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?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Dos Meses

It´s been just about two months since my last entry. I now know that simply claiming my commitment to updating you all about this project doesn´t necessarily work. Nevertheless, now I´m really going to write regularly. Probably.

Here´s what has happened since Cornel West and Harry Belafonte came to town. First, my friend, guide, and translator helped me get a job. While I recognize a massive imbalance in that people all over latin america risk their lives and families to come to work in the USA for very little, sometimes without authorization to do so... and I can come here and teach English and occupy a respectable position here. I don´t like this imbalance, but I will do the work while I`m here.

Also, during January, I was running around like mad trying to figure out accommodation for friend from Portland for the World Social Forum. The WSF deserves it´s own entry, and I have one written in my head, but for now, I´ll say that I spent days searching for a place to sleep, preferably in the barrios. I did turn up one night in a radio station called Radio Negro Primero, but ultimately, that wouldn´t have worked for all of us. We ended up spending a couple of weeks in Hotel Waldorf, believe it or not, in the old immigrant section of West Caracas called La Candelaria. Very close to many of the events for the Forum, it was a great spot, and we ended up making many friends in the neighborhood just by bumbling around and needing help from the incredibly hospitable Venezuelans in our area.

The WSF itself was pretty disorganized, and that was disappointing, but we still had some peak experiences, like the delegation from Bolivia that literally rocked the swank Teatro Teresa Carreno performance auditorium talking about real bottom up democracy. Time will tell what goes on in Bolivia, but that´s where to look to find an example of people taking power, in my opinion.

Naturally, Portland friends Barbara (KBOO), Jim and Elizabeth (Portland Cable Access and TV Set) Ellen (Laughing Horse), Chelsea (SF Committee for Solidarity with People of El Salvador) and John (Portland State U) wanted to see a little of the country while they were here. We went to Merida for five days. There, we encountered a small chapel completely made of stone, frailejones in the Paramo, the world´s longest cable car, rain, a disorienting replica of an italian castle used as a hotel, and runny noses all around. I met with a group of gringos, mostly from Los Angeles, who are working within one of the government social programs called Mision Sucre, which provides access to University education for poorer Venezuelans. They are teaching English to Mision Sucre students, and I gave a little workshop on how to teach. I think it went well, but i haven´t heard from them since. Still, they´re rocking as folks trying to find a way to use their privilege in an appropriate way.

By February 10th, everyone had gone home. Immediately, I had a workshop to give at the school where I´m teaching. It went well, about 15 teachers showed up out of 30 (of course, the ones who already were the best teachers). But what really went on for me that week was a move into the barrio of La Dolorita, up in the hills above Petare (one of the biggest barrios in the world). Though I have been repeatedly warned by middle class folks and guidebooks, the area I´m staying in is poor, and the people I´m living with are great. Plus, they´ve just put up a small radio station, and currently are trying to get a license for it. They broadcast on 6 watts every night for a couple of hours, and are starting to generate interest within the community, even the local priest in the Catholic church propagandized it during one of his sermons. I´m looking forward to watching it grow while I´m there for the next couple of months. They are grateful to the a media delegation from the states who helped them put up the antenna.

I intend to write more about my experiences as a privileged gringo living with poor folks to get the truth out about what their lives are like. I know that all the middle class folks I´ve met, after calling upon a host of cliches about poor folks and life in the barrios, have never spent any time there. Though I could be criticized, I suppose, for romanticizing life in the La Dolorita, my intention is to bring some resources from the US to folks who don´t have so much. And at the same time, since I have the privilege of being able to move among the rich and the poor in Venezuela, but haven´t been socialized to fear being a class traitor, I relish the opportunity to set straight middle-upper class Venezuelans about the character of poor folks. I should be embarrassed to say where I live, but... I´m not, and that´s all. Keep that in mind when you meet Venezuelans in the US - very nice people, but often they will be well to do Venezuelans who claim to live in fear of Chavez and the so-called Bolivarian revolution. Almost invariably, what they want is to move the United States, or already have children there.

During Carnaval, I spent a week in a small town called Jusepin, 20 minutes from Maturin, the capital of Monagas state. Jusepin also deserves it´s own entry, but we had the opportunity there, in just a few days to talk with dozens of people living in an oil rich area (this place has enough oil that, years ago, our friends Halliburton came an left behind them a small zone that still carries its name!), but who don´t have a grocery store, a bank, or sufficient medical resources. The story of the women who blocked the roads to get some ambulances to their community will come another day, but gives you an idea of how regular folks, from the Barrios of Caracas, to small towns are feeling empowered to make the changes they want to see in their communities.

And I´m writing this to remind us, in the United States... there are a lot of people waiting for us to follow their example and change the power dynamics in our own country. more soon.


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