Using the Metro Cable car system built under former president Hugo Chavez, our solidarity delegation to the South American nation, organised by Venezuelanalysis.com, travelled high up into the mountain to the neighbourhood of San Agustin.
The Metro Cable system, the first of its kind in Venezuela, was inspired by a visit by Chavez to Austria where he saw dozens of chairlifts going up and down the mountains.
Like many of the projects initiated as part of the pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution that Chavez spearheaded, the Metro Cable has changed the lives of the poor who live in barrios such as San Agustin in the hills surrounding Caracas.
Before its inception, it was impossible for the elderly, the sick, disabled and young children to climb up and down the hundreds of steps that connected their homes with downtown Caracas.
At San Agustin, we joined a group of young people painting murals. One mural simply said “Chavez” in huge letters. There are hundreds of beautiful murals all over the city supporting the government, with many references to Chavez.
In the afternoon, we visited the Canaima Industrial Centre, which assembles computers that are given for free to children and students across Venezuela.
The government has given away 6 million laptops to students from the start of primary school level all the way up to university. The children can take their laptops home with them after class so that their grandparents can learn to use them as well.
The laptops do not use any program owned by Microsoft, instead using freely available operating system and programs. This is just one more example of why US capitalism resents the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro.
The Ministry of Education designed the curriculum and programs for different ages of school children, according to their own culture and needs. There are six different models and more than 800 Infocentres throughout the country, one in every municipality, were students can access free internet.
The children also teach other children to create their own software. The children create their own content and share with others. They are also developing new technologies and software, especially for music.
The government is also considering providing prisoners with a tablet to use for study purposes.
Later that day, we observed a discussion hosted by the Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance (ASGDRe). Set up in 2009, the alliance works on providing cultural-political education as well as campaigning to reform Venezuela’s existing sex and gender laws. They are fighting for visibility and a broader understanding of human sexuality within society.
They prefer not to be called “queer”, which they view as a particularly Western terms, instead choosing to use the term gender diverse.
The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or race, but there is no specific reference to gays or lesbians. This is something ASGDRe hopes to change with the recently-inaugurated National Constituent Assembly, which is empowered to debate constitutional reforms that will then be put to a popular vote.
The gay and lesbian community were not one of the sectors from which candidates to the constituent assembly could be elected from as it was deemed that sectors had to represent at least 600,000 persons. In the latest census, only 6000 individuals identified as gay or lesbian.
The main legal campaign ASGDRe are taking part in is for gay or lesbian couples to be recognised as a “family” unit, with all the benefits this implies in terms of social security, pensions and access to benefits for any children, among others.
Currently, a single lesbian or gay man can adopt children, but not as a couple.
Another issue is that of marriage equality. Polls indicate that a majority of Venezuelans oppose equal marriage. ASGDRe believes that a mass education campaign needs to be started in order to win this fight.
In terms of transgender rights, transgender people do not have the right to change their legal gender under existing law, even though they are able to change their name. This is another change they are pushing for, including through a successful petition by five activists to the Supreme Court to recognize their right to “the identification and expression of self-perceived gender”.