by Carl Sack / September 2005 issue of Socialist Action
CARACAS—The 16th World Festival of Youth and Students was held Aug. 8-15 here in the Venezuelan capital. The festival proved to be an excellent opportunity for progressive and socialist youth from all over the world to gather in a country that is currently a focus of deep political interest worldwide.
The Venezuelan people pulled out all the stops for organizing the festival. Signs throughout the city welcomed the roughly 15,000 delegates, and it was
clear from people’s reactions to meeting delegates that the event was being well-covered by the nation’s media. Venezuela was not only prepared for the influx of radical youth, but greeted them with open arms.
Delegates were housed in various locations in and around Caracas. The U.S. delegation was housed in the suburb of Los Teques in Miranda State, an over
45-minute drive from downtown. The long drive into the city, combined with the complex array of choices for participation and the zealousness of some festival organizers at insuring U.S. delegates’ security, sometimes made bus transportation stressful.
Many delegates expressed frustration at the amount of seemingly unnecessary waiting time they endured, and felt that less-than-effective communication among organizers led to some missed opportunities.
Nevertheless, the housing situation afforded valuable opportunities for youth from various tendencies within the U.S. radical movement—including the Young Communist League, Young Socialists, Youth for Socialist Action, and ANSWER—to exchange ideas, build understanding, and get to know one another.
Most of the festival events took place in four different venues within Caracas: the state-of-the-art Theresa Carree Theater, two blocks away in an underground shopping center called Parque Central, the campus of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, and a military installation called Fuerte Tiuna. These locations each hosted several conferences and workshops every day, ranging in topics from the crimes of imperialism in the Third World to specific struggles of various groups for sovereignty and democracy.
In addition to the conferences, an opening march took place on a major boulevard against a dramatic backdrop of fog-cloaked mountains. Concerts and performances were held every night at various locations within downtown, giving delegates a full dose of Latin American and hip-hop culture. Every region of the world had a “club house,” at which delegates staffed tables with information about their homes and struggles.
While there were official themes for each day of the festival corresponding with different regions of the world, in practice the events melded into an over-arching theme of resistance to imperialism, particularly that of the United States. The final two days of the festival consisted of an anti-imperialist
tribunal, which took place at the city’s Poliedro (Polyhedron) arena. A major element of the tribunal was solidarity with Cuba.
Some of the options for delegates included tours around Los Teques, Caracas, and elsewhere. Participants got a chance to view some of the
nationalized factories and new community centers completed by the government.
One stop on the Los Teques tour was Inveval, a valve factory that was occupied by workers in 2003 and is now planned to be run under “co-management,” through which the government owns 51 percent of the factory
and workers own 49 percent. But there are still bureaucratic obstacles to workers resuming full production in such factories.
Tours also visited a new government-built community center in a poor neighborhood of Caracas, which includes a clinic, pharmacy, community gardens, an internet info center, and 200-worker textile cooperative—which is expected to expand.
Much of the festival focused on the process of radical measures that the country has undertaken, including their challenges and shortcomings. As part of this process, the government of Hugo Chavez has promoted neighborhood “Bolivarian Circles,” which make decisions about development needs in the neighborhoods and are given resources by the government to carry them out.
Much of the social progress in Venezuela has come through the government’s 11 social-democratic “missions.” These include Mision Robinson, a literacy
campaign; Misiones Ribas and Sucre, secondary and higher education initiatives; Mision Barrio Adentro, for free and accessible health care, which has included importing Cuban doctors to work in poor neighborhoods; and others which include job training, public housing, food assistance, and strengthening the military.
The “revolution” in Venezuela is seen by the Chavez government as an extended process. It has yet to declare war on capitalist property relations. The
bourgeois opposition remains strong and well financed, despite the threefold failure of an attempted coup against Chavez, a bosses’ lockout of oil workers that nearly shut down the entire economy, and a referendum aimed at toppling Chavez “legally.”
Chavez himself stated in a speech before the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal that he expects there will be attempts on his life by the U.S. Despite the newfound revolutionary awareness of the masses, there is concern that if Chavez were to be removed, the process could come to a halt.
Despite the challenges, Venezuela is considered a major focal point for anti-imperialist and revolutionary activity in the world today, and it was indeed apparent from the amount of pro-Chavez and socialist graffiti around Caracas that a deep revolutionary consciousness has been awakened amongst the population. On many walls, every available space was spray-painted with the word “no,” referring to the August 2004 referendum to remove Chavez.
As in Cuba, the image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara was ubiquitous. Talking to ordinary Venezuelans and festival volunteers confirmed this perception, and
that Hugo Chavez is similarly a popular hero.
It remains to be seen whether the people of Venezuela will be able to deepen the revolutionary process and carry it through to the ultimate goal of socialism.
It is clear that Venezuelan revolutionaries consider hosting the World Youth Festival to be an important boost, and announced during the closing ceremony that the country will host the 17th Festival in 2007. That festival will undoubtedly provide an exceptional vantage point from which to judge the progress that has been made in the intervening time.