The summit was organized by ALBA Movements, an alliance of social movements from across the region that stands in parallel to the multilateral bloc– the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America –created by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and 6 other nations as an alternative to the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Coming amidst a string of right-wing electoral victories in recent months, the five-day conference was aimed at developing a unified communicational response on the part of social movements in order defend the region’s leftist political processes and push them towards a “deepening of popular protagonism”.
For leading members of the ALBA Movements secretariat such as Venezuelan squatters’ movement activist Hernan Vargas, the building of a grassroots communicational platform is crucial given the instrumental role played by corporate media conglomerates as well as privately funded social media campaigns in recent right-wing victories in Argentina, Venezuela, and Bolivia.
“We have to build peoples’ media as part of a common strategy to create messages in social networks, murals, marches, and all of our media that… speak to the working class majorities of the continent in terms they understand,” Vargas told Venezuelanalysis.
A key theme of the gathering was solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, which has faced three years of concerted political and economic destabilization together with a deep economic crisis triggered by the collapse of world oil prices.
“For the social movements [of the region], the Bolivarian Revolution is a great model of democracy, not only electoral but participatory and… [F]or us it is critical to deepen and visibilize communal processes of self-governance that are the fundamental base for building Bolivarian socialism,” read the conference’s final declaration.
To this end, the movements pledged to launch a continental campaign of solidarity with Venezuela on the anniversary of the defeat of the 2002 coup on April 13 called “Venezuela Calls, America a Single Struggle”, which will see simultaneous actions across the region both in the streets and in media and social networks.
In addition to Venezuela, the over 80 social movements and organizations agreed to launch campaigns in support of Bolivia’s legal claim to sea access as well as social justice in the Colombian peace process. The movements also issued calls for the withdrawal of UN troops from Haiti and respect for Haitian self-determination as well as the end of the US embargo against Cuba.
Among other concrete initiatives decided upon is the creation of a continental television and radio news platform operated by the movements themselves.
According to leftist Argentine journalist Hernan Ouviña, the challenge of these new media is, “To conceive of communication not as merely a product to offer the popular sectors but as a process of empowerment in which they can create their own contributions and communicational tools.”
In this respect, revolutionaries must look to popular cultural practices such as graffiti and hip-hop “also as forms of communication and aesthetic, artistic, and cultural resistance” that are key to winning over new generations of youth growing up under leftist governments who may not feel identified with the transformative processes.
Another important agreement will see the establishment of a joint education program as well as an expansion of the body’s communications team with the aim of facilitating coordination between movements.
“There’s a ton of organizations here that do a ton of different things, but we don’t necessarily know what each of us does, so it’s essential that we have space to share our experiences in order to be able to collectively mobilize” explains Carmen Lepagep, a member of the Venezuela-based Popular Feminist School.
It is precisely this wealth of grassroots communicational experiences that ALBA Movements seeks to tap into with the goal of advancing revolutionary processes throughout the region.
“Today the proliferation of channels and pathways of communication is undeniable– what you see here is a minimal representation of what is happening across the continent,” Lepagep adds.
The summit concluded with a dialogue between the representatives of the assembled movements and Venezuela’s commune minister, Isis Ochoa, and the communications minister, Jose Luis Marcano, in which the former called for a special meeting with the heads of state of the ALBA nations in order coordinate a joint strategy.
Text by Lucas Koerner for Venezuelanalysis