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Features

Chávez’s legacy, African solidarity and the African American people

The Bolivarian Revolution reaffirms linkages with oppressed around the world

Abayomi Azikiwe

2013-04-10, Issue 625

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/86947

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Hugo Chávez’s implementation of the Bolivarian revolution inspired African American people as well as other oppressed people around the globe. They expressed their opposition to ‘the unconscionable low-intensity war that is being waged against the people and national sovereignty of Venezuela since the inception of the Chávez Frias administration.’

President Comandante Hugo Chávez Frias passed away on 5 March, 2013 in the capital city of Venezuela, Caracas. Chávez will be remembered for his efforts in the transformation of Venezuela and Latin America away from the dominance of United States imperialism.
Chávez championed socialism, national liberation and international solidarity. He reaffirmed the indigenous and African roots of Venezuelan and Latin American culture and society.

NEW AVENUES FOR SOLIDARITY

This recognition of the African and indigenous heritage of the people of South America opened new avenues for solidarity with the Caribbean, the African continent and the African American people of the US. After the consolidation of the revolution in Venezuela, the people of Bolivia elected Evo Morales, the first openly and proud indigenous leader within South America since the advent of independence in the 19th century.

The identification and recognition of the non-European character of South American societies is a key element in the cultural revolutions that must permeate all genuine movements for independence and sovereignty. It will be essential in developing alliances with Africa and the African Diaspora as well as other indigenous communities throughout the western hemisphere.

Just prior to the transition of President Chávez, he wrote an open letter to the Third Africa-South America Summit that was held in Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony on the continent. Chávez reemphasized his call for unity and cooperation between the two continents noting that this consolidation of both peoples would transform international relations worldwide.

The Second Africa-South American Summit was held in Venezuela on Margarita Island on the Caribbean from September 26-27, 2009. At this gathering there were heads of state representing 61 countries, 49 of them were from the African continent and an additional 12 leaders came from South America.

This summit on Margarita Island was held under the banner of ‘Closing gaps, opening up opportunities.’ The summit on Margarita Island came in the aftermath of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh.

President Chávez delivered the opening speech of the summit where he stated that, ‘This is the beginning of the salvation of our people. The 21st century won’t be a bipolar world, it won’t be unipolar. It will be multipolar.’ Chávez continued noting ‘Africa will be an important geographic, economic and social pole. And South America will be too.’

The-then Libyan leader and Chairman of the African Union, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, addressed the summit on the necessity of developing greater unity among developing regions of the world. Gaddafi had just spoken before the United Nations General Assembly as the AU chairman who demanded that Africa, Latin America and other regions of the world be given permanent seats on the Security Council.

Gaddafi said before the General Assembly that, ‘The world isn’t the five countries on the Security Council. The world’s powers want to continue to hold on to their power. When they had a chance to help us, they treated us like animals, destroying our land. Now we have to fight to build our own power.’

The development of a secretariat which was finally agreed upon at the Third summit in Equatorial Guinea was initially proposed by Chávez on Margarita Island in 2009.

VENEZUELA AND SOLIDARITY WITH THE NATIONALLY OPPRESSED IN THE US

The Venezuelan Revolution also sparked hope and greater identification with Latin America among the oppressed nations inside the US. In March 2006, a Venezuelan Solidarity Conference was held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

This conference was attended by over 400 people from throughout the country and Canada. The conference was co-sponsored by numerous organizations including the Alliance for Global Justice, the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, Artist Network of the Americas, the Antonio Maceo Brigade, Campaign for Labor Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, No War on Cuba Movement, Ocean Press, People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, Rochester Committee on Latin America, the International Action Center, the Iranian Cultural Association, Inc., Latin American Solidarity Coalition, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Hands Off Venezuela, Global Exchange, Global Women’s Strike, National Immigrant Solidarity Network and many others.

The gathering brought out that the National Black Legislative Conference had adopted a draft bill which called for the US government to respect the independence of Venezuela. This bill had been presented to the Michigan State Legislature by Lamar Lemmons III but due to the political composition of the body, it did not pass.

This bill read in part that, ‘Whereas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frias won landslide presidential elections in 1998 and 2000 with 58 percent and 59 percent of the popular vote, respectively. These electoral victories signaled the end of a 500-year-old colonial caste system in which an oligarchy of socially, politically, and economically advantaged exploited the majority population.’

House Resolution No. 145 also stated that, ‘Whereas, All democratic countries must abjure any state-sponsored activities to destabilize Venezuela’s economy and/or national sovereignty. Further, all public and private American-based entities are conjoined for the sake of international social order and domestic tranquility to vigorously oppose the unconscionable low-intensity war that is being waged against the people and national sovereignty of Venezuela since the inception of the Chávez Frias administration.’

The keynote speaker for the second day of the conference was Antonio Gonzalez who was director of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project. He stated, ‘We followed the examples of African Americans and were inspired by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. African Americans are always first in all things good in the struggle for social change. Our movement is not going to get smaller but better.’

Another panel took place which focused on the role of the African population in Venezuela. Jorge Guerrero Veloz of the Afro-Venezolana Organization played a key role in the conference. This organization supports the Bolivarian Revolution and is working to re-correct the historical problems related to the legacy of slavery and racism in Venezuela.

There were over thirty workshops at the conference. One took up the question of Venezuela and the African Diaspora and featured Bob Brown of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, Nellie Hester Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council and Dr. Alberto Jones of the Caribbean Children’s Foundation. A group called the People of African Descent in Solidarity With Venezuela (PADSV) was formed. In addition, a workshop entitled ‘Indigenous Rights in Venezuela and the Native American Connection’ was also held. This workshop involved Native activists from the US and Canada.

The Venezuelan government over the years through its state-owned oil company CITGO provided home heating oil for poor and oppressed communities throughout the U.S. Diplomats from the Venezuelan embassy and consulates have visited numerous cities to speak before community organizations.

In the aftermath of the passing of President Chávez, the Black Left Unity Network (BLUN) set up a blog page that published statements of tribute, sympathy and solidarity with the people of Venezuela. Statements have come in from various organizations from throughout the country.

Statements were published by the Black Left Unity Coordinating Committee, Black Workers for Justice (BWJ), the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (G-C), the Pan-African News Wire (PANW), the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), the New African People’s Organization (NAPO) and other organizations.

Under President Chávez, the Venezuelan government passed laws banning racial discrimination and including the designation of African heritage in the national census. In 2005, in the aftermath of the devastating impact of the Katrina hurricane, the Venezuelan government offered to send energy and other assistance to the Gulf where millions of Africans and other people were suffering due to the incompetence and racist neglect of the Bush administration.

Although the Bush administration rejected such assistance along with similar offers from the Republic of Cuba, the gesture was well received and served to expose the racist character of the US government in the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were removed from the Gulf region and most have not been able to return representing one of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing and genocide in modern history.

Janvieve Williams Comrie, executive director of the Latin America and Caribbean Community Center based in New York City wrote on the Black Left Unity website that: ‘Under his 14-year leadership, Chávez was able to guide unprecedented government initiatives that led to programs and policies that resulted in significant progress toward combating the historical legacy of racism and discrimination that historically plagued the country. Chávez also provided similar parallel support to other nations with predominantly Afro descendant populations, where their governments were not willing to make it a priority. President Chávez was able to institute many reforms to ensure African descendants in Venezuela could have full and equal access to social, economic and cultural rights.’

From the Caribbean island-nation of Barbados, David Comissiong of the Clement Payne Movement/Peoples Empowerment Party pointed to examples of advancement made within the region directly resulting from the work of President Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution. He stressed that the ‘Concrete evidence of his success can be found in the current elevated levels of literally all of Venezuela’s social indicators; in the dominance of Socialist and Nationalist governing regimes in Latin American countries ranging from Argentina in the south of the continent to Nicaragua in the north; in the existence of the Bolivarian Alliance of The Americas (ALBA), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Africa-South America Summit, the Petro-Caribe Energy Cooperation Agreement, the Bank of the South (Bancosur), the Television Network of the South (Telesur), and the list goes on and on.’

Mumia Abu-Jamal, a longtime political prisoner and former member of the Black Panther Party, issued a commentary in honor of President Chávez. At the funeral in Caracas, the Rev. Jessie Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition was present and offered a tribute to President Chávez.

These acts of solidarity over the years have contributed immensely to the anti-imperialist struggle in both the US and Latin America.

*Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor of Pan-African News Wire.

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