Sydney conference in solidarity with Venezuela

About 120 people attended the conference in solidarity with Venezuela's revolution in Sydney on October 6.

"Venezuela: The revolution continues," was the theme of a solidarity conference held at Redfern Town Hall here on October 6.

About 120 people attended the conference, which was organised by the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in conjunction with the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN), the Bolivarian Circle, the Latin American Social Forum (LASF), other solidarity organisations, unions, and political groups, including Socialist Alliance.

In presenting an acknowledgement of country, Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) spokesperson Ray Jackson said, "We need a Bolivarian revolution in Australia, and we need it now!" Nelson Davila, Venezuelan ambassador to Australia, then welcomed the audience to the conference proceedings.

The conference audience stood in tribute to Robert Serra and his partner Maria Herrera, who were young revolutionaries murdered recently, most probably by right-wing assassins. Serra was the youngest Chavista member of Venezuela's National Assembly.

Steve Ellner, a professor at the Eastern University at Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, addressed the conference via Skype. "What's happening in Venezuela right now is very important to the world," he said.

Ellner summarised the recent history and development of the Bolivarian revolution, and the right-wing campaign of violence and economic sabotage which has challenged the government of new President Nicolas Maduro, who narrowly won election after former President Hugo Chavez died in March 2013.

The right-wing attempt to de-stabilise the Venezuelan economy and political system has continued under the slogan, "Regime change now!'

"The Venezuelan government is committed to 'Socialism of the 21st century,' and tensions with conservative forces, backed by the US, cannot be avoided," Ellner said. In the face of these problems, "President Maduro has demonstrated considerable leadership capacity, and taken strong measures to tackled the economic problems of the country."

Discussion following Ellner's talk centred on the need to maintain and strengthen monetary exchange and price controls, the push to develop state intervention in production of scarce goods, and the need to encourage popular movements to exercise greater influence.

"The necessity for socialist solutions to Venezuela's problems is vital," Ellner said.

Alfonse De Gill, from the Bolivarian Circle, gave a presentation on "Three Roots of the Bolivarian Revolution." His historical summary forcussed on the contributions of 19th century Venezuelan leaders Simon Robinson, Simon Bolivar and Ezequiel Zamora in developing a vision of a united Latin America.

"President Chavez recognised that we are not just Venezuelans, but Latin Americans," De Gill said. "The future of Venezuela is bound up with the future of Latin America."

In a session entitled, "Why Venezuela's revolution matters: Views from the Australian left," Roberto Jorquera, from Socialist Alternative, spoke about the role of people's organisations such as the communal councils and communes. Venezuela needs an "alternative economic model, and popular control of the economy, for the revolution to go forward in the coming period," he said.

Rachel Evans, representing Socialist Alliance, said, "The Venezuelan revolution was the first process of the 21st century to proclaim socialism as its goal. It has empowered the people, deepened participatory democracy, institutionalised human rights, enshrined environmental sustainability, Indigenous sovereignty, women's rights, and LGBT rights through constitutional changes, and through social missions and programs.

"These democratic advances and missions have taken place under fire from internal Venezuelan capitalists and the imperialists who want to end this threat of an anti-capitalist example. In 1998, when Chavez was first elected, 80 per cent of Venezuelans were living in poverty.

"Today, with the distribution of wealth, it's down to 27 per cent. There is free education, free health care, land distribution to the poor, houses for the homeless, free music programs, free books. And these are just some of the gains of the revolution.

"As philosopher Marta Harneker points out, the trajectory of this process is socialism. Its aims, its goals, its steps, lead it towards socialism. And socialism can only be won and built by the organised power of the working class, the urban poor, the disenfranchised middle class."

In Australia, we need to commit to defend the Venezuelan revolution with all our ability, Evans said. Part of this struggle is to organise against our own capitalist government.

Anna Pha, from the Communist Party of Australia, explained that the Venezuelan revolution showed "there is an alternative to neo-liberalism in the world. Cuba and Venezuela have stood up to imperialism, and put socialism back on the agenda.

"Venezuela today is still a long way from full people's power, but the process is moving forward. The right wing is trying to turn Venezuela into a failed state. Our role in Australia is to provide solidarity."

In the next session, under the theme, "How Venezuela has changed since Chavez came to power," Luis Angosta Ferrandez from Sydney University gave some personal observations of the radical changes which have swept Venezuela, during the five years he worked at the Bolivarian University in Caracas.

"There are now hundreds of thousands of new houses for the poor people," he said. "There are many community projects of various kinds. Rights for women have advanced considerably. Despite the many challenges, Venezuela is progressing in the social rights and living standards of the people."

Robert Austin, from the University of Queensland, stressed the "history of internationalism and solidarity" displayed by the Venezuelan revolution over the years. He also noted the remarkable rise of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela in a "record period of time".

He warned of the danger of a decline in the popular vote for Chavismo over time, and emphasised some of the economic challenges facing the Maduro government. "The government should nationalise foreign trade," and "encourage the development of popular militias" to combat the violent counter-revolution, Austin said.

On the theme of "Venezuela's revolution and its impact on Latin American and the world," Tim Anderson from Sydney University spoke about the process of Latin American integration, and the interrelationship of cultural and political change. He outlined the development of the Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America (ALBA), UNASUR and CELAC as Latin American economic and political unity projects.

He emphasised the "recognition of heterogeneity" in the revolutionary processes of the region, from Venezuela, to Bolivia, to Ecuador and beyond. The process of Latin American integration is "quite distinct" from those of the European Union or the US promotion of "Pan Americanism," Anderson noted.

Shamikh Badra, Palestinian activist from Gaza, said that "Venezuela is one of the few governments who have had the courage to condemn Israeli crimes ... The death of President Hugo Chavez was a loss to all oppressed peoples around the world."

Badra said: "President Nicolas Maduro has continued the record of Chavez in opposing the aggressions of Israel against the Palestinian people. We salute Venezuela for its stand."

Rodrigo Acuna from Macquarie University outlined the US history of supporting brutal dictators in Latin America, utilising the Organisation of American States (OAS), founded in 1948. Now, Latin America is uniting to oppose US domination in Latin America.

"Latin America is increasingly seeing itself as a unified region. But nothing much has changed in US policy under current President Barack Obama," he said.

Paul Lynch, the NSW Labor MP for Liverpool, said: "Venezuela and Latin America more broadly show there is a different path to that of the neo-liberal West. We note that the Bolivarian revolution keeps making changes and winning elections."

In the final session, headed "The need for solidarity with Venezuela's continuing revolution", Eulalia Whitney, a Venezuelan activist living in Brisbane, said that, "Venezuela shows that 'Another World Is Possible.' I have been away from Venezuela for a long time, but Venezuela is in my blood.

"Despite the serious challenges, the Venezuelan people are determined to win the fight for social justice and socialism. Viva Venezuela!" she said.

Lisa Macdonald, from the AVSN, that, "We need to continue to build solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution because the resistance of Venezuela and the other Latin American progressive governments and peoples to Western imperialism is the most significant in the world today. Their example is an inspiration to us all.

"AVSN organises its annual solidarity brigade to Venezuela to expose Australian people to the reality of the Bolivarian Revolution. And we hope that participants will return to this country to help counter the lies perpetrated by politicians and the mainstream media here against the Venezuelan process."

The conference also heard wonderful musical performances from the Sydney Trade Union Choir; Mexican harpist Victor Valdez; and Venezuelan dancer, now resident in Sydney, Minerva Mosquera.

The conference finished with closing remarks from Venezuelan Ambassador Nelson Davila, and discussion of possible future activities in solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution.

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