On November 22, Hands off Venezuela (HoV) held its fourth national conference at Birkbeck College at the University of London.
The event attracted delegates from across the country to hear from an impressive range of speakers, including Venezuelan ambassador to Britain, Samuel Moncada, Labour MP John McDonnell and Alan Woods, author of The Venezuelan Revolution.
The conference also heard from Venezuelan revolutionary Jesus Pino, a member of the Revolutionary Front of Steel Workers at Sidor — the steel factory nationalised by the Venezuelan government this year.
The conference was held at a significant time for Venezuela's democratic process. The November 23 regional elections were the 13th national electoral trial for President Hugo Chavez and the revolutionary movement he leads, during his 10 years in power.
In the lead-up to the vote, the Western media continued to present a distorted picture of the situation in Venezuela. The night before the conference, Britain's Channel 4 aired a documentary on Venezuela entitled Unreported World: Cult of the Thugs, which concentrated on gang violence, murder rates and religious cults.
The sensationalist report said nothing of Venezuela's renowned social programs and wealth redistribution policies that are reducing poverty.
Joint HoV president and National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear criticised British media coverage of Venezuelan politics and emphasised the need to continue spreading the truth about Venezuela and the importance of solidarity — a theme that continued throughout the day.
Pino gave an impassioned speech describing the successful struggle of Venezuelan steel workers to nationalise the Sidor plant — one of Latin America's largest steel works. He later led a workshop on workers' control that highlighted the importance of unity and collective struggle.
The discussion on solidarity work at the conference also involved representatives of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, the Bolivia Solidarity Campaign and Interbrigadas, a recently formed group that has organised brigades to Venezuela and Bolivia.
This broad mix made for a wide-ranging and inspiring discussion that stressed the importance of international communication and co-operation.
Moncada spoke of the changes that have shaped Venezuela over the last decade and have laid a foundation for a revolution built on the "change of ownership of Venezuela's economic resources and political power".
However, he also addressed the challenges facing the Bolivarian process, such as falling oil prices and the world economic crisis, corruption, and the need for the revolution to confront its failures.
The ambassador expressed hope that US president-elect Barrack Obama would behave differently than his predecessor, however reminded the audience that Obama is still the leader of an empire and must be approached as such.
The conference occurred in an atmosphere of hope and solidarity, yet there was some apprehension regarding the elections held the following day (see article on page 14 for further analysis).
The mass-based United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV — led by Chavez) achieved a mixed result, winning the governorship in 17 states. The opposition won five, as well as four out of five municipalities in Caracas.
Although the revolution yet again won a sizeable mandate (receiving 57% of the vote), the opposition gains are a stark reminder of the challenges Venezuela faces and the need for solidarity.
The most notable success of the conference was the bringing together of various solidarity groups and the strengthening of the international fight against neoliberalism.
In the current economic climate, the importance of the conference's final resolution is clear: "To continue organising solidarity with the revolutionary struggle of the people of Venezuela and Latin America, as well as to struggle against the multinationals and European imperialist interests, and to co-ordinate our actions with those of other Latin American solidarity campaigns."