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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Venezuela: Beginning to Borrow Some Revolution

Second in a series

Tomas Gorman • 12 May 2005

The queue snaked for several blocks around Congress and the Plaza Bolivar, which honours Venezuela's 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar. Perplexed, I asked my comrade Oscar why so many people were waiting in the hot afternoon sun. "Ah, the government is giving away one million copies of Don Quixote."

Chavez is a keen reader and must have been inspired by the classic tale of the poor knight setting off to put the world to right.

"Don't be left without your Quixote!" Chavez said this week. "We are all going to read Quixote to feed our spirit with this fighter who came out to get rid of injustice and fix the world."

"To some degree we are followers of Quixote," he added.

This is one of the many examples of Chavez trying to use his position to both benefit and inspire the Venezuelan People. Incredibly, his critics accuse him of squandering extraordinary oil revenues on what they perceive as "stunts" like the book offer and "inefficient" social programs. They also accuse him of steering the poverty-stricken country toward what they call a Cuba-style "dictatorship".

Josefina, another comrade vehemently denied that Chavez's objectives were irrational or implausible. "I believe in his vision, and many of us share the same vision," the 46-year-old community worker said. To pay what Chavez calls "a social debt" left by past governments; he has spent millions on social programs that include a nationwide literacy program, scholarships to help people finish high school and Cuban doctors to improve healthcare in slums.

To prove her point, Josefina took me to the Lidice district, situated next to hers in the vast working class barrio of Western Caracas, to see one of the many initiatives that she volunteers in. Getting off the bus at Lidice, I noticed a small group of women wearing red Chavista t-shirts all chatting boisterously. Josefina shepherded me towards the group of women and I was introduced by her as "Tomas, the Irish comrade here to borrow some revolution". I was greeted warmly with kisses on the cheek and a slap on the arse.

This was the Lidice women's collective, a close group of fiercely pro-Chavista who were engaged in various initiatives in their community.

Most notable was the "Community Kitchen". Twice a day, every day, the women got together and cooked lunch and dinner for over 150 of the district poorest. The food for the project is provided by the National Nutrition Ministry and one of the women with a larger house donated two small rooms to the collective that are used as a kitchen/larder and a serving hatch. It was moving to see the pride the women had in their efforts.

Thankfully, Yollimar, a tall attractive woman, spoke some English and was able to explain to me the work that the women do and what motivates them. "Before Chavez and the MVR (Movement for the Fifth Republic) came to power we did not have the ability to do things like these. We had seen the problems we had in the community but did not have the means to do anything. Now we have the support of the government and are confident that we can make good changes."

At the Juan Alberdi School where I volunteer, tangible benefits of the Revolution are also apparent. The school staff organised a canteen along with the Nutrition ministry to provide a free and healthily balanced meal to every pupil and member of staff every school day. I take advantage of the meals when I can and can vouch for their quality. Fresh vegetables, rice, beans and a little meat with fresh fruit for desert is quite a meal juxtaposed with the veritable junk fed to our children back home.

My English classes have proved to be quite popular with the children and I have been asked to volunteer my services to the adult English classes at night. The school doubles as a primary school during the day and an adult learning centre at night where adults take advantage of the Mision Ribas. The Mision Ribas is a programme for adults who wish to continue their education at secondary school level after the basic literacy Mision Robinson programme.

The hunger for knowledge that the people, who deprived of a decent education for so long, show is staggering. Alberto, an elderly pupil is short sighted and had the misfortune of breaking his glasses. Instead of staying at home until he gets a new pair, he decided to make use of a pair of toy binoculars to read the writing on the blackboard and TV — an amusing but stirring sight.

The education programmes seem to be the driving force behind the awakened political and social consciousness of the Venezuelan people, which has reached levels I have rarely, if ever, encountered before. I was taken aback by some of the encounters I have had with ordinary working class people here in Caracas.

One typically hot night, Oscar and me were walking back up the steep hill of the Manicomio area and were finding it tough going. We happened upon one of the typical open fronted off licenses, here in Caracas, that serves as an Al Fresco bar for the people who can't afford a social night out. Instead they enjoy a bottle or two of beer with their friends on the pavement outside of the off license. I invited Oscar for a cold beer and a few middle-aged men noticed the white fellow struggling with his Spanish and one of them asked me in perfect English where I was from. When I replied he suddenly took a greater interest. "Ah Belfast, future is not so certain after "Macarni" killing". I was dumbfounded whilst the five of us sat and discussed the recent events in political scene in Ireland for over an hour. I asked them how they spoke English and knew about Ireland. They told me that they had taken the Mision Robinson and Ribas programmes and used the Internet to look at International politics as if it were a most common and normal thing for any man to do.

I explained this to James, the English gent kind enough to put me up for my stay, and he said this was quite common. I was greatly encouraged. In the political dust bowl of Ireland it had been quite trying for a lefty like me for quite some time and this oasis of political activity and working grass roots socialism has boosted my beliefs in a better system. I have already begun to borrow some revolution.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

22 May 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

How Those In Power Respond
Anthony McIntyre

Seeking Clarity — And Safety
Justice for Jimmy Campaign

Behind the Betrayal
Philip Ferguson

Self-Deception and Distortion
Tomas Maguire

Civil Case/Witch Hunt
N. Corey

No Entry
Anthony McIntyre

The Moral Reason Never to Tell
Dr John Coulter

Venezuela: Beginning to Borrow Some Revolution
Tomas Gorman

Dangerous Drugs
Sean Fleming

Rebel City
Liam O Ruairc

15 May 2005

'The SDLP Hasn't Gone Away, You Know'
Tom Luby

Facing Fire
Anthony McIntyre

Venezuela: Arrival
Tomas Gorman

Fred A. Wilcox

Support IRELAND and PALESTINE on June 4th
Mags Glennon



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