'Hands off Venezuela' forum calls for solidarity

A "Hands off Venezuela" forum in Sydney on June 25. Photo: Peter Boyle.

"We are resisting", is the answer that Venezuelan-Australian activist Eulalia Reyes receives when she speaks to friends and family back home. "Right now, international solidarity is so important for the Venezuelan people, who are fighting against US sanctions and threats of military intervention", she said. 

Reyes was speaking at a "Hands off Venezuela" public meeting held at the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) offices on June 25. The forum addressed the current crisis in Venezuela and the US-led campaign for "regime change" against President Nicolas Maduro.

The meeting opened with an Acknowledgement of Country by local Indigenous activist and artist Bruce Shillingsworth, and solidarity greetings from MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer.

University of Sydney academic and author Sujatha Fernandez told the forum, "We have to understand the Bolivarian Revolution as a combination of two processes: the electoral process, which began with the election of former President Hugo Chavez in 1998 and which seeks to change the system from within, and the revolutionary grassroots movements, which date their origins back to the 1950s anti-dictatorship struggle and which later launched Chavez into power.

According to Fernandez, the two processes are mutually reinforcing, with community organising developing new democratic, conscious leaderships within the political struggle. 

"The people understand the need to build power at the grassroots and not just rely on the electoral process", she said. "This means strengthening the communal councils, the communes and the other popular organisations. An anti-capitalist alternative to the existing system means building people power from below, together with maintaining the electoral struggle."

Long-time Latin America solidarity activist, author and Green Left Weekly writer Federico Fuentes said, "In last year's Venezuelan elections, President Maduro won the immediate battle, but he still faces serious long-term problems.

"The front line of the war for Venezuela’s future is now centred outside the country, with the US and its allies determined to overthrow the Bolivarian government. The right-wing Venezuelan opposition's refusal to participate in the 2018 elections, under orders from Washington, was part of a longer strategy to destabilise the country and open the way for an unelected ‘transitional government’. 

"But self-declared opposition 'president' Juan Guaido is only really recognised by Western powers outside Venezuela; he has limited support inside the country and has failed to gain any significant backing from the Venezuelan military for his coup attempt."

Fuentes said that while the political momentum is currently in Maduro's favour, the economic crisis, under the impact of US sanctions, is worsening.

"The situation is in the balance and the revolution requires a popular rectification process to advance", he said. "The forces in the communal movement will be crucial to this. And international solidarity is more important than ever, especially the demand to end the economic sanctions on Venezuela."

Macquarie University academic Rodrigo Acuna gave a detailed account of the US campaign of aggression against Venezuela, which dates back to presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but which has intensified under Donald Trump.

Acuna said: "With the decline of the 'Pink Tide' of leftist governments in Latin America in recent years, Venezuela has suffered a loss in diplomatic support in the region. This includes the fall of progressive governments in Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador, and their replacement by right-wing, neoliberal, pro-US regimes."

Acuna reported that there are now 3000 US military advisers in Washington's embassy in Colombia, indicating the possibility of a larger-scale operation against Venezuela, including increased involvement of far-right Colombian paramilitaries in the struggle.

"However, the Venezuelan military forces remain strong", he added. "In addition, the Bolivarian people's militia has hald a million to a million members. Foreign Affairs magazine estimates that 150,000 US troops would be needed to successfully invade Venezuela. The US would no doubt initially win such a war, but a prolonged guerrilla conflict would inevitably follow, with massive destruction to the economy and society. 

"Another option for Washington is to promote a prolonged paramilitary intervention from Brazil and Colombia, similar to the war carried out by the US-backed 'contras' against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s. However, any such strategy would provoke strong resistance inside Venezuela, and problems at home in Brazil and with a re-armed FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] inside Colombia."

Acuna concluded, "The future of Venezuela rests with a combination of popular mobilisation and resistance, together with the urgent need to build international solidarity."

A proposal to participate in a national day of action in solidarity with Venezuela on July 27 was supported by forum participants, as was the idea of an Australian tour of a Venezuelan community leader to provide first-hand information in an attempt to break through the campaign of lies being waged by the corporate media.

At the end of the meeting, a group photo was taken to honour the memory of recently deceased author and friend of the Venezuelan people, Marta Harnecker, and to express solidarity with the current strike campaign by Chilean teachers.

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