In this current global climate, to defend Venezuela’s right to sovereignty is one necessary step in protecting the livelihood and future of humanity. This sentiment was echoed throughout Venezuela by grassroots organizers during our ten-day international delegation in late August 2017.
The transnational corporate media war and US-driven campaign to destabilize and delegitimize Venezuela, its revolutionary achievements and its political leadership has led to a noticeable decline in international brigades and solidarity actions with Venezuela especially from the Global North and especially, English-language dominant nations. “Inside the Bolivarian Revolution” was inspired by the Venezuelan grassroots, the Bolivarian Process and its African and Indigenous poor majority’s call for international solidarity.
VA designed this delegation with guidance from Venezuelan grassroots movements to facilitate new channels for the overwhelmingly misguided “international community” to understand and engage with the political, economic and social complexities of Venezuela. At the core of the delegation’s mission was to demystify the corporate media war’s racist characterization of Venezuela as an unruly, ungovernable and a backwards nation as well as to unmask the US’s active support for the right-wing colonial European-descendant opposition. Our objective was to re-invigorate solidarity with Venezuela and reshape the international point of reference for the Bolivarian Process.
We recruited organizers from diverse backgrounds including workers, farmers, student leaders, feminists, educators, solidarity activists and queer rights advocates from Australia, Belize, the United States and Zimbabwe. The majority of delegates represented the African and Indigenous diasporas from Mexico, Chile and Jamaica, El Salvador and Haiti.
“A breath of fresh air”: Venezuelans clarify the National Constituent Assembly
Our delegation arrived three weeks after the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) elections on July 30th where 42 percent of the voting electorate, slightly over eight million people, expressed their support for participatory democracy. The elections marked a political victory over the four month long campaign of right-wing terrorist violence that resulted in the deaths of over 100 people across the country. Ignored by the mainstream media, this opposition violence undeniably targeted Black bodies for “appearing” Chavista and giving rise to some of the clearest acts of white supremacist violence in recent Venezuelan history.
Many organizers with whom we gathered remarked that the ANC elections ushered in a revitalized revolutionary spirit and has allowed Venezuelans themselves to set the tone for dialogue and peace. On several occasions, Venezuelans reiterated that at least two million people were not able to reach their voting centers peacefully due to opposition violence impeding people’s right to vote, a consideration not reflected in the transnational corporate media’s portrayal of the ANC.
The ANC is an unmatched democratic process in Venezuela by which the people represent their geographical territories or sectors. Once elected, these delegates are charged with the responsibility of crafting the nation’s magna carta. The body is comprised of five hundred forty-five delegates from across Venezuelan territory and eight sectors including Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, farmers, students, differently-abled, pensioners, businesspeople, as well as leaders from communes and community councils. These delegates have already begun conversations on how to manage the country’s economy, expand on the rights of women, recognize African descendants and their contributions to Venezuelan society, guarantee the people’s collective ownership over land and resources,among other issues grounded in justice, sovereignty, equality and self-determination.
Venezuelans participated in a similar process in 1999 after electing late President Hugo Chavez whose independent presidential campaign focused on “refounding” the Republic. Ushering in the 21st Century, Chávez’s electoral victory and 1999 constitution marked an end to a repressive era in Venezuela under the two party, neoliberal and anti-communist Fourth Republic and opened the way to advancing the rights of African descendants, Indigenous peoples, women, youth, elders and children among other sectors of civil society.
Venezuela’s 1999 constitution has since served as the backbone for the country’s reparations framework, establishing a political platform grounded in the redistribution of oil wealth and guaranteeing a wide array of social services including housing, healthcare, and education. The doctrine of “participatory and protagonistic democracy” enshrined in the constitution also laid the foundation for the people’s unwavering agency in reframing their past, defining their present and determining their future.
Understanding the ANC and its significance to the Venezuelan people is one important characteristic in dismantling the US and corporate media’s slander campaign against Venezuela. The corporate media asserts that President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is a dictatorship and one of their claims is that the ANC is unconstitutional. However, the current constitution outlines in articles 347, 348 and 349 the ANC’s function, specifying the institutional powers with the authority to convene the ANC, which include the executive branch. President Maduro exercised this power on May 1st at this year’s International Workers’ Day mobilizations “putting the ball in the people’s court” as one young Venezuelan woman expressed to our delegation, referring to the people’s leadership in the political process.
Venezuelans in the exercise of self-determination
While the ANC was central to our delegation, we witnessed Venezuelans forging new paths for their communities manifested in innumerable ways. We met with Venezuelans across the country from the city, countryside and the Caribbean coastline to contextualize the Bolivarian Process’ current struggles, political contradictions and economic challenges.Throughout the delegation, it was undeniable that Venezuelans have taken the revolution into their own hands and are carving out their destinies.
Afro-Venezuela: Africa and the African Diaspora at the center of Bolivarian Socialism
We visited Barlovento, Miranda state a majority Afro-Venezuelan territory just two hours east of Caracas to learn more about maroon histories of resistance and the fight for traditional African inspired communal societies, known as cumbés. Afro-Venezuelans’ history of resilience against the Spanish crown during times of colonialism and their present-day commitment to the Bolivarian process was evident in every space we came across.
General Manager and grassroots Afro-Venezuelan leader Héctor Delgado organized our tours of the Socialist Enterprise Oderí Cacao/Cimarrón and “Argelia Laya” Plantain Processing Plant. There, Afro-Venezuelan workers shared with us the ways they have recuperated ancestral lands and practices to produce cacao and plantain as a means of nourishment and economic stability for families and women especially. The former is named after the formerly derogatory name given to self-liberated enslaved Africans, cimarrón, which literally translates to “escaped cattle”, while the latter gets its name from the Afro-Venezuelan feminist guerrilla leader and founder of communist formations in Venezuela. These two spaces offered examples of socio-economic collaborations between the state and communities founded in non-capitalist economic development.
As we visited these spaces, it became apparent that one of the Bolivarian Revolution’s cornerstone achievements has been investment in communities and restoring the dignity in people’s lives. Women, differently-abled persons, and young people of African descent who may have previously been the most discriminated against before the revolutionary process, were the visible majority of workers in both spaces. In addition, the products that both factories manufacture, including chocolate bars, chocolate powder for drinks and desserts, plantain marmalade, plantain infused products for livestock feed and fertilizer, all challenge the notion that Venezuela is a nation of people that does not cultivate nor create.
Prior to the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela did not produce its own chocolate directed for national circulation despite being one of the world’s greatest cacao seed producers. Barlovento and other tropical Caribbean regions throughout Venezuela have significantly benefited from combining their artesanal African production with large-scale industrialization, producing chocolate and other cacao derivatives for national and international consumption. Indeed, Venezuelans are flipping the narrative and the reality of their oil dependent economy, engaging in new economic models rooted in socialist principles and innovative possibilities.
Afro-Venezuelans are constantly decolonizing the vestiges of European colonialism in contemporary manifestations of racialized prejudice and structural racism. Notably, Afro-Venezuelans and Indigenous peoples have won unprecedented space first with the recognition of the nation’s Black majority in the last official census in 2011, registering at least 52% Black, African-descendant or mixed people. These groups have also won key legislative triumphs including the Anti-Racial Discrimination Law and the constitutional right of Indigenous peoples to land and governance among others.
Venezuelans have rewritten the nation’s historical narrative bringing to the surface once invisibilized contributions of Africans and Afro-descendants. The National Pantheon’s induction of African women who have defined Venezuelan history such as Hipólita and Matea are one such example of the country’s move to repair colonialism’s damage.
In a visit to the Center of African, Caribbean and American Wisdoms, delegates heard more about these initiatives as educators Oscar Godoy and Carmen Gonzaléz spoke about current efforts to incorporate African and Black Caribbean histories into all levels of the nation’s curriculum. Currently, the Center also offers an African Studies, Caribbean Studies and Our America Studies equivalent to graduate programs detailing the historical contributions, contemporary movements and revolutionary processes of these regions. While university level students may take the courses to fulfill graduate level studies, non-university track people may also apply,only needing “the university of life and wisdom” as their requisite as Godoy explained.
Later, meeting with Vice-Minister for Africa, Reinaldo Bolívar, delegates learned about the ways this political and educational center also serves as a nexus for Venezuela’s exchange with countries across the African continent from economic to political integration. “We are proud of being African. Our skin color isn’t our only defining feature, we are African descendants. We are Africa and America,” Bolívar stressed as he remarked on Venezuela’s commitment to building across the African Diaspora and with the African continent. Currently, Venezuela hosts students from 20 African countries, organizes an annual symposium on Africa and the Caribbean and is preparing for another national commemorative event for the United Nation’s International Decade for “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”
Closing out our delegation, we met with Trenzas Insurgentes (Insurgent Braids), an Afro-Venezuelan women’s collective that organized a farewell gathering with community members from Caracas, Barlovento and Vargas state. Welcomed by poetry, spoken word and laughter, at this inter-generational space delegates learned about some of the Afro-Venezuelan movement’s proposals for the ANC.
Some of their proposals include recognition and support for cumbés, Venezuela’s African and Indigenous form of organizing communally and historically in rebellion to colonial powers; the elimination of the term Ibero-America in the constitution and replacing it with language that embraces Our America and the Peoples of the South including Africa, Asia and the Arab world; as well as the inclusion of a chapter in the Constitution dedicated to the African Diaspora and African Descendants in Venezuela.
In these spaces, Afro-Venezuelans reaffirmed their rightful place in the regional movement for Black Liberation and confronted the misrepresentation of Venezuela as a non-African majority nation. Nestled in between internationally recognized Black nations such as Brazil, Colombia and Caribbean islands, Venezuelans celebrated their process’ self-declaration of Africa as the motherland and source of political inspiration.
Lara: Agriculture, communes and women at the forefront
Our delegates also visited Lara state, a contested battlefield between the nation’s growing communes movement and the opposition-held in regional government . While there, we met with families building communes, feminist movement organizers and workers managing factories and owning their means of production. And, although the violent opposition actions and terrorism that reigned in Lara have stopped since the July 30th ANC elections, during our travels, delegates witnessed remnants of the guarimbas in the suburban-opposition controlled municipality of Palavecino. They documented unattended barricades made from cut trees and sandbags placed in front of wealthy gated communities with no interests in restoring peace and stability.
As aforementioned, Lara is one of the country’s epicenters of the communal movement. The commune in Venezuela is a participatory democracy structure comprising a given number of communal councils and incorporating diverse strategies of territorialized political, economic and social decision-making. Community councils are entire neighborhoods of families consolidating their local identity, developing their infrastructure and creating a common political understanding grounded in their history and needs.
Before his physical passing, Chávez made the call for a communal state, a national governance structure which would allow for people’s power to flourish and dismantle the republic’s bourgeoisie state model. This vision is central to the country’s revolutionary process in defining 21st Century Socialism. “Comuna o Nada (Commune or Nothing)” is the popular slogan for this ambitious endeavor spanning over thousands of communities taking back their land, resources and using their creativity and spirit to build a new society. Many of Lara’s communes have embraced agricultural production taking head on the economic war.
On the outskirts of that Palavecino, delegates shared with International Brazilian Brigade “Apolonio Carvalho” of the Landless Movement (MST) in the School of Political Education and Agricultural Production “Caquetíos” located on the recuperated lands of Valle del Turbio, attacked in recent months by opposition violence. Here, delegates learned firsthand the process by which people are protecting their territories, original seeds, and producing food for entire communities.
Celia Montero from MST and the school coordinator, Louisa Contreras, from the Venezuelan movement Cimarrón met with delegates, explaining that they designed the Political School “Caquetíos” as an international site for the well known MST political and agricultural school “Florestán Fernández”, incorporating Venezuelan social movement methodologies and ideologies.
Walking through the vermiculture and compost production projects, Contreras and Montero emphasized that the economic war, though it has taken a significant toll on the population, has been in other ways a blessing, forcing the people to re-evaluate their import dependent oil based economy. The women explained that for “Caquetíos” their greatest productive achievement has been the recuperation and cultivation of a native yellow corn seed called “Guanape.” This indigenous seed is highly resistant to plagues and hostile environments, does not require chemical fertilizers, and has a higher protein count than imported strains. Across the nation, Venezuelans are working to protect and nurture their native Indigenous seeds and lessen the dependence on GMO and non-Venezuelan seeds, an initiative also reflected in the 2015 Seed Law victory.
Meanwhile, at the the communally owned company Proletarios Uníos of the Commune José Pío Tamayo located in the installations of the Ex-Brahma beer plant, workers and comunerxs (gender non-conforming equivalent of “communard”) have organized to forge a new local economy. Their model is centered on the unity of farmers, workers, and communities in the planification of production, distribution and consumption. The comunerxs have taken on the the paramount challenge of building communes as a means to breakdown the bourgeois economic and democratic models in Venezuela and encourage genuine popular power and national sovereignty. At the plant, workers create a variety of barley derivative products and are expanding their horizons based on the needs of their commune.
While in Lara, we also met with the Commune El Maizal, a commune built on lands reclaimed from unproductive landowners. Members of the communally owned companies explained to delegates how the people have successfully taken over means of production, producing over four thousand tons of corn every year. Likewise, they have invested in new companies producing cattle, cheese, and vegetables , as well as supplying building materials and domestic gas services. While visiting several of the productive companies, different communal actors reflected on their communal economic system which has allowed them to build their own destiny rooted in community planning and project development in areas ranging from housing and electrification tp healthcare, road construction and school maintenance.
In the Communes Lomas de León and Ataroa, we spoke with the Women’s and Gender Councils and Movement Mujeres Por La Vida (Women for Life) who spoke to the advances that women have achieved during the revolutionary process and ongoing challenges. They described how through sorority and popular education they lead a daily struggle against gender violence and discrimination. Women have been disproportionately targeted by a brutally multifaceted economic war that has limited their possibilities to decide about their own bodies and has caused a drastic increase in maternal deaths due to hoarding and illegal trafficking of contraceptives and essential medicines for pregnant people.
This council has built programs to defend women’s sexual and reproductive health, placing committees in control of the local maternity ward and channeling subsidized contraceptives for youth and women. In addition, the women shared about their own educational processes debating and organizing around solutions framed within a popular feminist economy.
Moreover, the women also highlighted that without feminism, socialism and the communal state will be impossible. In the recent ANC election, though women were not included as a formal sector within the body, Mujeres Por La Vida and the women’s committee did present an official candidate and held several assemblies to develop proposals.
Their proposals included the right to access contraceptives and family planning, the right to a humanized birthing process, the depenalization of abortion and the modification of Constitutional Article 88 to not only recognize caretaking and domestic work as labor with economic value, but to include caretaking as a right and a universal responsibility for all.
Caracas: Life with dignity in the city
In Caracas, delegates were exposed to Venezuela’s diverse grassroots organizing spaces ranging from cooperatives, collectives, community councils, social missions and state institutions. Often distorted images of Caracas regularly serve as the singular international reference and backdrop to the Bolivarian Revolution. Despite the corporate media’s persistent portrayal of chaos in the streets, here, delegates witnessed another reality. They came into contact with the intersection of people’s power and the Bolivarian Revolution’s emphasis on life, dignity and the voices of the once historically marginalized masses.
Since 2010, Venezuela has launched a massive campaign to relocate millions of families into new housing developments across the country. The majority of these families had been displaced by natural disasters, historically forced into small or unhabitable living conditions, or simply unable to access affordable housing.
Specifically in Caracas, the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission, has recuperated unoccupied prime real estate and taken over idle buildings and vacant lots of lands, transforming them into popular neighborhoods with ample space for community development, urban agriculture, socio-economic production and more.
Our delegation visited a housing project named Oscar López Rivera (OLR) in honor of the Puerto Rican ex-political prisoner and independence freedom fighter. In this space, the families that received us with a traditional sancocho (soup made of a variety of vegetables and meat stock) and sparked plentiful conversations about the right to life with dignity. Delegates reflected on the millions of people across the region and from their own communities who do not have access to housing, from the US’ historical Black South to US imperialism-ravaged nations in Central America. Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, the 2011 earthquake in Haiti, and recent disasters over the last several weeks have brought to global attention the consequences of colonialism, corporate and NGO disaster relief theft, and US military intervention’s impact on displacement.
In Venezuela, public housing developments invite entire communities or mixed communities from different areas to share space with the expectation that they come together and build collectively. Housing structures are stable and come in different forms from high rise condominium complexes to single story homes in circular, square or other architectural formations.
OLR community members invited us to their bakery, carpentry studio, and other socio-productive projects, including a youth-driven fashion boutique that designs and sells reusable diapers meant to offset the shortages facing families due to the economic war. According to August 2017 reports, Venezuela’s housing mission has already reached over 1,725,210 families, forever transforming people’s lives.
Similar to dignified housing, access to contemporary technology for the majority poor of Venezuela was unheard of prior to the Bolivarian Process. For more than a decade, Venezuela has fought to democratize people’s access to technology by creating educational software for elementary through university level studies and providing students with laptops and tablets for research, homework, and leisure.
In our tour of Canaima Industries, a computer hardware assembling plant and software development factory, we met with workers and young people at the forefront of technology, free software, and computer literacy. Representatives from the National Center of Technology and Information (CNTI) as well as the Ministry of Popular Power for Higher Education and Technology referred to computer literacy classes available for all citizens as well as video game designs with historically relevant storylines from the Independence Era and Simón Bolívar, among other achievements.
Meeting with grassroots organizations, delegates learned from the Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance (ASGDRe) about the struggles for their community. They began their conversation framing the origin of their organizational name, emphasizing that terms such as queer and LGBTQ did not represent them as working class, poor Venezuelans of African and Indigenous ancestry. Likewise, while the majority of the members are lesbian, gay and trans, their framework invites heterosexual people to partake in their struggle for liberation. Their work ranges from popular education workshops to decolonize Venezuela’s largely socially conservative culture to farming and agricultural based projects meant to advance the rights and access for the sex and gender diversity community.
While they support the movement for same sex marriage, ASGDRe stressed the importance of their proposals to the ANC,which include legal recognition of diverse families, ranging from same sex couples with children to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and grandchildren, in contrast to the “traditional” heteronormative nuclear family. They highlighted that these types of proposals would break from patriarchal standards of the family and society and move toward a feminist-informed socialism rooted in African and Indigenous ways of communal life relevant to Venezuelan realities.
The same day, delegates worked with an audio-visual cooperative, the Ejército Comunicacional de Liberación (Communicational Liberation Army/ECL) and painted a mural in San Augstín, one of the capital’s well-known barrios home to a rich history of African ancestry and known for its vibrant music and arts scene.
The mural, CHAMBA, translating to work or hustle, interrogates one’s everyday participation in the capitalism system with each letter capturing a different profession or job from lawyer (abogado) to cashier clerk (cajero). The cooperative, made up of young people who work on multimedia and audiovisual work from murals, documentaries and magazines to other projects, have dedicated this year to creatively reflect on work, labor and dignity. Their cooperative spans several years and implements diverse strategies on how to manage finances, determine projects and incorporate new members.
Interestingly, in late June, the Venezuelan government launched the program CHAMBA Juvenil (Youth at Work) to register and provide job opportunities for young people 15-35. The national program specifically targets recent university graduates, young people without university degrees, single mothers or young people heads of family and youth in homelessness or facing great risks.
While other nations struggle with high rates of unemployment and leave individuals to believe they can resolve these issues on their own, Venezuelans are implementing a multi-fold strategy with state and grassroots actors engaging in conversations about labor, productivity and dignity while also providing concrete opportunities to secure employment or build cooperative models.
“Defending Venezuela means defending a diverse world”
In Venezuela, we witnessed with our eyes, hearts and minds an entirely different reality than what the US, the Organization of American States, and transnational corporate media propagate. This doesn’t deny that there are political challenges and that often certain goods not protected by the national list of basic needs are expensive and sometimes inaccessible for anyone making minimum wage in Venezuela; however, delegates saw firsthand the difference between living in a society evermore centering people and their humanity. As one young woman stated, “you may not have the latest smart phone but, you will have an education, access to healthcare and a home.”
Venezuelans’ testimonies provided us with a historical context, an economic framing and a political intention exposing the US and its attacks against Venezuela. Repeatedly, Venezuelans invited conversations about their political process but firmly denounced the continued attacks against their economy and military threats against their nation in the abused names of “democracy” and “human rights”.
Days before our delegation, the Trump administration announced that the US government would consider “a military option” in Venezuela. While on our delegation, the Trump administration authorized harsh financial sanctions targeting the entire nation in an attempt to suffocate the country economically.
Sanctions against other revolutionary nations such as Cuba and Haiti have led to severe economic inaccessibility, global isolation and immeasurable damage. Sanctions represent a cruel and inhumane tactic to intervene and repress peoples’ commitment to building their society as they see fit.
While everyone on the delegation expressed varied political opinions and reflections about the Bolivarian Process, it was clear to everyone that we must stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela and all other oppressed peoples.
There must be a coordinated effort across borders to build solidarity, revoke US sanctions, and defend Venezuelan sovereignty. Now more than ever, people everywhere must take a stand on Venezuela. Neutrality does not exist.
Regardless of one’s political opinion on the efficiency or direction of Venezuela and its Bolivarian Revolution, our position internationally must be one rooted in Venezuela’s right to self-determination, sovereignty and against US imperialism and war. Now, is the time to organize. Our future and the future of all those who shared their testimonies with us in Venezuela are at stake.
Watch VA’s documentary about our delegation “Inside the Bolivarian Revolution”:
Special recognition and thanks to Katrina Kozarek for contributing to the reflection on Lara in this piece.
From the VA team and our international delegation, a thousand thanks and our deepest gratitude to María Helena Ramírez Hernández for co-coordinating our delegation and the Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance for their accompaniment throughout the delegation in creating an holistic experience for delegates.
We would also like to extend our profound appreciation to Tulio Virguez, the Culture and Solidarity Coordinator of the Vice Minister’s Office for North America with the Venezuelan Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Relations for his accompaniment, logistical support and wisdom. And, our sincerest thanks to the entire team at the North American Office of the Venezuelan Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Relations for their immeasurable support.
We are humbled and inspired by all those who shared their testimonies, opened their doors and nourished us in a million ways while on this delegation.