The Frente Norman Bethune Organizers Brigades: Summer 2009

Canadians and Venezuelans Building People-to-People Solidarity

by Pablo Vivanco, Solomon Myobuku, & Kelly O’Sullivan
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

On July 3rd, 2009 the first delegation of Canadians with the Frente Norman Bethune Brigade of organizers departed for Venezuela for nearly a month of exposure with the mass movements of the socialist ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, soon to be followed by a second delegation of Canadians on July 20th.

Frente Norman Bethune (FNB) is an initiative of the Toronto-based Latino community organization Barrio Nuevo, and its main objective is to facilitate an exchange between activists in Venezuela and Canada, allowing them to share their experiences in the various social movements and struggles they are involved in.

The two delegations that visited Venezuela this summer consisted of a mixed group of community activists, educators, artists, union activists as well as a photographer. Back in late 2008, a number of activists from Venezuela were hosted by Barrio Nuevo here in Canada, and were toured across many cities and regions (see BASICS #11).

The delegations lived in the Barrios, linked up with the communal councils, worked at people’s radio stations, connected with peasant activists, slept at housing squats, spoke to unionists, checked out worker co-operatives and even lived at a former bull ring expropriated by progressive artists. The purpose of this trip was to give activists in Toronto a sense of an actual revolution in progress, and also, to allow people to take back experiences and lessons that could be applicable in their political work back home.

This is what three of the Frente Norman Bethune delegates had to say about what they saw:

Solomon Myobuku, activist with the Esplanade Community Organization

To fight or not to fight, that is the question, and Venezuela has the answer. In a country that insists on returning power to its rightful owner, the People, the fight is relentless, ongoing and is present at all levels, from the local communes to the president’s office.

As a community activist organizing in a working class community in Toronto, I was taken aback by my experiences at La Vega and Antimano, two different Barrios (hoods) in Caracas where we stayed at for a significant period of time. Many of the problems we face in Toronto like police brutality, housing issues, lack of youth programs and unemployment exist in Venezuela at far worse levels. However, as many people told us, in the last ten years huge gains have been won through struggle. Police no longer enter the hoods, replaced by community run police. Poor neighbourhoods now have free healthcare clinics, new schools and recreation areas.

The trip was particularly effective in convincing me of the power of the people. Prior to this trip I was a hesitant supporter of socialism that often felt that it was idealistic. However, after seeing how the people of Venezuela have fought for the gains they enjoy and are continuing that struggle, the concept of socialism seems far more practical.

Kelly O’Sullivan, Union President of CUPE 4308

“La Revolucion” is more than a statement, phrase or words spoken by the people in Venezuela, it was a part of their lives and experiences. As an anti-poverty and labour activist, having the opportunity to learn and be part of the ongoing push for socialism in Venezuela had a profound impact upon me. It showed me that socialism and political change by the people and for the people can be achieved through struggle.

As a labour activist, my focus was to also learn about the organized labour movement and worker’s struggle in Venezuela. Our group met with many activists that are part of the “popular movement” actively engaged in the revolutionary process. With alarming consistency, the statements and attitudes towards unions and the labour movement were the same. Unions only cared about themselves and the interests of those privileged workers they represented and did not care about the poor or the community. Overwhelmingly, labour was not regarded as allies in the revolutionary process.

All too often this is what we hear about unions and the labour movement here also. This reminded and reinforced for me the necessity for those of us involved in unions and the labour movement everywhere to work in solidarity within our communities and with militant grass roots movements working for revolutionary change. If we do not, labour unions will be marginalized and regarded as elitist and uninterested, unable or unwilling to be the structures necessary for organizing and representing the working class.

Pablo Vivanco, a central organizer of the Frente Norman Bethune delegation and a leading member of Barrio Nuevo

There are many incredible things occurring on the ground in Venezuela where people’s organizations have made significant gains in attaining influence over their communities and resources to provide for the needs of people. Some of these have come in the form of the ‘Misiones’, which are now providing accessible and free services in areas such as educational and health to communities that have never seen the benefits of the countries wealth before. Many of these programs also depend on people’s organizations to ensure they run effectively.

This is a process where political power is being transferred away from the traditional branches of government directly to the people. The communal councils, which in effect are neighbourhood associations, are providing a space for organized communities to receive resources from the state and direct these resources as they see fit.

While there are still contradictions and conflicts between the people and government as most levels of government and even the Socialist Party still have remnants of the previous regimes, increasingly organizations and structures created by the people are taking over. This situation of ‘dual power’ (a situation where the reactionary state and the powerful who have traditionally controlled it vs. the people, their organizations and their leadership) has its dangers. However many of our revolutionary brothers and sisters are quite aware of the dangers from outside (US Imperialism and its allies like Colombia) and inside and are struggling within their movements to expose the opportunists who just want to line their own pockets.

Barrio Nuevo supports our brothers and sisters in Venezuela who are in the struggle against imperialism and we urge others follow the example of their slogan – “All power to the organized people!” ?



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