What did you find most interesting in Venezuela?
The methodology of formal learning impressed all of us. At all educational levels, and especially within the missions dedicated to education, the method of inclusion impressed us. There is an inclusion of formerly excluded sectors of society. The poor, low-income workers, Afro-Venezuelans and the Indigenous communities have actively and massively integrated into formal learning structures. And within the schools and missions students are integrated into the learning process at all levels. They participate in curriculum decisions, teaching, and in administration of the educational institution.
Also, the content of the curriculum at all levels aims at assisting the individual in becoming a well-rounded, conscious and participatory citizen; one that engages life from his/her nobler self, capable of sympathy, social affection and solidarity. The educational process thus permits group development, neighborhood development and the development of a nation of citizens who participate in their own lives and in guiding or directing their government toward more inclusion, peace and even a stronger democracy.
In the US, most media portray President Chavez as a dictator, did you find Venezuela to be a dictatorship?
No. When defining dictatorship we think one of the primary characteristics is the suppression of ideas, especially ideas contrary to those of the government. This definition includes censorship and the banning of newspapers or magazines and other forms of expression. We can see clearly that a free and dynamic exchange of ideas and ideologies is present among the people, in the schools and within other social entities such as unions and faith based organizations. We even saw billboards along the highways expressing what we would call “attacks” against the government.
What most impacted you in the communities and schools you visited?
We are very impressed at the community spirit and happiness of the people. Much of the work in the missions, for example, takes place in the evenings after work. Many of the instructors and most of the students work regular jobs during the day. That is, most of the instructors are volunteers. Among the students and instructors exists a very high level of community spirit, cooperation and mutual respect. This attitude brings everyone together. It draws together in the same class room those who are excelling and those still getting their bearings in the learning process creating a moving and inspiring aura of community cohesion and fraternity.
Do you think what’s happening in Venezuela could inspire people in the US to make political changes?
We think that many aspects of Venezuela’s revolutionary process hold the potential to inspire us in the United States. Realistically, the process of connecting to those aspects is difficult from a pragmatic sense. First, it is difficult to visualize Venezuela accurately because, in the US, the picture of Venezuela put forth by all the major media, the government and many universities and colleges portrays Venezuela as an oppressive, brutal dictatorship. These are lies. So we, citizens of the United States have the hard task of providing an honest and accurate photo of the government and people of Venezuela. We think that is a practical task that will take hard work, sacrifice and what Dr. King calls, the development of “otherinterestedness”.
Secondly, many of the major changes in Venezuela society, such as those dramatic changes of inclusion and democracy within the educational system, requires great changes in both the conduct and consciousness of many US citizens and organizations.
In other words, Venezuela offers much to learn and inspires us immensely, and this learning and inspiration helps visualize changes in our society that require dedicated individuals capable of sustained, disciplined work to organize and educate tens of thousands.
The governments of the US and Venezuelan are not on very good terms. Right now, Venezuela perceives US military buildup in the region and certain statements coming out of the White House and State Dept as threatening. Do you think that the people of the US can change this, if so, how?
Yes. As we suggested, this will require education, organization and mobilization. It is obvious that the people of the United States have not successfully organized to end our nation’s current aggression toward many countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, for example). There is, perhaps, a difference with the aggression against Venezuela.
For one thing, a great and growing force of democracy and solidarity exists between key governments in Latin America and among the people of all of Latin America. Secondly, the political power and role of the Latino community in the United States is growing rapidly. Some even suggest that the Latino community might be the base of a reconstructed Civil and Human Rights movement in the United States, and the Latin community is already much more aware and organized about the rights of Latinos, about immigration rights and the right to sovereignty.
There is no guarantee about much in today’s complex world, but it seems like a good possibility that the people of the United States, who are gaining consciousness due to increased expectations from ourselves and our government regarding jobs, justice and environmental sustainability, can impact US aggression against Venezuela.