Caracas, May 12, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Afro-Venezuelan revolutionaries gathered in the Center of African Knowledge on Tuesday for a forum commemorating the Black political heritage of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution as part of Afro-Venezuelan month.
Titled “Afro Chávez” in honor of Hugo Chávez as Venezuela’s first self-identified Black president, the forum marked the 221st anniversary of the uprising in Coro, Falcón led by the enslaved Afro-indigenous man Jose Leonardo Chirinos against the Spanish Crown on May 10, 1795.
As leader of one of the largest insurrections against Spanish colonial rule, Chirinos is widely hailed as the forerunner to Venezuela’s independence struggle two centuries later.
However, this status was not officially recognized until 2005 when the National Assembly led by then deputy Nicolas Maduro decreed May 10th “Afro-Venezuelan Day” in commemoration of the rebellion.
For the revolutionaries of the Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations (ROA), the massive anti-colonial revolts spearheaded by African and indigenous peoples continue to define Venezuelan politics to this day.
“A fundamental element that characterizes Venezuelan political history from the 16th Century through the present is Afropolitics, that is, the acts of political confrontation during the colonial period that continued with the participation of the African population in the independence struggle, the Federal War under Zamora, and now the Bolivarian Revolution,” explained Modesto Ruiz Espinoza, a member of ROA and leader in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
“Today we can say that Afro-Venezuelans play a role just as important as it played in the colonial period," he added, referring to the protagonism of Afro-Venezuelans in the Bolivarian Revolution– as symbolized by President Chávez and the country’s current Vice-President Aristúbolo Istúriz.
In celebrating the achievements of Afro-Venezuelans over the last seventeen years, the forum's participants specifically highlighted the 2011 approval of the landmark Anti-Racial Discrimination Law prohibiting all acts of “racial discrimination, racism, endoracism, and xenophobia” as criminal offenses subject to fines and jail-time.
They also pointed to the historic inclusion of Afro-Venezuelans in the 2011 census, in which 51.6% of the population self-identified as moreno (brown), 2.9% as Black, and 0.7% as Afro-descendent.
“We are not an ethnic minority, we are a majority,” affirmed Norma Romero, president of the National Council for the Development of Afro-descendent Communities of Venezuela (CONADECAFRO), which was created by Chávez in 2012.
Beyond reviewing past victories, ROA leaders also discussed the need to situate the Afro-Venezuelan experience at the center of the Bolivarian Revolution’s socialist horizon.
For Argenis Delgado, Venezuelans too often look to Europe for their model of socialism and the communal state, ignoring their own country’s long history of maroon communities founded by insurgent African slaves, known as cumbes.
“How long did the Paris Commune last? 3 months. The Ocoyta cumbe lasted three years. The Palmares quilombo [cumbe in Brazil] lasted 89 years. How did they survive so long under adverse conditions of war? These are experiences that deserve to be studied,” the CONADECAFRO education coordinator told VA.
Venezuelan socialism, he concluded, will only succeed to the extent that it takes seriously the cumbe-commune as part of its vision of a post-capitalist future.