During the final week of campaigning around Venezuela's December 2 constitutional reform referendum, which was narrowly defeated, solidarity activists from Australia and Canada had an opportunity to witness first hand the Bolivarian revolution being led by socialist President Hugo Chavez.
Organised by the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN), and with participants from Canada's Venezuela We Are With You Coalition, the brigade visited a number of local communities, sharing experiences with activists involved in building the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the communal councils and cooperatives, as well as Cuban doctors working in the Chavez government's Mission Barrio (Into the Neighbourhood) health program.
One of the highlights of the itinerary was the visit to the Libertador municipality in the state of Carabobo, a two-hour car drive west of Caracas. We were able to meet with Argenis Loreto, the mayor of municipality, which has 150,000 residents.
Through the communal councils and communes, which group together local councils, more and more decision-making power resides directly with working people in the communities, including deciding what happens with city council's budget.
We were able to see some of the concrete results of this process — new schools, health clinics, housing projects and centres for marginalised youth and vulnerable elderly people — as we visited different neighbourhoods together with leaders from the local communal council.
When we concluded our meeting with Loreto, he told us: "We are infinitely grateful for your solidarity because we have a big monster — imperialism — to fight and only you can break the silence and so that is why you are brothers and sisters to us."
Brigade members also participated in the massive demonstration that concluded the referendum's "Yes" campaign, and joined those who rallied at the presidential palace on the night when the results were announced, with Chavez declaring that he accepted the defeat of the proposed reforms "for now".
The brigade was the sixth delegation to Venezuela organised by the AVSN, which has helped some 150 Australians travel to Venezuela to see for themselves the massive social gains being made under the Chavez government.
The next brigade is scheduled to coincide with May Day celebrations in Caracas. This will be the third delegation in row to participate in these festivities. It will provide participants with an opportunity to learn more about Venezuela's labour movement and the Bolivarian revolution's experiences in promoting workers' participation in the running of the country's economy.
[Federico Fuentes was the organiser of the November 2007 AVSN brigade. Reports on the varied activities of the brigade can be read at the Venezuela We Are With You Coalition blog (