Paul Benedek, Caracas
On August 6, members of the first Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Brigade visited the Barrio 23rd of January. From the time we entered barrio's public housing, located in an old military area that had been taken over by residents, it was clear this was a place of heightened political activity and organisation.
A "liberated zone", they called it, as we saw youths painting banners and murals, dressed in matching Che-barrio shirts and bandanas, as they escorted us to the meeting place. We were told by leading members, no more than 25 years' old, how they had expelled the corrupt police from the area and had secured it themselves, had fought to get rid of crime, were drug free, and proudly highly organised.
We heard from campesino leaders about the struggle to implement land reform. A woman leader of the barrio, who is also a member of a feminist organisation, spoke about women's struggles and the efforts to involve women in all struggles, and for women not to be seen as sexual objects or merely for housework, but as equals in the revolution.
The barrio organisation, highly disciplined, committed itself to defend Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with their lives. Its members — aged from barely in the teens to late 20s — were the leaders of the community, taking the revolution forward in the local area.
As we toured we came across friendly young soldiers, there to help guard the barrio, part of the civilian-military links. The murals here were amazing and they invited us to "take a few shots from the roof". Little did we know what they meant.
We climbed a 15-storey building and went out onto its open roof, with amazing views of the barrio and the whole of Caracas. Then the comrades started obviously well practised military-style chanting for the revolution, on the side of the building, before letting off firecrackers and revealing that they were all armed. As the people say, "the revolution is peaceful, but it is not unarmed".
Here were an amazing bunch of youth, highly organised, that had helped clean up their barrio, and had formed an armed organisation for its and the revolution's defence, all atop a 15-storey building.
[Paul Benedek was a participant in the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Brigade, which visted Venezuela from July 27 to August 15.]
From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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