More than 300 people attended the biggest ever solidarity conference held for Venezuela in Britain in April. Leading figures from the Venezuelan government, Britain and Europe came together to look at how Venezuela is defending the majority and not punishing the poorest.
The conference focused on the magnificent social achievements of the Hugo Chávez -led government and showed the dramatic transformation that can take place when people are placed at the core of government policy.
Venezuelan Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Temir Porras, was the conference keynote speaker, taking the opportunity to warn the audience to expect an aggressive campaign of misinformation in the media in the run up to the 2012 Presidential elections.
He explained that “in Venezuela there is a choice between voting for the old privileges of the traditional elite or real democracy. For the first time, all Venezuelans are benefiting from the oil wealth in terms of investment in social services and the increase in GDP since the election of President Chávez. Gone are the days when it was just a few oligarchs benefiting from the country’s natural resources. When the majority speak, it is clear that people don’t want to give power back to the minority elite.”
He also underlined a key theme of the day – namely that despite Venezuela being affected by the international financial crisis, “unemployment did not go up and there were no cuts in social spending. This meant that the economic crisis did not translate into a social crisis.”
Temir Porras was joined by representatives from the Venezuelan Women’s Ministry, Benita Finol and Juana Garcia, and Venezuelan Ambassador Samuel Moncada. Opening the event, Ambassador Moncada spoke of how the US and the Opposition are continuing to work together to undermine Venezuela’s development. He said Wikileaks has revealed that the Archbishop of Caracas, Baltazar Porras, held secret meetings with the US Ambassador in Caracas to call for US intervention in Venezuela to contain Venezuela’s “regional aspirations”.
Another Wikileak showed former Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe, calling for US military intervention in Venezuela shortly before ordering the bombing of Ecuador in 2008. Ambassador Moncada said “people thought that Venezuela was paranoid but these documents show the nature of the very real threat that Venezuela faces.”
An Example of Social Inclusionas Europe Faces Cuts
The conference closed with a Q&A panel discussion with all Venezuelan and European guests. Winfried Hansch from Die Linke (the Left Party) Germany encouraged other countries to learn from Venezuela’s positive example, whilst Bernard Cassan (former Director General of the Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper) contrasted the “neo-liberal” policies of the EU with the progressive policies adopted by Venezuela and the other ALBA countries. Finally, Colin Burgon (Labour Friends of Venezuela) emphasised that it was crucial we learned from Venezuela as well as supporting it.
Such a concluding message from Europe as many face savage cuts was particularly fitting – Venezuela shows another world is possible, where people are put first. It’s vital we support it!
“For the first time, all Venezuelans are benefiting from the oil wealth in terms of investment in social services and the increase in GDP since the election of President Chávez. Gone are the days when it was just a few oligarchs benefiting from the country’s natural resources.” – Temir Porras, Venezuelan Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs
“In Venezuela there is a focus on the needs of people and our planet rather than the unchecked quest for profit.” – Jenny Jones AM & Green Party London Mayoral Candidate
“A huge amount is at stake in Venezuela. The quality of life for millions of people depends on the continuation of the current processes of social progress.” – Gail Cartmail, TUC International Development Spokesperson
“Venezuela is putting people before profit, just as we did in the 1940s, creating a welfare state for the first time in its history.” – Colin Burgon, Labour Friends of Venezuela & VSC
“Venezuela offers something fundamentally different. We can learn from Venezuela, be inspired, and apply the lessons here.” – Jeremy Corbyn MP
Growing Interest in Venezuela’s Positive Example
In the last year, over 1000 people at labour movement conferences and fringe meetings have heard how Venezuela is putting people first. Speaking to BFAWU Conference, former MP Colin Burgon summed up the reasons for this support, saying, “Venezuela represents a break from neoliberalism that we can draw inspiration from, where health is now accessed by the poor and education is free for all, and the right to strike is enshrined in the constitution.” A crucial opportunity to further build on this solidarity will be two Venezuela – Defending the Majority, Not Punishing the Poorest – speaking tours of Venezuelan trade union leaders from October to December.
Additionally, in February 2012 a labour movement solidarity delegation will visit Venezuela. UNISON Scotland Regional Secretary Mike Kirby, who visited Venezuela in 2009, said “this is a unique opportunity to see first hand the positive alternatives to neoliberalism that are being developed and how these are improving the lives of ordinary Venezuelans.”
The speaking tours will include events hosted by Unite regional partners in the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, North West, South East and Wales regions, plus UNISON Wales and VSC local group meetings. Email [email protected] if you are interested in hosting a speaker.
For information on the solidarity delegation contact [email protected].