BY BRAD SIGAL & SARAH MARTIN
The World Anti-Imperialist Congress held in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 22 to 24, brought together hundreds of delegates from over 50 countries. Brad Sigal from MIRAC (Minnesota Immigrants Rights Committee) and Sarah Martin from WAMM (Women Against Military Madness) were a part of the U.S. delegation.
The congress brought together a broad range of anti-imperialist organizations, movements and governments. At the congress we exchanged views and experiences and strategized about strengthening the struggle against U.S. imperialism, to create a more peaceful world where the national sovereignty of countries is respected. The congress was hosted by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Venezuela’s leading party, which has been under sharp attack by U.S. imperialism.
Venezuela has been in the crosshairs of U.S. regime change since 1998 when Hugo Chavez was swept into power and the struggle for Venezuelan self-determination and sovereignty was begun. Chavez was supported by movements from all sectors of the society—workers, campesinos and students, as well as others who had fought for years against a repressive regime, which had only benefited rich oligarchs and foreign oil companies. In the years prior to Chavez, 86 percent of the people—the majority of whom are brown or black—had lived in poverty even though Venezuela is an oil and mineral rich country.
Once in power, the people, with Chavez as their president, wrote a new constitution based on equality and human rights, which lifted the lives of all the people, particularly the poor.
Since 1998, the accomplishments of the “Bolivarian Revolution,” ushered in with Chavez and named after Simon Bolivar, who liberated the region from colonial Spanish rule in the early 19th century, are impressive. Poverty has been cut in half and abject poverty has disappeared. Three million affordable homes have been built. Contrast this with the growing homelessness in this country.
Venezuela now ranks sixth in the world in terms of enrollment in primary education and has increased its coverage of secondary education to 73 percent of the population. College is free.
Venezuela also saw gains in the civil rights of historically oppressed sectors of Venezuelan society, like women, Afro-Indigenous people and the LGBTQ community. Its labor laws are among the most progressive in the world.
The electoral system is internationally recognized as one of the fairest, freest, most transparent and secure in the world, with incredible safeguards through every step of the process. Voter fraud is virtually impossible. The right to vote is in the constitution. After the government’s aggressive and thorough search in malls, neighborhoods and on street corners to register voters, now only 3.8 percent aren’t registered. Compare this with continuing attempts to disenfranchise black and brown people in the U.S. By law, every political party on the ballot must have 40 to 60 percent women as candidates. Trans candidates register as their preference.
Chavez revolutionized the health care system, and life expectancy climbed to age 74. Using the Cuban-style system, he built 13,000 popular neighborhood clinics; community doctors work shoulder to shoulder with Cuban doctors. Pregnant Colombian women who live near the border often come over to Venezuela to have their children delivered without charge.
Since the death of Chavez in 2013, when Nicholas Maduro, Chavez’ protégé, became president, the U.S. has ratcheted up pressure on the Venezuelan government by implementing draconian sanctions and an economic war. Oil exports have fallen drastically, Venezuelan money in global banks has been frozen and the U.S. manipulates the global money system to destabilize Venezuelan currency. The Venezuelan economy has shrunk by over 50 percent.
The extreme sanctions have led to a drastic decrease in the availability of essentials—especially those needed to treat the most frequent health conditions: heart, cancer and kidney failure.
However, in the last couple of years, China, Russia, India, Cuba and Turkey have stepped in and found their way around the sanctions by buying Venezuela’s oil and sending medicines and supplies to the country.