Can you talk a little bit about the delegation, how long you were here in Caracas for and what you did?
CG: The delegation was made up of high level trade unionists, so we had people from UNITE, the NUT, RMT and the UCU, and also some activists from the VSC. They were in Caracas 9 days and we got to see lots of stuff. On the Saturday we went to Plaza Bolivar to the rally with the new Socialist Workers’ Central and we marched up to Miraflores to hear Chavez speak. That was an exciting day to begin with. We also spent one day in Petare and went to the City Council. We heard from people in the area, from the PSUV youth and community councils. We also went to a factory that makes covers for mobile phones, which is all women and also a “food house”, which are political spaces that serve free food. On one day we also went to the headquarters of “El Sistema” music program, and that was really amazing.
What impressed you most out of everything you saw?
CG: I would say the housing mission. We went to Ciudad Belen in Guarenas, it was amazing. To see and speak to people who said “I never would have thought that I’d have a proper house and now I’ve got this wonderful apartment, and I’ve not only got that, but I’ve also got work,” because they are working as well to build the rest of the houses. It was just really inspiring, and I think everyone found that trip quite emotional, just because it was such an impact to see how they are building the whole city and the transportation to get there, along with a new road and expanding metro services.
They are still building lots of it, but they’ve got thousands of apartments already built and people just going about their daily lives. There are schools and playgrounds for the children, they had a PDVAL shop and a little factory with women making t-shirts. It’s amazing to see how much can be done when there is the will to do it; you can completely transform peoples’ lives and build new communities. One guy invited us into his apartment and he was so proud, and he also had out his kids Canaima laptops, and he was working there as well constructing the new apartments. People had such a sense of ownership because they were building their communities together.
You’ve been to Venezuela before. What changes did you notice this time round?
CG: The transformation of spaces, for instance the whole city of Caracas, there are just so many more spaces outside for people to enjoy, like Sabana Grande has been redone, there is so much culture out on the streets. The UNEARTE where you can go and see theater and dance for free any day of the week, people always seemed happy but now they seem more at ease. There are more people out on the streets and enjoying public spaces. Things just seemed to be getting really getting consolidated, the communities being even more organized. People were telling us how much they’d achieved, and the people are really determined to be successful at the elections so they can defend everything they’ve done so far. Everyone on the delegation was really impacted by how politically aware people were and how much people wanted to discuss and debate. Sometimes we’d have meetings and they could have gone on for hours and hours because people had so much to say. We had a wonderful day in Maracay where we had hundreds of trade unionists gathered to do an exchange with us, to compare what’s happening in Europe with Venezuela, with the drafting of the new labor law and the expansion of workers’ rights, whereas in Europe we are going backwards. I think that really impacted on people.
Did you notice a divergence between how the up and coming Venezuelan elections are being presented in the UK press and the actual reality of the situation?
CG: Yes, all we’re hearing in the UK is that Capriles (the opposition candidate) is center-left, you know the Lula of Venezuela, that’s what he’s being portrayed as. And obviously those of us who know more about Venezuela know that that isn’t the case. But that was what is so important about taking people to Petare and listening to the people who actually live there saying look he’s our governor and we don’t even hear from him, they haven’t done anything, they don’t even collect the rubbish on the streets and you can see all the rubbish piled up. And the communities basically saying that the reason we’ve been able to progress is because we are organized at a grassroots level, because we can’t rely on the opposition candidates that we have to do anything for our communities.
I think the main thing for us to do is to challenge what’s being portrayed in the media, that Capriles is the better candidate against Chavez who is supposed to be some dictator. We were lucky enough to see Chavez and to see him speak, and that was important for us because every few weeks here they put out a story saying he’s on his death bed. We have to be constantly challenging the lies to ensure a clean campaign and so at the end we can say, well the Venezuelans have made their choice. We know that they have a transparent and vibrant democracy.
Why do you think these international solidarity brigades are important?
CG: I think it’s so important because when you have an international campaign against what’s going on over there, we need to have a counter-campaign to say what is really happening and to say that Venezuelan sovereignty should be respected and Venezuelan democracy should be respected. Especially when it involves North America and Europe, our politicians who have historically interfered in other countries, it’s so important that the people, the electorate, actually know what’s going on in these other countries so that they can defend them and say “hang on, you shouldn’t be interfering, you should just let the people there decide what they want” and that’s why it’s so important for us to build these links and show solidarity.