Over 17,000 young international activists have gathered in Caracas for the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students, which begins today (Monday 8th August). Several groups in the UK, including Hands Off Venezuela, Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Justice for Colombia and New Generation, as well as various communist groups, have between them sent over 100 delegates. Everyone from Europe is being housed at a newly-completed village, half an hour south of the Venezuelan capital, except for the organisers from the World Federation of Democratic Youth who have been staying at the Hilton Hotel (which is now run as a co-op). The festival is seen as an excellent opportunity to build solidarity with Venezuela's peaceful and democratic revolution.
The festival offices and press centre (indymedia journos welcome!) are situated in the Parque Central complex, where a number of plenaries are also being held, on the topics of Economy, Employment and Development. Nearby is the Teatro Teresa Carreno, a cultural centre of Caracas, where seminars on Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights will take place. Peace, War, Imperialism and Terror will be debated at Fuerte Tiuna, the main military barracks in Caracas, where delegates from Cuba and Vietnam will also be staying. The opening and closing ceremonies of the festival (on the 8th and 15th) are happening there as well, in the Paseo los Proceres, and a "Tribunal against Imperialism" is taking place on Saturday (13th) and Sunday (14th) in the Poliedro stadium nearby. There are also many social events being organised, including the Hip-Hop Summit on Wednesday (10th) and a Peace Concert on Sunday (14th). A special event is happening at the alternative youth camp in the barrio La Vega all day Saturday (13th).
Whilst in Venezuela, delegates will have the chance to visit communities in Caracas and around the country to see for themselves the transformation taking place here. They will also be able to experience the social programmes (or missions) such as Barrio Adentro (the foundation of a Venezuelan NHS), Mision Robinson 1 & 2 (which have now practically eradicated illiteracy) and Vuelvan Caras, the employment mission responsible for linking up all the co-operatives in the country and which is at the heart of Venezuela's new "Socialism for the 21st Century".
The festival ends on Monday 15th August, with the whole day dedicated to “Solidarity with the People of Venezuela and their Bolivarian Revolution”. This day is the first anniversary of the spectacular victory by the people in defeating the recall referendum against President Chavez, who was elected by a landslide in 1998. This new democratic right of Venezuelans to unelect any of their representatives was enshrined in their 1999 constitution, which also states that the government must be "participatory, decentralised, alternative, responsible and pluralist." At least a government which spends over $8-million of petro-dollars on a youth festival, subsidising flights for activists from all over the global South, could indeed be described as "alternative". For the international delegates over here it's now time to discover what this so-called Bolivarian Revolution is really all about.