The ninth Australian solidarity brigade to Venezuela, sponsored by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN), visited Venezuela from April 16 to 24. Participants saw first-hand the reality of the Bolivarian revolution, led by socialist president Hugo Chavez.
The 13 Australians — trade unionists, students and retirees — heard accounts of the achievements and problems of the revolution. The brigade toured some of the barrios and communities that are taking part in the struggle for popular power.
This struggle has defined the Bolivarian revolution since Chavez was first elected president at the end of 1998.
This year's brigade, which normally happens together with the big May Day march held in Caracas each year, was set earlier than usual. This allowed some participants to also visit Cuba for the special May Day celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution.
The brigade held meetings with representatives of the progressive union federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT), in Caracas and the regional city of Valencia.
The first day started with a forum at the International Miranda Centre (CIM). Gregory Wilpert, director of Venezuelanalysis.com, Carlos Escalona from CIM, and science tutor Andres Eloy Rodriguez spoke on different aspects of the revolutionary process. These included the history of the Bolivarian revolution, Venezuela's workers movement, experiments in workers co-management and the remarkable development of Venezuela's public health system.
On the second day, brigadistas went to the Catia Endogenous Development Zone. They visited a T-shirt and a shoe-making co-operative, a diagnostic health clinic, the site of a petroleum technical university and an organic garden.
Later, they met representatives of Banmujer, the Women's Bank. Banmujer plays a unique role in funding women's co-operatives and carrying out educational projects.
The next day, the brigade went on a history walk through central Caracas to view the house where 19th century Venezuelan independence leader Simon Bolivar was brought up, the Bolivar museum and other sites.
That afternoon, the brigade heard author and journalist Eva Golinger explain the extent of US interference in Venezuela's affairs. Gollinger also discussed the significance for the Venezuelan revolution of the election of Barack Obama as US president.
On April 19, the brigade travelled to Valencia. There, they attended a meeting between vice-minister for communes Lidice Altuve, and members of the Rebirth of the South Commune in southern Valencia.
Communes are pilot projects for the latest expansion of popular democracy in Venezuela. They combine more than 20 local communal councils and are intended as a further step towards the goal of building socialism of the 21st century.
The next two days involved visits to barrios (poor neighbourhoods) whose communal councils are part of the new commune project. These and other activities allowed participants to experience distinctive aspects of the struggle for people's power in Venezuela today.
As well as visiting the UNT headquarters in Valencia, members of the brigade also went to a union meeting of construction workers, and the office of the electrical workers' union.
Back in Caracas the brigade heard a talk on indigenous affairs in Venezuela by Jose Poyo, president of the Latin American Indigenous Parliament. Poyo included an account of the campaign by indigenous peoples to defend their land rights.
On the final day, the brigade heard an informative talk on Venezuelan history and current politics by Professor Marcelo Alfonzo, director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).
The program concluded with a tour of UCV and the nearby campus of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV). This highlighted the contrast between the old, established UCV, dominated by right-wing politics, and the new, revolutionary education system of the UBV. The UBV is housed in the former offices of the national oil company.
The rigade allowed a new group of Australians to experience the gains and challenges facing the Venezuelan revolution. It also helped to build stronger international links between Australian activists and unionists, and the inspiring revolution.
The next AVSN brigade is set for December 1 to 9, 2009. For details visit the AVSN website www.venezuelasolidarity.org.