venezuela: Building London-Caracas Solidarity at the 2006 World Social

pescao | 18.01.2006 17:20 | Anti-militarism | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | London

From 23rd January the Venezuelan people will be hosting a huge celebration of democracy, with a national demonstration starting off a week of grassroots participatory internationalism, the World Social Forum. Monday's annual mega-demo, which in recent years has evolved into a carnival of "Bolivarian" (Venezuela's mass movement) liberation, commemorates the 1958 overthrow of Perez Jimenez, who is often incorrectly referred to as the country's last dictator. (Venezuela's last dictator was 2002 coup-leader Pedro Carmona, although his reign was quite brief.)

The rest of the week will be a unique opportunity to participate in Venezuela's peaceful and democratic revolution, and experience how "another world is possible". The World Social Forum is a massive meeting of minds as autonomous, non-hierarchical, horizontally-organised groups and individuals come together and build open space to share experiences and strategies in the fight-back against corporate imperialism and neo-colonialism. Many activists from the global Peace and Justice movements, including Londoners from international solidarity campaign Hands Off Venezuela, will be visiting this beautiful country for the first time, with over 100,000 participants expected during the week.

Caracas is the perfect city from which to start this revolutionary journey: a lush, tropical metropolis, where a valley of skyscrapers is surrounded by richly colourful mountains, many of which are covered with house after house stacked precariously on top of one another - poor neighbourhoods known as barrios. Until recently, these humble communities were starved of resources and run by gangsters; now the government is helping the people by rebuilding homes and roads and providing new schools, clinics, cheap supermarkets and funding for local cooperatives, as well as free internet access and communal kitchens.

La Vega is a case in point. A sprawling barrio in the southwest of the capital, the steep streets are alive with culture, activity and anticipation. Freshly repaired and repainted houses sit atop busy stores selling locally-produced goods. Crime has gone down although so has police presence. People are friendly and organised; they've had to defend their democracy on several occasions and are prepared to do so again. At the peak of the mountain is the community Las Casitas - in some ways a showcase model of regeneration. Everything is where it should be: the Bolivarian school, the "Barrio Adentro" health clinic, the Mercal supermarket, the Infocentre, a new bakery, organic garden, etc, all surrounding a busy basketball court. Quite apart from the stunning views the air is far cleaner than the smog-filled middle-class valley below.

This neighbourhood is the home to media cooperative Calle y Media, makers of both "Venezuela Bolivariana: People & Struggle of the 4th World War" and more recently "The Old Man & Jesus: Prophets of Rebellion." The co-op's latest project is a Media School, which teaches local children about filmaking, theatre, internet and radio, as well as traditional print-press. They are "building the communication skills necessary to defend and deepen our revolution," according the Marcelo Andrade, director of both documentaries, who was recently in London. Hands Off Venezuela has helped raise money for this school and co-op, mainly through screening and distributing their films. During the WSF, the co-op and community will be developing an "organic" programme to complement the other activities, similar to their alternative youth camp during August's World Festival of Youth & Students event.

Solidarity campaigners from London, who visited the community in August and discussed the grassroots activities they too were involved in back home, will return in January to be part of the movement there again. They are organising a workshop on "Hands Off Venezuela: Building International Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution" within the official forum, but much of that solidarity work will take place outside of the conference-room as campaigners meet and share experiences with Bolivarians on the ground. Other international activists will be able to take advantage of the contacts and knowledge the group has built up, which may prove especially useful to newcomers who only speak English. Hands Off Venezuela will also have a stall in the Hilton Hotel (which is now run as a co-op) alongside many other groups from around the world.

The geographical focus for many participants, however, will be the "global youth" camp in the stunning Parque del Este. For a modest fee ($12 for people from rich countries, $7 others) delegates will be able to pitch a tent, share a communal kitchen or buy meals prepared by local co-ops, and participate in a wide range of cultural and political activities including concerts, plays and films. Although situated in the more affluent east of the city, the park is a simple bus or metro journey (and even within walking distance) to the main central festival venues, clustered around the Teresa Carreño Theatre and Hilton co-op in the Parque Central district, a largely pedestrianised zone also home to the festival offices.

To the west of this complex is the presidential palace Miraflores, and beyond that the "January 23rd" borough, a barrio which has been reclaimed by the community for many years and which has lead the way for urban renewal. This is also one of the locations of the "troll party," a hi/lo-tek celebration of open-source or "free" software, jointly-organised by international programmers and the SAPI ministry of the Venezuelan government. From the beginning of this year, all government agencies have to migrate to open-source within two years, and although SAPI is technically concerned with "Intellectual Property" the director-general has said that it should instead be promoting "Intellectual Prosperity". Property or prosperity? It's clear which is more important to the Venezuelan people and their government, as well as those coming to the WSF. Another world really is possible - and in Venezuela they're making it a reality.

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Display the following 2 comments

  1. another point of view — pedro
  2. Will chavez police beat anarchists? — random