Solidarity activists who recently returned from a fact-finding tour of Venezuela are calling for concrete actions by the Australian community to assist the Venezuelan people currently facing economic hardship, primarily as a result of harsh US sanctions.
Among the proposals raised at a March 30 forum held in the Maritime Union of Australia Sydney offices were to send a container’s load of goods directly to grassroots organisations and to raise funds for an agro-ecological school.
There is also a proposal to send a solidarity delegate to Venezuela in January next year.
Freelance journalist Joe Montero told the meeting that the delegation had asked Venezuelans in the streets and in community meetings for their opinions on the current situation.
According to Montero, most emphasised that, despite the problems of shortages and power blackouts, they want to resolve their issues on their own, without foreign intervention from the US or elsewhere.
"Life is tough for most people, but it's not the picture of mass starvation presented in the Australian mainstream media,” Montero said. “Many poor people told us ‘It used to be a lot worse’ under the old oligarchy.”
On the other hand, supporters of "self-declared interim president" Juan Guaido feel threatened by the gains made under the Bolivarian Revolution led by former President Hugo Chavez, and now President Nicolas Maduro. Members of the middle class feel they have lost their privileges and social status under these progressive regimes.
"The question of political power is at the centre of the crisis now," Montero said. “The people are demanding democracy from below, while Guaido, under orders from the US government, is pushing to establish a regime once again dominated by the old ruling class and the US corporations.
"The Venezuelan people are struggling to build their future. They are striving to set a foundation for working people taking power into their own hands. If they fail, and the Maduro government falls, the country will take a huge step backwards.”
Federico Fuentes, from the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN), said the political climate in Caracas and other regional cities that the delegation visited was "remarkably calm" given the critical circumstances of Venezuela today.
Despite the huge political gulf between the Chavista movement and opposition supporters, there was "no sign of people being at war against each other, as the Western media trys to portray the situation”, Fuentes said.
"After 15 years of important social gains during the Chavista period of government that began in 1999, and which included a huge expansion in public housing, free health and education, and cheap basic services, it is evident that many of these have been eroded as a result of the current economic crisis,” he said.
“But people overwhelmingly want a peaceful solution to Venezuela's problems.”
Fuentes noted: “The communal councils and other community organisations are working together to try to overcome the shortages of food, medicine and other goods.”
He stressed the urgent need for increased international solidarity with those on the ground, organising at the grassroots: "We need to demand the immediate lifting of US and European sanctions against Venezuela, and an end to the interference into Venezuela's domestic affairs.
“Even many supporters of the opposition reject military and other actions against Venezuela, as they feel they only strengthen popular support for the Maduro government.”
The international community, including Australia, needs to step up its campaign against the sanctions and any threats of military intervention. "The Venezuelan people want the right to determine their own affairs, and we must demand that they are able to achieve that without US and other foreign interference," Fuentes said.