Caracas, Venezuela, January 7, 2006—The singer, actor, and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte visited Venezuela this week, leading a delegation of 13 other prominent activists from the U.S. During their visit, the delegation toured the complex of cooperatives, known as the Endogenous Development Nucleus Fabricio Ojeda, visited with ministers, Venezuelan community leaders, opposition leaders, and Venezuela’s President Chavez.
“I would hope the people of Venezuela will take a good look at our visit and truly believe that we come with no agenda and come with no conclusion in hand and we’ve come to learn and to be touched by those who care to reach out to us and inform us,” said Harry Belafonte during the delegation’s press conference on Thursday.
Belafonte explained that the purpose of their visit was to see with their own eyes, how Venezuela handles its affairs, with the hope that it could, “become a role model for the rest of Latin America and others in the world.”
Other members of the delegation included Princeton theology and social history professor Cornell West. West emphasized that visits such as those of the delegation are necessary because, “We in the United States have so many lies about President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution.”
Dolores Huerta, the long-time farm workers’ organizer, who worked closely together with the Latino union organizer Cesar Chavez in the U.S., said that her visit to Venezuela would help inspire organizing efforts in the U.S. “We are inspired by what is happening here. The revolution here is electoral. It has inspired us to take these lessons to our country and to inspire our people too,” said Huerta.
Another delegation member, Malia Lazu of the group Hip Hop Coalition, which organizes youth in the U.S., said that she could tell that the government has turned over power to Venezuelan poor. “Here in this country, for the few days I have been here, I have been able to see what happens when you give power to the people,” said Lazu. For her, the struggle of Venezuelans for greater social justice, “has breathed life into our [struggle].”
The Hollywood actor and President of the TransAfrica Forum, Danny Glover, was also present, on his fourth trip to Venezuela. “I’ve been excited to get back to the United States to talk about what is happening [in Venezuela], knowing that you are in a transformative stage and that you are the architects of your own destiny,” said Glover. Glover also praised the Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S., saying to Venezuelans, “I think you should be proud that you have a representative who is able to reach out to the communities.”
Other members of the delegation included the President of the community organization coalition Barrios Unidos, Nane Alejandrez, the Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Ralph Paige, the PBS radio and TV talk show host Tavis Smiley, the Director of the Simthsonian Institution’s Cultural Heritage Policy, James Earley, and the Vice-President of the progressive satellite TV channel Link TV, Jack Willis.
The delegates commented on U.S. funding for oppositional groups in Venezuela, via the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which both recently increased their funding of Venezuelan groups. Dolores Huerta, Harry Belafonte, and Cornell West said that activists in the U.S. will have to work hard to change the majorities in the U.S. Congress so that funding of opposition groups in countries such as Venezuela will be stopped.
“If the United States has said that it has publicly designated $9 million to support the opposition to undermine Hugo Chavez, then you can rest assured that it is really spending $27 or $30 million because there are covert funds that they won’t let the public know,” said Cornell West. He added, “You have to recognize that the only thing that stands in the way of the United States undermining this revolution are institutions like this,” referring to the organization of delegations, “that convince people that this revolution is real.”