Postcard from Caracas

Jim McIlroy and Coral Wynter occasionally send back to friends and comrades postcards that detail their adventures.They also anchor the podcast I produce on Venezuela: Venezuela Viewpoint. Here is their latest postcard:

Dear friends and comrades,
Greetings again from revolutionary Caracas, Venezuela. We have now been in Venezuela for nine months, and feel like it's our second home. Just in time to begin to get ready to leave, on December 8, unfortunately. Since our trip to Cuba in late July-early August, we have done some travelling in the west of Venezuela. We visited the historic Spanish colonial-style town of Coro, with its amazing desert sand-hills nearby, and the peninsula of Paraguana in close proximity. And we went to the San Luis mountain range behind Coro, one side of which is as dry as the Australian outback, and the other side is wet and covered in tropical rainforest.

Then, on to Maracaibo, home city of the right-wing opposition candidate against President Hugo Chavez, Manuel Rosales - dubbed El Chorro (The Thief), because he stole large amounts of property and the money from the retirement pension fund for the workers of the state of Zulia, of which he is governor. He is also a puppet of the US government, and will do their bidding \endash even if it means withdrawing from the election at the last minute and launching a violent de-stabilisation campaign, with a possible push for the secession of Zulia from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.\ Maracaibo is an industrial city, second largest in the country behind Caracas.

But it has some interesting historic houses in the centre, most of which had been destroyed over the past few decades, but an area of which have been preserved, and are being renovated to create a heritage zone. After that, we again took the bus southwards around the giant Lake Maracaibo, site of Venezuela\rquote s richest oil fields, until the discovery more recently of the world\rquote s largest reserves of crude oil in the Orinoco Basin, to the east. We travelled to San Cristobal, capital of Tachira state, in the south-west of Venezuela, near the Colombian border. San Cristobal is a base for the right-wing, US-backed Colombian paramilitaries, who have wrought death and destruction in Colombia itself, at the behest of the Uribe regime, but have now infiltrated over the border to carry out assassinations and kidnappings in Venezuela.

Many victims have been leaders of the peasant movement struggling to regain land from the wealthy land-owners, who back the Venezuelan opposition, and will use any means to protect their property and power. The Chavez government has launched a campaign, using the military and national guard, with the support of some peasant militias, to combat the paramilitaries. Time will tell how successful this campaign will be \endash as the US is determined to use any means at its disposal to bring down the revolutionary Chavez government. San Cristobal is not a particularly attractive city in itself, but nearby is the picturesque village of San Pedro del Rio - which is a haven of tranquility and peace in a region suffering considerable violence. From there, we set off, again by bus, to the Andean Mountain city of Merida.

Perched high in the mountains, Merida is a city of culture and the place most visited by overseas tourists. Partly this is because of the existence there of the world\rquote s longest and highest cable-car (teleferico) line, to almost 5000 metres. We had the amazing experience of heading down again on the backs of mountain ponies, to the small village of Los Nevados, with some of the most stunning views you can imagine on the way. After returning to Merida, we caught another bus down the mountain to Barinas, the grassland plains (los llanos) city of Chavez' birth. This road down the mountains is one of the most spectacular in Venezuela if not Latin America. The city centre of Barinas is now being renovated to protect the remains of the town\rquote s history as a centre of the Venezuelan independence struggle, in the early 19\super th\nosupersub century, led by The Liberator, Simon Bolivar.

From Barinas, we returned to Caracas. This whole trip brought more fully home to us that Venezuela is a land of incredible contrasts, both politically and geographically. It has all the variety of ecology imaginable, from tropical beaches, to mountains, to deserts, to rainforest jungles. And, it has the political opposites of a vibrant revolutionary movement, as well as still substantial reactionary forces which would love to destroy the Bolivarian process which is bringing power to the Venezuelan people. Back in Caracas, the presidential election campaign continues. As an international backdrop, Venezuela is locked in an arm-wrestle with Guatemala (the Bush administration\rquote s candidate), for the upcoming vacant Latin American seat on the UN Security Council. Despite Guatemala having gained a majority, with the assistance of US threats and blackmail on the world\rquote s Third World nations, there is a solid bloc of countries standing up for revolutionary Venezuela against the might of US imperialism.\par \par This is a significant event in world politics, whatever the final result might be, and shows that President governments for his refusal to buckle under to the US superpower.

This may well be seen in retrospect to denote a turning point in the international relations of the 21st century.\par \par Chavez himself continues his ``Bolivarian avalanche" campaign for president, aiming for 10 million votes - an extremely ambitious goal, in an electorate of 16 million registered voters. Every week, he opens new railway lines, announces new housing schemes, or approves expansions in the work of the Missions (social projects). All this under the central theme of ``Building Socialism of the 21\super st\nosupersub Century.\rquote\rquote Hopefully, Chavez will achieve the huge popular mandate he seeks, in order to continue the transformation of Venezuelan society which has commenced since he was first elected in 1998. 2007 is shaping up as a watershed year for Venezuela, with the endorsement of the people spurring the revolution onwards to even bigger achievements.

We are now looking forward to the coming of the Australian Presidential Brigade to Venezuela, sponsored by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network , from November 25 to December 6. The brigade of around 35 people will visit the social Missions, other organisations of the Bolivarian Revolution and observe the presidential election on December 3. We are confident the brigadistas will have an exciting and educational experience, and return to Australia full of enthusiasm to spread the word about the Venezuelan people's revolution. It has been our privilege to be present as so many major events have unfolded here during 2006. We will return to Australia with an important message of the urgent need for building solidarity with the Venezuela, and the rest of the Latin American peoples struggling for independence and social justice.

In solidarity, Coral Wynter and Jim McIlroy,
Caracas Bureau,
Green Left Weekly. www.greenleft.org.au

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