The visit was organized by the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) and was the 14th solidarity brigade the organization has conducted to Venezuela since 2005. The brigade was also the
AVSN’s first since President Hugo Chavez passed away earlier this year. Along with members from Australia, activists from several European countries such as Britain, Bulgaria and Croatia participated.
Brigade leader Federico Fuentes told Correo del Orinoco that despite Chavez’s death and the economic war being waged against the Venezuelan government, the brigade had found the Bolivarian movement resilient and continuing to work to transform society.
“What we have very much witnessed being here is in many ways the continued presence and reinvigoration of the Chavista movement; one which has captured the imagination of millions around the world”, he said.
Brigade participants attended campaign events in the run up to the municipal elections held on December 8th, and observed polling centers in Caracas on voting day. Along with commenting on the peaceful and orderly nature of the voting process, several noted upon people’s high level of political participation during the electoral campaign.
English socialist activist Daniel Gent compared the political activism of students at the Caracas campus of Venezuela’s Bolivarian University with the low levels of student participation during Britain’s last general election.
“It was amazing to see how in a municipal election everyone had [political] t-shirts, there were stalls and posters everywhere, and a rally with 1000- 2000 people...it was just mind blowing for someone from England to see”, he commented.
During the eleven day visit the brigade visited several institutions promoting solidarity between Venezuela and the wider world, such as the headquarters of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the PetroCaribe agreement, the Venezuelan foreign ministry, and the Salvador Allende Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).
At the ELAM, brigade members found out how Venezuela is training medical students from 42 countries around the world for free, to later go back to their communities and promote public healthcare in their home countries.
Yvonne Eunson, a retired nurse from Australia, reported on the groups’ sentiments of the ELAM. “The quality of the students was just amazing. They were so inspired and so inspiring. It’s a great project, and it gives you so much hope,” she stated.
The solidarity activists also visited communal councils, communes, and state-owned food production firm Diana Industries, which is run with workers’ participation.
Diana Industries produces low-priced cooking oil, margarine, mayonnaise and soap, and the majority of their produce is distributed directly to the population through state-run food programs in order to avoid price speculation and hoarding.
Fuentes said the visit to Diana was particularly important “to see how workers in the country are trying to work together to confront this economic war that the capitalists have been unleashing”. Brigade members also noted on the marked difference between the image the mainstream media presents of Venezuela and the reality they experienced during their visit.
“The mainstream image of Venezuela is absolutely crazy, crazier than any other country you could imagine. The fact that Venezuela reduced poverty by 20% last year isn’t a story, but that fact that in one shop at some point you couldn’t buy toilet paper is a story,” said Daniel Gent.
The activist added, “Upon coming here now I can see why Venezuela is demonized so much. It’s not just because America wants control over the oil here, but because it presents an alternative model”.
Fuentes of the AVSN also said that the information gathered during the brigade would be useful for promoting greater understanding of the Bolivarian Revolution in Australia and other countries around the world.
“We’ll continue to take all this information back to Australia, in order to strengthen solidarity between the people of Venezuela and Australia,” he affirmed.