President Hugo Chavez’s voice calling for a free and integrated Latin America reverberated loudly through the halls of the National Union of Teachers London premises on Thursday June 4, 2015. Channeling Chavez, Marti, Bolivar and Sandino, Guisell Morales-Echaverry, the first resident Nicaraguan ambassador to the UK since 1998, echoed demands for one voice against poverty. She called for continued resolve to walk down the avenues of new realities and new ways, first opened by Chavez, towards freedom and fraternity, equally.
The event celebrated ten years of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign’s work diligently defending Venezuela’s sovereignty and independence, to support the right of the Venezuelan people to determine their own future free from external intervention. Medea Benjamin, founder of the human rights group Global Exchange & the women-led peace group CODEPINK, and journalist Seumas Milne, expressed incredulity at President Obama’s March 2015 executive order declaring Venezuela a threat to the U.S.’s national security. Indeed, the mirror opposite is true. The U.S. has supported destabilizing efforts in Venezuela for nearly fifteen years.
Who is the U.S. to question Venezuela’s human rights record?, asked Benjamin and the Argentinean ambassador to the UK, Alicia Castro. The U.S., a country which promoted UN sanctions in Iraq which led to the deaths of half a million children, a country which later occupied Iraq – illegally and hungry for oil – which separately led to the deaths of an additional one million Iraqis.
A country which has tortured people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, on illicit extraordinary rendition flights, and the secret CIA black site prisons located in Thailand, Morocco, Romania, Lithuania, and Poland. A country which incarcerates thousands of youths for petty crimes and whose police shoot down innocent black youths. A country which spies on environmental justice and peace activists. A country which retains the barbaric death penalty, while Venezuela (the first country in the world to do so) abolished the death penalty for all crimes by Constitution in 1863.
The proponents of neo-liberal ideology, from the Telegraph to the Cato Institute, have been insistent on labeling Venezuela’s economy a “basket case” in recent months. No doubt, there are problems in Venezuela; U.S. imposed sanctions, reductions in oil prices, and a belligerent anti-democratic opposition have imposed social and economic strife. Yet, the Venezuelan government remains committed to reducing poverty, initiating further social housing developments, and hastening access to medical services, all while promoting human-centered regional integration and international solidarity, avoiding the stupidity of economic austerity and cuts to social spending.
Venezuela fiercely fought against the expansion of NAFTA type free-trade agreements in the region. Instead, promoting visions of regional integration based on solidarity, where doctors and teachers are provided in exchange for oil, and where Latin American countries seek to support themselves and each other in the quest for a good life for the peoples of their countries. This principle has been extended to countries in need, including Ebola hit regions, Haiti, and Palestine.
With Venezuela’s leadership, Latin America has become a region where people and the natural resources of a country can no longer automatically be deemed “raw materials”, freely available to U.S. corporations to support the “growth” of bank accounts belonging to wealthy shareholders in the Global North (shareholders who, incidentally, hide this profit from their own governments in creative tax avoidance schemes). Instead, Latin American nations are demanding sovereignty and experimenting with economic policies initiated to be subservient to the needs of the people.
Visions of regional integration championed so forcefully by Chavez continue to materialize today. In December 2014 the headquarters of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) opened in Quito, Ecuador. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is another example of an attempt to counter U.S. hegemony in the region, a hegemony based on the philosophy that Latin America is the U.S.’s “back yard”, open to exploitation and control.
The U.S. no longer has the same control over Latin America as it did in the not too distant past. Yet, much work still needs to be done to protect the long road to freedom for the peoples of the Americas. Matt Willgress, National Co-ordinator for the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign encouraged everyone at the gathering to support Venezuela in the challenging year ahead. Alicia Castro asked, what models do we want to follow? The vision of Latin American integration for the equal development of peoples and nations? Or the vision of neo-liberal free trade, for the benefit of corporations?
Explo Nani-Kofi, who has coordinated the Campaign Against Proxy War in Africa & the IMF-World Bank Wanted For Fraud Campaign, poignantly said, there is no guarantee that the positive developments made in the region will continue on their current path. It is up to you and I to change the institutions which enforce our current reality, and support positive initiatives for liberation. Jeremy Corbyn MP, echoing recent political struggles in Greece and Spain, argued for bringing that struggle home, in the fight against cuts to social services and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in the UK and Europe.
We can show solidarity to Venezuela by supporting organizations seeking to tell the truth about the positive developments in the region, and by undertaking our own campaigns at home against the domination of neo-liberal ideology in the UK and Europe.