Having spent our first few days in Caracas, we travelled to Higurote, the capital of Brion municipality, in Miranda state, which is part of the coastal region known as Barlovento – a centre of African culture in Venezuela.
Since the start of the year, 76 women have died while giving birth in Lara state — the highest rate of any state in Venezuela and three times the rate for the rest of the country.
Speaking about the situation to Green Left Weekly, Katrina Kozarek from the Women’s Movement for Life in Barquisimeto, the capital of Lara, explained: “Both the doctors and nurses treat poor, black women really badly. They slap their bottoms, call them filthy names and say ‘stop screaming because you didn’t scream like that when you were having sex’.”
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.
With the Venezuelan right-wing opposition in disarray after failing to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro through violent protest, and divided in the face of the upcoming October 15 regional elections, the frontline of the battle for Venezuela’s future has shifted outside its borders.
Travelling past El Calvario Park, just a few blocks from the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, we see a familiar image: an outline of late former president Hugo Chavez’s eyes, painted across several stairs.
This image can be seen all over Caracas. The government of President Nicholas Maduro has converted it into a recognisable trademark, much like the iconic image of Che Guevara that is splashed across T-shirts, flags and walls the world over.
Hurricane Irma has just passed through the Caribbean, in a procession of tragedies that have destroyed lives and left material damage behind.
In response to this natural disaster, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sent humanitarian aid to Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda (with 95% of buildings in Barbuda destroyed), and the French colony of Saint Martin on September 10.
As Barbuda, part of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, reels from having almost the entirety of its infrastructure and 95% of its homes destroyed due to Hurricane Irma, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has rejected a moratorium proposal to discuss the island's US$3 million dollar debt.
“The US is doing the same thing as it did with the economic blockade on Cuba, to try and suffocate the Venezuelan economy” explained Williams Camacaro, a long-time Venezuelan grassroots activist based in New York.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly in Caracas, Camacaro said “The sanctions will cause a lot of difficulties for Venezuela”, but “the reality is that a lot of time has passed since [the blockade was first imposed on Cuba]. Many things have changed.”
Flying into Caracas, the plane was full of middle class Venezuelans travelling home from Miami. On board, no one spoke to the passenger next to them for fear of finding out they were on the opposite side of the political divide.
In highly polarised Venezuela, these things are best left unsaid.
A few days after arriving in Venezuela, we drive past La Carlota military base in the east of Caracas, which was a regular site for the violent street protests commonly known here as guarimbas.
The highway we were travelling on was often blockaded by protesters — guarimberos — who made up the backbone of the self-dubbed “La Resistencia”. They received glowing praise in the international media during the wave of protests that rocked the country from April to July.