By Aileen Montour
Boston – February 20, 2006 — Upon reflection after returning from Caracas, I realize that with all the competing activities/interests/objectives along with scheduling and logistics challenges, I probably experienced more of Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution than the World Social Forum. However, following the opportunities as they presented themselves each day resulted in serendipitously wonderful experiences and much less frustration.
I took seriously the objective to thank the Venezuelans for the discounted heating oil delivered to the low income people in Boston and to try to forge solidarity with the people of Venezuela. It was an incredible experience to carry the Boston delegation’s banner expressing our thanks as we walked in the opening march of the social forum and watch the faces and reactions of the Venezuelans lining the March route. They would intently read the message and then break into broad smiles, cheers and applause – such a warm and enthusiastic reception along the entire route.
That same spirit of welcome was evident at the Plaza Bolivar rally – an acceptance of our gratitude for the heating oil assistance for our poor, along with our messages rejecting war and imperialism and supporting peoples’ struggles for independence and justice from Venezuela to Puerto Rico. While my Spanish is extremely limited, I did get the sense that the people in attendance understood that we are not the government and do not support war and imperialism, but rather are desirous of building solidarity with them.
Another fortuitous experience was happening upon the Cuban tent and seeing very clearly and succinctly the huge gift of health care that the Cuban doctors have brought to the underserved in so many countries around the globe, despite being under the US embargo all these years. I had an opportunity to speak with several of these doctors at the tent as well as in the barrio Petare. As a registered nurse and licensed acupuncturist, I was very impressed to learn that their education includes not only traditional western medicine, but also acupuncture, herbal medicine and message therapy. Knowing first hand the value and benefits of such an integrated approach to healing, it was very encouraging to actually see it in practice. I was also impressed to see their approach to providing basic primary health care to everyone, with referral to the next levels of hospital or diagnostic center as necessary. Oh, that we in the US could find the political will to implement a basic level of primary health care for all, regardless of ability to pay.
The physician I met in Petare was responsible for approximately 180 families, kept meticulous records/statistics and noted the most frequently treated conditions included parasites, high blood pressure, the effects of violence and substance abuse. Living right there in the local community made him more easily accessible to the residents. He also noted the establishment of a program whereby those needing eye surgeries would be flown to Cuba for that treatment, regardless of ability to pay, treating preventable blindness.
The opportunity to visit Petare, the largest barrio in Latin America, was another important part of my experience of Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution, including stops at: Petare Community Radio, an independent source of information by and for communities (including cultural and educational information) run by a collective of about 50 people; Petare Community TV, currently under development – the first community based independent TV station in a barrio; Mercal – a local government supported community market with commodities at about half the price of commercial markets and unique packaging bearing messages about voting, literacy programs and opposing corruption; the local Cuban doctor’s clinic.
While the people we met on our travels seemed very sincere in their commitment to this social change and the movement toward economic justice and opportunities for all members of society, we also did hear from some folks opposed to these changes. The criticisms included: not enough happening, charges of corruption, “why should I give up any of what I’ve worked hard for to share with the lazy?” Chavez only talks/does nothing, more street vendors since Chavez is president. But still I remain impressed with having a president committed to using his power and resources to help those most in need and with the strategy of trying to empower the poor to help themselves with literacy programs, opportunities for higher education, sustainable food production and distribution, independent media, health care, housing, water development projects, to name a few, with the active participation of the women as well as the men.
One of the WSF events that I was able to attend was the “International Women’s Tribunal: Against the Patriarchal Violence of Neoliberalism”. While I will leave it to others to more fully describe this panel, I must note how powerful and moving an experience it was and how I take hope and inspiration from the ongoing struggles of our sisters in Latin America.
Visiting Venezuela and experiencing a little of the World Social Forum have been invaluable experiences. I return home a little more educated and enlightened, better prepared to speak out, open to continuing to be educated, ready to continue collaborative efforts and grateful to have met the wonderful people in our delegation – new friends and allies in the ongoing struggles for peace and justice.