This is what happens when you combine a Bolivarian government and a worldwide gathering of young revolutionary leftists.
The majority of participants are from Latin America—delegations from Colombia (2,200 representatives), Cuba (1,400) and Brazil (1,000) are the largest besides the Venezuelan one itself (1,800). But there are contingents from 144 countries from every corner of the world, including large delegations from the US, Angola, Barbados, Western Sahara, Palestine, Vietnam and Surinam. It took almost four hours Monday evening for the parade of delegations to enter into the Los Proceres plaza during the lively inauguration ceremony. Each country was officially received by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, who looked like the proud father of thousands as he waved and razed a fist to his revolutionary offspring as they marched by.
From Tuesday through Saturday, there will be seminars on topics ranging from the struggle for democracy in the Sudan to the role of hip-hop in political activism; the question of civil-military alliances in revolutionary movements to the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the continuing movement against nuclear arms. Daily concerts, cultural events and open fairs accompany the workshops, ensuring that there are at least five places you’d might like to be at any time from 9am until midnight.
The size of the festival, though impressive, has caused logistical problems. Most delegations are housed more than an hour outside of Caracas and transportation between our “villas” and the city center is shoddy and disorganized, making it virtually impossible to get into Caracas by the time the events start in the morning or to stay until they have ended at night. In addition to the complications that can be expected with this type of event—confusion getting everyone their credentials, long lines for everything from food to bathrooms, schedule changes, speakers coming late or not showing-up at all—these housing and transportation issues are enough to sour the mood sometimes. The first days were rough organizationally to say the least.
Certainly, the riches of these immense gatherings are often not found in the conference rooms, but in the lines, hallways and buses themselves. The spaces and times for personal connection and conversation are invaluable and nothing short of total organizational meltdown could truly screw-up such a stunningly diverse and powerful event.
Regardless, making sure everyone has access to what the festival offers is key. And in true form, if the Venezuelans don’t get their act together, the Bolivians are talking about bloqueos (road blockades) to force the issue. They were kidding…but only partially, I think.