The Revolution Inside

From Latin American Odyssey, to a profound investigation of the Bolivarian revolution. Hugo Chavez says: Socialism or Death! Leftists rejoice, and Capitalists squeal. But what do the people of Venezuela think about all of this?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Day Cornel West Came To See Me

At first, it might not seem like Harry Belafonte, Cornel West, and others, including Dolores Huerta, coming to Venezuela has anything directly to do with a project directed at celebrating, discovering, and displaying the diversity of Latin American communities.

But, you know, it`s always nice to have these folks come and visit you anyway. Makes you think you`re in the right place at the right time.

They were here as part of the run up to the World Social Forum January 24 to 29 here in Caracas, for a conference of progressive US leaders of color against racism.

Though the event was held at the Caracas Hilton, and the attendees were definitely better off Caraqueños. The event didn`t exactly feel like a socialist revolution. Nevertheless, West, true to his Liberation Theological intellectual background, gave a fiery speech, in English, about the role of US progressives in the Bolivarian Process.

I could remark at length in criticism, but that wasn`t what it was about... what was useful to me, taking serious note of the privilege at this event, were some of the sentiments that play directly into the one-sided dialogue that has unfolded on this blog.
  1. At one point, the Princeton professor of Theology said that it`s not about the color of your skin, it`s about your values and beliefs, and what you`re working for. Obviously true, and so good to hear as a white person struggling with his presence in Latin America. But also, not taking into account the existing inequality which makes things complicated when white folk and people of color try to work together.
  2. That we needn`t think that the Bolivarian process is the right answer for always. West often refers to Socratic thinking in his public speaking, and on Friday, January 6th, he invoked the questioning process, the risk that it requires, and the risk involved in the Bolivarian experiment.
  3. He mentioned often the millions of "Americans" who don`t support Bush, and the crowd seemed to really enjoy every jab at the US administration, and the notion that people in the states might be looking to the changes in Latin America with hope - hope for a multipolar world, hope for a foreign policy landscape that really can change the systems that maintain violent inequality, and nourish democractic organizing instead of crushing it for profit.
  4. And my favorite point among many: that he doesn`t like to say he`s optimistic. Optimism, he said, is "spectatorial". Optimism watches TV or listens to the radio and says, I think things are going to turn out ok in Venezuela. Hope, on the other hand, is participatory, and risky. Hope requires you to get your hands dirty, and show some solidarity by getting yourself involved in the risk.

Chavistas Greet Evo Morales

I was so lucky to have just arrived back in Caracas earlier last week. I had been wondering whether or not to go to the Venezuelan coast and try to find a cheap place to kick back for a few days while I`m waiting for the World Social Forum; or go ahead and go back to the city, even though that meant staying in a bachelor-pad-like cheesy love hotel (All of the cheap hotels are "love hotels" here in Venezuela, meaning that they do most of their business by the hour.) But going back to the city, I knew, was the only way to try to get accommodations arranged for the KBOO and TV set people who will come to VZ for the WSF, try to get my equipment fixed, try, above all, to acheive the elusive quest of meeting a Chavista.

You see, while I spent a month in Valencia, I met a lot of really nice people and taught English to them. But they are business owners, people who work for auto companies, former oil company employees... they all are pretty well off, they`ve been to Miami before... and they hate Chavez. They fear and loathe him. And though the folks I spoke with are not at all crazy, I often felt that we reached the point where it became difficult to have a rational discussion with them about Venezuelan politics. More than one person mentioned the desire to leave Venezuela and move to the United States. More on all this at some other time. The point is: as people from the United States, whatever our humble background, if we come to Latin America, we are automatically in the upper class. And that`s especially true here in Venezuela, where there is a lot of money, and a lot of resources, and a significant middle-upper middle class. We privileged folk don`t automatically get access to the poor 80%, living in the barrios, they are kind of roped off. It doesn`t give you instructions in the Lonely Planet to get to the ranchos (as the poor parts are called in Venezuela).

Anyway, I woke up and turned on the TV (I watch TV in Latin America, in the hotels, because it`s one of my best sources for constant language practice), and found out from the state controlled media source, which I quite enjoy, that Evo Morales would be in the National Pantheon THIS MORNING.. ASISTE! ASISTE! (which means, ATTEND, ATTEND!). So I did as I was told.

It was pretty interesting, I was within 500 ft of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and this fellow from Peru that I`d never heard of - another leftist candidate in their upcoming elections, Ollanta Humala. I got some good pictures, and after hours of being too chicken to interview people, I finally screwed up my courage, and here`s a little bit of translated words from the mouths of Chavez supporters:

> > ----> > MALE: We´re here to receive the president of Bolivia and compañero Evo Morales - which vindicates history`s truly wounded people of this land, the ones who were here first. Evo Morales represents more than 500 years of history, he represents the clamor, the tragedy, the pain... but also the hope of many generations; hundreds of thousands of human beings throughout the lands of Latin America. This is an historic meeting, it signifies, in the first place, the solidarity manifesting in the world for the Venezuelan revolution as an historic Bolivarian process. And from that, the perspective that they have in Venezuela is to bring support to the Bolivian people: for example, Venezuela has promised Bolivia to bring their new president here and recognize the will of millions of Bolivians.

> > ----> > MALE: It`s important because it underlines Latin American unity - Because the people who are resisting imperialism are increasing all the time. There are changes in South America, the integration of countries is one of them. Changes like Mercosur and Petrocaribe. We can see the cooperation of different countries to share resources. For example, one country has natural gas, another has minerals, another has petroleum. We collaborate with the countries without petroleum, and give them oil in exchange for their resources.

> > ----> > FEMALE: We`re here enjoying the welcome for Evo Morales, indigenous president who is making history in Latin America. He`s the first indigenous > president of his nation. As I understand it, as I`ve heard on TV, he has help. I hope that he can maintain his autonomy, maintain his roots. We see some Bolivarians have forgotten Bolivarianismo, forgotten their identity. I hope that Evo Morales can, in this sense, vindicate and not follow the past of losing touch with his roots as a coca farmer... coca is part of the Bolivian economy, and what some countries want to do is destroy that. I hope he can reinvigorate the economy, taking into account all the social classes in that country. He will have to be very careful, because as we`ve already heard, this Fidel, Chavez, they are "dangerous". Why dangerous? Because they listen to the voice of the people, because they listen to he voices of the indigenous? It`s like here, in Venezuela where the Chavez legislature has gotten more votes and more delegates - Morales validates the fundamental indigenous participation in the government. This is the decisive hour. The people will not be dominated by other governments.

> > ----> > FEMALE: We wanted to see Evo Morales, don`t know him personally but i`ve seen him on television... I like him a lot as a president, and it makes me happy to see the continuation in other countries of the process that is happening here in Venezuela with Chavez and the Revolution.

> > ---> >FEMALE: it`s really important, the solidarity of Latin America, now with Evo in Bolivia, now with Uruguay, Brazil; with Argentina, with Venezuela, we are going to form a strong front - not to fight against the gringos - the gringos have their own problems. The gringos, or the northamerican people, they have to solve their own problems. But together we can confront them if we have to. We aren´t afraid of the gringos coming to invade us... they`re not going to invade.

But if they do come to invade, they will encounter a front that is not just Venezuela, but also Brazil, like i told you before, now we have our friend Evo Morales, we have our friend Kirschner in Argentina who we can count on.. so, they`re not going to invade. I would like to mention something I learned today. Evo Morales is an Aymaran Indian, born from that tribe. And they have three words: Amasua, Amanquella, and Amallulla. Amasua means don´t be a thief. Amanquella: don`t be lazy; and Amallulla, don`t be a liar. This is a message from Venezuela to the people of North America: Amasua, Amanquella, Amayuya.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Have Microphone, Already Traveling

That may be one of the most clichéd subject headings I´ve ever written, and I´ve written my share. Still, it´s so where I am at right now.

To bring you up to speed: I´m writing at an internet cafe (1200 Bolivars per hour, about 50 cent, a little expensive) in Valencia, Venezuela. I taught English here for about 3 weeks in December to upper-class folks. I appear to have some karma in Valencia, because I keep having to come back here... and it´s an interesting city, very near where Simon Bolivar won the Battle of Carabobo that finally finished off the Spanish. But as Venezuela´s second-larges city, and a major industrial center, it leans a little more to the right than I´m comfortable with.

I kind of hoped to find some folks who support the Chavez government, because purportedly, more than half the country does. But one thing I´m realizing is, as a white guy on my own, with only passable spanish, I don´t get access to poor people. They are live in endless shanty towns that ring all the South American capitals. Without contacts, I only get to interact with people roughly in the same social class as me, which are the Chavez-hating people with college degrees.

The funny thing is, here, if you support the Chavez government, the people who went to the University think you´re a little dumb. I find it interesting that the folks in the US who hate Bush and want to leave the country (like many of my friends) are also the educated class. Though we aren´t quite considered as elite in the US as University-educated folk are "Latin America", we are still in the same global privileged class. It´s sort of like... privilege everywhere, whether left or right, when it doesn´t get what it wants decides to take it´s ball and go home. And of course, we can observe in "Latin America" right now that its the under privileged, those without all those "choices" and "options", who are actually putting their feet down and creating some democracy. Cuz they don´t have any other options, other than escaping to a crappy job in the US.

Anyway, almost everyone to whom I was teaching English either intends to do business with the US, or wants to move to the US to get out of their dangerously left-leaning country. And by the way, yes, they all have lighter skin, enough that people talk to me in Spanish in these neighborhoods. They look just like the people on the TV!

But you´ve heard enough about that from me (though I´m not quite finished writing about it) but it´s time to get some serious work done.

KBOO and I have been fortunate enough to receive a Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media grant by the Funding Exhange - $5,000 to build a documentary series on the diversity of communities in Central and South America. That is amazing! The difficulty is that I had to split with my partner in order to accept the grant. That makes my work a lot harder, with my level of Spanish. But I have a plan, and I´d like to share it with you - here, on this three-month anniversary of crossing the border at Nogales, AZ.

Goal: to record audio from 10 to 15 communities in "Latin America" and create short 5 to 10 minute audio features highlighting some feature of those communities. Upon return, edit and assemble the features into a 5-part documentary, in both Spanish and English. The pieces will be grouped into themes, which will probably reflect the influence of the US on this vast region. We will try to distribute the documentary, in whole or in part, as widely as possible.

Method: 2 months in Central America has yielded audio from 5 different communities. Because I`m a non-native spanish speaker who is obviously a gringo, success will depend upon my ability to seek out and make relationships with groups whose goals fit this project. The grant allows for 20 weeks of $100 stipends, which will allow me to pay the travel and living expenses for partners who want to assist me.

My resources are:

-- human rights and social justice organizations for interviews and contacts
-- independent media groups and organizations for recruiting partners
-- the World Social Forum in Caracas in late January and make as many contacts as possible.

I will attempt to cover as much ground as I possibly can, but logistics of getting around an entire continent and trying to establish real relationships, and the luck of the contacts that turn up will ultimately form the shape of this work.

I will detail the equipment we are using, and have been using, in another email. Any equipment bought with grant funds will go to KBOO to help develop Spanish News and Public Affairs.

You´ll hear more about the people we meet and organizations we work with, as well as the politics and the realities of "Latin America" as we experience it in the coming months. And, you´ll get bits and pieces of what´s gone on in the past three months, as appropriate... with more reminders that only you (us) - that is, privileged folks from the US - can stop our government before it kills again. With the election of Evo Morales as the first indigenous president of Bolivia, we again get an example of what democracy might look like from the folks who have the least to work with.

here´s an article about Evo Morales, with a good summary of the recent situation in Bolivia.

From the article:
I respect Cuba a lot. When it comes to Che Guevara, our only difference is the
armed struggle--I don't accept armed struggle. Maybe it was the way in the
'50s and '60s, but we want a democratic revolution.