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Conference Founds Venezuela Solidarity Network

By Josh Sykes

Venezuela Solidarity conference attendees picket NED offices.

Washington D.C. – Over 500 students, trade unionists and solidarity activists gathered here, March 4 – 6, for the National Venezuela Solidarity Conference. They founded the Venezuela Solidarity Network and united the forces struggling against U.S. intervention in Venezuela. The conference was a huge success. Attendees gathered in support of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, lead by President Hugo Chavez.

Conference speakers included Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera and Venezuelan lawyer Jose Perierra, involved in the extradition case of the anti-Cuban terrorist Posada. Evening performances of poetry and music from Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia were popular.

The conference workshops were diverse: “What are the Bolivarian Circles and how to form one in your area,” with Jorge Marin, Coordinator of Bolivarian Circle of Boston; “Plan Colombia and its effects on Venezuela and the region,” with Meredith Aby and Tom Burke of the Colombia Action Network, Gerardo Cajamarca of the SINALTRAINAL union in Colombia and Berta Ceci of IAC.

There was also a workshop on “Solidarity actions in high schools and colleges,” with Kati Ketz and Eric Gardener of the Socialist Unity League, a student group at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and Sonja Swanson of the Bolivarian Youth in Miami. Others workshops were held on Haiti, the Venezuelan cooperative movement, and the Venezuelan constitution.

Discussion among activists centered on how to rally support for Venezuela and the role of the Bolivarian Circles, the groups of poor and oppressed people in Venezuela and elsewhere who fight everyday for the Bolivarian Revolution.

Pieter Wessels from Socialist Unity League in Asheville, North Carolina commented, “It’s great to see so many people from so many different groups come here and put aside their ideological differences, however important those differences may be, in order to stand here this weekend, right here in D.C., the political heart of imperialism, to say that we are with Venezuela. We are with Chavez. We are against U.S. intervention in Venezuela on the part of capitalists’ interests. That hurts all of us, both here and in Venezuela. We uphold Venezuela’s right to self-determination and we won’t stand for any further interference in Venezuela’s affairs. This is what solidarity means. This is what it is all about.”

A plenary held during the conference successfully founded the Venezuela Solidarity Network to fight back against any further intervention in Venezuela on the part of U.S. imperialism and its allies. As the plenary sessions ended, delegates all joined to chant “Oh, ah, Chavez no se va!”

Propelled by the spirit of the conference, protesters picketed the offices of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in support of Venezuela and Haiti on March 6. The NED funded and sponsored the Venezuelan non-governmental organizations that participated in the 2002 attempted coup against Chavez. The NED and the same NGO’s sponsored the thoroughly defeated recall referendum against Chavez two years later. Both of these events rallied huge outpourings of mass support, which kept Chavez in power. The NED recently collaborated in the coup in Haiti against the democratically elected government of President Aristide and is now aiming its sights to prolong the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Over 40 people picketed the NED offices, chanting slogans and carrying banners and signs. The protest then marched several blocks to the AFL-CIO offices to demand that the AFL-CIO breaks its ties with the NED and the corrupt foreign policy of the White House. The AFL-CIO funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the coup makers in Venezuela. AFL-CIO president Sweeney has yet to take responsibility for the dirty work of his staff, though staff cutbacks and reshuffling may signify an attempt to deflect criticisms. Protesters demanded that the AFL-CIO build unity and trust with workers and union members in other countries. Protesters chanted, “AFL-CIO out of NED!”

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