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Report Back From the 16th World Festival of Students in Venezuela (part 3)

by Rick Panna Thursday, Oct. 20, 2005 at 3:22 PM

"[The U.S. ruling elites] have a lot to lose because Venezuela is setting an example. If the people of Venezuela are able to struggle and alleviate so much poverty and illiteracy and lack of healthcare in their country, then why can't we do it here as well?" -- Muna Coobtee, delegate, World Festival of Students, 2005


QUESTION #12 (COMMENT): Whenever I hear about a country like Venezuela doing something that's extremely upsetting to the United States, I worry about the possibility of an actual military invasion. Of course, the United States has done this many, many, many times. I think maybe the anti-war movement in the United States is probably the most important revolutionary pro-people power in the entire world. I think you can quantify this by looking at Iraq. Because the anti-war movement was in place even before the war started, the U.S. hasn't been able to get more than 150,000 troops for this war. The United States managed to get half a million troops in Vietnam, but then the anti-war movement stopped it at that point. They couldn't [send] any more without risking incredible massive resistance from the American people. When there was no anti-war movement at all

during the second World War, do you how many troops the United States had in the field? Sixteen million. So we've brought the number down from 16 million to 150 thousand. And I don't think the U.S. has enough troops to invade Venezuela [laughs]. [Applause.]

QUESTION #13: I agree with Muna when she talks about the revolution having different phases. I think that right now it's entering into a new phase where the Bolivarian Revolution is taking more decisive measures to expropriate the oligarchy in Venezuela, but that would bring along great challenges for the

revolution. I want to talk about the threat of the oligarchy

within Venezuela in conjunction with the U.S. government to try to stop the process and put an end to the revolution. Also, I want to point out [that] within the Bolivarian Revolution itself there is a bureaucracy [inaudible]. . . . It's not Hugo Chavez, and it's not the people at the bottom, it's kind of in the middle. It's going to bring real challenges to the revolution. He's trying to deal with that by kicking out people who are not doing there job and putting in new people. And at the bottom, people are pushing the revolution as well. . . . This is something I got this from talking to workers and other youth that are within the Bolivarian movement that are more radicalized, workers that are taking over factories and that are calling for full workers' control of factories.

QUESTION #14: The Zapatistas were there. Did anyone have a chance to hear what they had to say?

ANNA KUNKIN: Can I answer that? [To the panelists] Did you guys talk to them at all?


There weren't a lot, and I was a little disappointed because I was looking for them, especially after the Chavez Red Alert and everything that's come down the last month. There were a couple of opportunities where there were Mexican delegates speaking, and they didn't mention them. I challenged them about it. And then I saw some Zapatistas who were not in the actual conferences, but there were some Zapatistas at the Bolivarian university handing out literature, talking to people, showing photographs, and talking about the Red Alert. They were not represented the way I would have liked to have seen them and the way I was expecting to see them in the discussion, in the workshop itself. I found that disappointing, but they were there.

QUESTION #15: I was wondering what other countries besides Cuba are big supporters. Who are the allies? [Inaudible sentence.]

QUESTION: #16 I wanted to make a quick comment in regards to the gentleman who mentioned [the decrease in numbers of U.S. troops since World War II being a result of the peace movement]. I'm hoping that's the reason that they can't recruit our youth, but

sometimes I'm a little more pessimistic. I think that the weapons have become a little more sophisticated where they don't have to take on [greater] recruitment quotas.


But I just wanted to make a comment about what I found in Venezuela. The Colombians shared a lot of views. They were actually a student group of FARC, so they were actually there so a lot of controversy surrounding their presence there. But they did share with me that right now the biggest fear for them is that part of Plan Colombia is beefing up the Colombian military so that there's that risk that there might be some type of escalation between Colombia and Venezuela. It was mentioned over and over by Colombian delegates who we actually spoke to in an

informal basis. I know several people here just mentioned the possibility of a U.S. invasion of Venezuela, but the Colombians are almost positive that it will be through the aegis of the U.S. government under Plan Colombia, that they're beefing up the Colombian military.

Someone also mentioned to me that they read two or three days ago that right off the northern coast of Venezuela there's several Caribbean islands. Trinidad [is] just about 30 minutes off the coast. They mentioned that there was about 2,500 U.S. troops that

were sent just there last week.


Another thing I mentioned is I spoke to several Jamaicans and Trinidadians, and one of their trepidations with the festival was that U.S. imperialism was considered the main threat to the world. But not once, at least in all of the workshops that we attended, was the European Union mentioned. I thought that was

very interesting. They mentioned how the European Union is really tied to the IMF and the World Bank. They seemed pretty stern on that point. The festival forgot to mention the imperialism of the European Union and how the United States never held any colonial control of any country in South America or the Caribbean.

QUESTION #17: Which, in any of your opinions, is stronger in Venezuela, the military, which seems to be fairly progressive to the point of giving up their bases, or the police, which is an unknown in my mind. Which is more powerful? Are the police being infiltrated?

QUESTION #18: I wanted to ask those who were in Venezuela if they went to the barrios or the poorer neighborhoods and talked to the people, and what do the people say about the government Chavez? Are they very happy with the government? What are the things that he and the government have done for them that they really like and makes them support the revolution?

QUESTION #19: I have two short questions: does Chavez and his government support the autonomous movement in Argentina?

And the second question is: oil is nationalized in Venezuela, and revenue from the oil goes to support the Bolivarian Revolution. A small fraction of that oil is being bought by big U.S corporations, which means that the revolution is being supported by U.S. multi-national corporations in a small way. Is Chavez trying to be more independent [from] these corporations?


Argentina, Brazil, [and] Chile are strategic economic partners with Venezuela, not to mention the support that is growing among the people in those countries. That you can measure by the way the delegations were represented. The whole region is a volcano about to erupt. You have uprisings in Bolivia, the government of Peru is hanging by a thread, [and] Colombia is in the midst of a very bloody civil war that we don't hear about. There is a broad movement in the cities [of Colombia] that is being repressed and

persecuted with the aid of the U.S. government. So there's all these things happening. Venezuela is a process, and we have to wait and see what is going to happen.


About the right wing, well they are very strong. You have to remember that Chavez won by 60%, so there's still 40% of the population out there. They're trying to overcome that by politicizing people. These young people that we talked about from different organizations that are going to Cuba. They're now going door to door talking to people and engaging them in conversations in political debates. That's the atmosphere; you can feel it. I mean, at one point I had to excuse myself because I couldn't stop talking to people. I lost my voice on the second day that I

was there because everybody just wanted to talk about politics. There was nothing else to talk about but politics [and] what was going on there.

There are a lot of towns, especially in the most wealthy areas of Venezuela, that are under control of the opposition.


You have to remember that [the Bolivarian movement] knows what they're facing. And they know that they're under constant threat by invasion from Colombia, by assassinations, by another coup d'etat, by infiltration of the police. They know that. They're taking steps, they're arming the people. We talked to a lot of people who have become military reservists because they're taking it on themselves to defend this. Before this process was in place, people had nothing to eat, people had never seen a doctor in their lives, and now they have all these basic human rights that are actually being given to them by this process. So people

are taking it onto themselves to protect this with their lives.

Many, many workers that we spoke to are volunteer reservists, and they are actually being trained by the military to defend this process. We thought it was very inspiring to see common people who didn't have anything before [who now] have a job, they have an education, they have a house. They don't live with the same insecurities as we do here: "Am I going to get fired tomorrow?" "Am I going to have to pay the rent?" That is slowly [fading] away. It's a process.


I just wanted to address the question about who is stronger, the military or the police? We did speak to people there in some of the strongest and largest groups who are involved with the process, and there is an effort underway to purge the police. And many of the people in these groups reported that there's a lot of

success that's going on in this area. Also, the building of the civilian military reserve is a key element in that. We should keep in mind that the people and the military together did defeat the police during the coup. This is a very important thing to remember because the military is growing stronger. Combine with this effort to purge the police, this looks promising. However, it is something to be taken seriously, and they are taking it seriously.


MUNA: Regarding the oil revenues in Venezuela, yes, there's still oil being sold to the United States. This is part of the wealth of Venezuela that the Bolivarian Revolution is attempting to control, to divert for the gains of the people. But one of the main themes of Chavez's closing talk was that if there is ever going to be any aggression by the United States against Chavez personally or against the country, then he will cut off all oil coming into the United States in order to really show the United States that it's a source of pride, too. "Look, if you are going to attack us, we know that you rely on us and depend on us as well, and we are not afraid to use our wealth and resources if you're going to use any act of aggression against us." So this

was a very big part of his speech at the closing ceremony.


As far as the EU, I know that in looking at the program that there was various panels and workshops about the European Union, but there were so many things going on I didn't get an opportunity to go and actually here them.


As far as the barrios go, I did mention that I went to a lot of the barrios before the rest of the delegates got there. But yeah, they are happy. It would be absurd for them to go against Chavez. Chavez is their dependence right now. [The Bolivarian Revolution is providing] their health, their food, the way they live their

lives. They're integrated into the process now in a way that they never were before. So it would be counterproductive for them to go against what's going on.


One thing that they [Chavez's opposition] have manipulated to a point is this anti-Cuba feeling that they have because of so much propaganda that gets to us. I was wearing a Fidel pin at one point in the subway, and they greeted us. They were like, "Oh, you're delegates!" and one person said, "Oh, but Fidel," and he looked at me a little interestingly. So it's interesting to have this perspective. They are going through this change, and it's counterproductive for them to go against this change, and yet there's still that process of not seeing Cuba as the bogeyman that we're taught to see it as.

But for the most part, people are very supportive of Cuba, especially now that it's two years into the process. It's the Cuban doctors who are there for them day to day.

STEPHANIE: We're going to end the meeting now. Thank you all very much for coming. I'd like to thank the speakers one more time. [Applause.] . . . We hope you get involved with the people's movement to stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela, Cuba, and Latin America against U.S. imperialism.

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