It’s pretty new, and it’s pretty different: a group of 39 Germans arrived to Venezuela last Friday for a two-week tour through the country. The group is visiting various barrios, to hold discussions with community leaders, see how the different misiones work, and to talk to ordinary people in the streets. Where did the idea for such a tour come from? Venezuelanalysis.com talked to Barbara Koehler, the brain behind the tour.
VA: How did the idea for your visit develop?
Barbara Koehler: I’ve been working for a German travel agency called Profil Cuba Reisen (Profile Cuba Travels) for many years now, and since 1997 we’re organizing political tours to that country. Of course, we have been observing the process currently going on in Venezuela as well, and we were sure that this process needs more international solidarity. This became especially clear to us after the coup of April 2002, when mainstream media in Germany continued to write mainly with a negative tendency about Venezuela.
VA: Are you organizing the tour by yourself?
BK: No, we are doing it in cooperation with the Junge Welt (Young World), a German socialistic daily with about 22.000 subscribers. This newspaper is about the only one in Germany which writes in a positive way about the bolivarian process. Still, it was not that easy to organize the tour. We didn’t know anybody inside the country, and apart from that, we only wanted a tour in which we would be able to meet the people in the barrios, the people who really do the work. So not only government officials. After a long search, during which we found out that at the Venezuelan embassy in Berlin there’s really only one person who is in favour of the Bolivarian process, we finally came to a trustworthy contact person in Venezuela, to the artist Candelario Reina, who sensed what we really want, and who has all the contacts here.
VA: What is the character of the tour?
BK: It’s clearly a political tour. With this visit, we want to show our solidarity with the people and the Bolivarian process. Apart from that, we want to inform the participants about what is going on here. In Germany, people know more or less nothing about Venezuela. And if they know anything, then it’s mainly about the fight for power, or they have a vision of Venezuela which is mainly coloured by drugs and violence. People in Germany do not realise the enormous gap between the rich and the poor in this country, which really is the main problem here.
VA: Was it easy to find participants?
BK: We only advertised the tour in the newspaper, and at one or two websites. The interest was enormous; not only from `normal tourists` but also from people who want to set up projects with Venezuelans, who want to cooperate with the people here, for instance in the media field. We have some journalists in our group as well. The Junge Welt is publishing a feature about our experiences daily during these weeks. All the participants should function as multiplicators, once they are back in Germany, in order to raise awareness about the Bolivarian process. After almost 40 people had registered, we had to close the participants’ list. I hope we can run a second group in March next year.
VA: What are your first impressions about the process in Venezuela?
BK: I’ve been here for five days now, and what impresses me most is the pure enthusiasm of the people here. The people in the barrios are very self-assured and active; they know their situation, and they know what they can do about it.
VA: Where did you go so far?
BK: We visited a clinico popular in Caricuao, the first one of its kind in Venezuela, which was constructed as a part of the Barrio Adentro Program. Further, we talked to Cuban doctors in Caricuao. We also had different meetings in Pinto Salinas, among others with community radio activists, social workers helping elderly people in the barrio, we visited a cultural house a the middle of a drug-dealers’ zone, and we went to a printing office in Artigas, which is more or less taken over by Chavistas. We went to see the house where Bolivar grew up, and we will still pay attention to the different educational misiones. In a few days we will have similar agenda points in Valencia, Maracay, Ciudad Bolivar and Puerto Ordaz.
VA: Can you compare the process in Venezuela with the situation in Cuba?
BK: Yes and no. I see many parallels: just like in Cuba, a lot of work here is done by the people at the grassroots. The difference between the two countries is clearly that the process, or if you wish revolution, is still very new in Venezuela, and not in Cuba. Apart from that, the Cubans have a lot of problems because of the trade embargo. Although Venezuela clearly is a capitalistic country, one sees the beginning of socialistic structures emerging at the grassroots.
VA: Where is the process in Venezuela leading to?BK: Hasta la victoria siempre. It may sound idealistic, but I really believe in it!