Right-wing assaults have been launched against Venezuela’s participation in regional bodies such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the South American Common Market (Mercosur). However, social movements and progressive governments in the region have continued to advocate for Venezuelan sovereignty and the call for dialogue amongst all sectors of society.
Ricardo Guerrero, president of the Foundation Little Big World (Pequeno Gran Mundo), recently participated in the Mercosur Social Summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, a social movement-driven process which accompanied the state-centered gathering focused on regional economic initiatives this month.
In this interview, Guerrero explains the roots of the Mercosur Social Summit, the role of social movements in economic decision-making bodies and the defense of rights for differently abled people in Venezuela.
Q: What is your organization about?
In Venezuela, we have recognized every disability but dwarfism is “underground”, so to speak, and we work to visibilize our community’s reality and advocate for our specific needs and rights.
[Our organization] is a revolutionary social movement, committed to the Revolution in Venezuela and we are involved in all social movements in the country. We are part of the construction of the Bolivarian Process.
Q: What are some of the changes that have taken place throughout the Bolivarian Process regarding differently abled people?
A: First, with Chavez, we were able to guarantee because of social movement pressure, of course, the participation of people with disabilities in the National Constituent Assembly process in 1999. From this, came Constitutional Article 81 which outlines the rights guaranteed to people with disability. In all of Venezuela’s Republican history, nothing on a constitutional level had ever been contemplated for people with disabilities until the Bolivarian Revolution and now we have an article that defends our rights.
The next achievement, was the creation of the Special Law for People with Disability that focuses on the advances in employment, healthcare, architectural access to certain public spaces, access to housing and the right to study for people with disabilities. In these last 17 years of Revolution, more people with different abilities have studied more than we’ve ever seen in Venezuela. We have also guaranteed institutional support for people who need wheelchairs, cushions, beds, homes and even cars that was unthinkable in Venezuela before. Now, people with disabilities are taken into account.
One of our latest achievements has been, as a political movement together with President Nicolás Maduro, the creation of the Presidential Council for People with Different Abilities. We are spread across all of Venezuelan national territory. We have created municipal and state councils and have a general coordination comprised of people with disabilities.
This has never happened before in Venezuela. In this last case, we are working on a presidential level building a direct relationship between the people and the president. As President Maduro says, the people are the president. What does this mean? This means that more and more each day the people are taking up more political spaces of power and more political participation.
We also have a television show on the Venezuelan National television channel, VTV, by and about people with disabilities which is an important feat. The show acts as a window to share the world of disability and visibilize our community to the rest of Venezuelan society.
Today, we can say that there are close to 200 organizations specific to people with disabilities in Venezuela. This is thanks to the great impulsor Chávez who began the work to visibilize vulnerable groups in society like Afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, the differently abled as well as the sex and gender diversity community.
Q: What are the roots of the Mercosur Social Summit?
Mercosur, as you know, was formed on a South American level to establish a common market. Fundamentally, the organization was focused merely on economics and commerce between member states and big businesses in the region. Mercosur began with Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Later, with Chavez, Kirchner and da Silva from Argentina and Brazil respectively, created conditions so that Venezuela could be integrated into Mercosur.
Although focused on economics and commerce, with Chavez, we could no longer just see Mercosur summit’s as only gatherings between presidents but we also advocated for the people to participate. Chavez began the discussion to open space. He saw the need and accepted proposals from social movements to move forward with a people’s initiative.
In 2009, the Mercosur Social Institute was created and charged with consolidating all the social movement proposals for member states to consider and implement. Afterward, the UPS, Support Unit for Social Participation, was created in 2013. We have organized 20 social summits. Now, Bolivia is a member and Ecuador is working in a process of integration.
Ten people from ten social movements from each member state participate. In this last summit, we had representation from indigenous peoples, students, workers, unions, women, people with disabilities and youth movements among others. We also had representatives from the trueke (barter system) movement here in Venezuela. The only social movement organization focused on disabled rights was our organization, Little Big World.
Q: What declarations came out of the Mercosur Social Summit?
On this occasion, we declared ourselves anti-imperialist and we took on this characteristic to oppose imperialism and all its pretension to return and dominate the region. We also unanimously denounced the coup in Brazil and we extended our solidarity with the Brazilian people and we hope that Dilma Rousseff rightfully returns in her role as president.
We also denounced ourselves against the massacre in Curuguaty, Paraguay. We consider that since the coup, Paraguay is governed by a nefast state and dictatorship that returned to power illegitimately.
We also extended our solidarity to Bolivia and support the country’s right to the sea and against the privatization of their water.
There was also a unanimous show of solidarity with Venezuela and against the economic war as well as the National Assembly which in a way is boycotting its responsibilities and trying to destabilize Venezuela and promote violence through violent guarimba protests and call for a coup.
All the social movements also denounced Obama’s extended decree. While certain member states of Mercosur did not want to transition the president pro tempore to Venezuela, during this summit we were able to guarantee this transition.
Venezuela, accepting and transitioning into this responsibility, is now charged with organizing the next social summit this year, in December. It will most likely take place in Caracas or Falcon state. Venezuelans at the social summit participated in all the working groups and in the elaboration of the final document.
And of course, we declared ourselves in rebellion and struggle and called on all our social movements to design and adapt a common social agenda from Latin American social movements.
Q: What other work does the Mercosur Social Movements have to do?
We’re advocating for more democracy, more participation and more institutional support from the UPS and the social movements, we want the Social Summit to transcend this gathering. We firmly believe that we cannot stay on the discursive level. We cannot only write documents but, we must also establish common commitments and agendas for all social movements across South America and Latin America.
Mercosur at one point also had a very academic-centric approach and we social movements don’t ignore the academic or intellectual aspects but those cannot be our centerpieces, they must be integrated into our movements. Social movements are experts in areas of economy and technology for example. We are actively working toward building a shared agenda from the autonomy of our movements.
Specifically, from the differently abled movement, we proposed to create a common market across member states to aid in technical support for our community.
Now, it is essential that social movements have greater participation in social movements especially against the neoliberal offensive and the replication of FMI and North American imperialist policies. Social movements, we are the hope, and we are a bloc that inspire alternatives aimed toward the liberation of our peoples. We cannot only limit ourselves to the institutional mechanisms of Mercosur and stay at the presidential level. We need to figure out how to make our states accountable to social movements and the people.
Q: What were the impressions you took away from the Summit?
It’s tough, no? We’re speaking about a commercial and economic organization. Of course, there is a contradiction between the accumulation of wealth, capital, labor and social aspects. This means that Mercosur needs to resolves this tension between the states and businesses but in conversation with social movements.
We do not want to only present proposals, but we want to make decisions in regards to public policies and the re-design of our vision of the world from the perspective of the people. Everyday people are advocating for more participation in the political and economic spheres. Mercosur is a tough institution. But, it is a space that we need to take and to transform. There are organizations that from their trenches, from a more anarchist perspective do not believe this but, I believe that we have these spaces and we need to take advantage and transform them from the inside and pressure changes from the outside.