Sunday, May 13, 2007

Venezuela to the Rescue!: International Mutual Aid Conference to be Held in New Orleans, May 24-27

Venezuela to the rescue!

San Francisco Bay View
Wednesday, 09 May 2007

Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera posed with Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee at a breakfast Tuesday at the Women’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission district. The Venezuelan ambassador gave people an update about what is going on in the revolutionary country headed by Hugo Chávez and entertained questions for about an hour. The POCC was in the building asking questions relevant to the Black struggle for human rights and self determination here in the United Snakes.

An international conference entitled: ‘From New Orleans to Caracas: Building solidarity between the Bolivarian Revolution and the Katrina Self-Determination and Reconstruction Movement,' will be held between May 24-27, at Dillard University in New Orleans.

After Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast and uprooted the lives of more than a million predominantly Black and working class people, Venezuela, under the leadership of President Hugo Chávez , was one of the first nations to offer humanitarian aid to the United States government and all those displaced.

The U.S. government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, rejected Venezuela’s offer and closed a venue of life saving support sorely needed by the Black and working class survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Why? The answer lies with the racist and imperialist structure and worldview of the U.S. government.

It is this structure and worldview that left Black people to die in New Orleans after the great flood and deliberately attacked them, scattered them and abandoned them without aid or humanitarian protection. It is this same system and worldview that has repeatedly sought to disrupt and undermine the democratic process in Venezuela and threatened to assassinate its president.

Venezuela’s offer of humanitarian aid to the peoples of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is an extension of its own humanitarian social transformation. This social transformation is called the “Bolivarian Revolution” and its fundamental premise is using grassroots participatory democracy to attain human rights and equitable development to challenge and eradicate the legacies of racism, colonialism and imperialism that have stunted the growth of the Venezuelan people.

Although national in its present scope, the Bolivarian Revolution is a continental and international vision inspired by the American revolution, activated by the Haitian revolution, articulated by Simon Bolivar, reignited by the Cuban revolution, and advanced by Hugo Chávez and Bolivarian Circles throughout Venezuela and the world.

Progressive elements within the Katrina Self-Determination and Reconstruction Movement have, from the beginning, been inspired by the solidarity of President Hugo Chávez and the Venezuelan people. The Katrina Self-Determination movement has been emboldened by President Chávez ‘s principled stance on the right of Katrina survivors to return home with justice and human dignity and his administration’s consistent challenging of the U.S. government internationally on the question of its human rights performance and commitments to those internally displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Most encouraging of all has been the Bolivarian movement’s recognition of the historic struggles of Black, Native and other oppressed peoples within the U.S. and the acknowledgement that the struggles of our respective peoples are one and the same.

Why New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? Why Venezuela? Why now?

More than a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, the program of ethnic cleansing in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is in full effect. Close to 500,000 displaced persons are still being systematically denied their right of return throughout the Gulf Coast by the programs and policies of the U.S. government. The strict adherence to free market, neo-liberal polices to guide and dictate the pace and scope of the region’s recovery have been the most devastating and exclusionary.

Grassroots forces of resistance, like the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Common Ground Relief, have been working tirelessly to counter this assault through autonomous relief and recovery efforts, including free house gutting and health clinics, social movement initiatives like the Affordable Housing campaign, and human rights initiatives like the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. However, to beat back the ethnic cleansing assault and win the right to return, these forces desperately need national and international support and solidarity.

Venezuela, despite its social advances, is also in desperate need of solidarity. To stop the advance of participatory and economic democracy being developed in Venezuela, the U.S. government, multinational corporations and ruling interests continue to threaten President Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution with political and economic sabotage, disruption and worse.

Progressive forces within the U.S., particularly within the most oppressed sectors, must stand up and stop this threat being committed in their name. As Martin Luther King taught us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Therefore, a call for a “Mutual Aid and International Solidarity Conference” between these two movements couldn’t come at a more critical time.

The conference

Inspired by the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution and moved by the ongoing human rights crisis in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, grassroots organizers in the Katrina Self-Determination and Bolivarian Movements throughout the country have agreed to come together to host the “Mutual Aid and International Solidarity Conference” in New Orleans at Dillard University Thursday-Sunday, May 24–27, to share organizing experiences, explore opportunities for mutual aid and assistance, and stand in solidarity with each other’s democratic struggles for human rights and self-determination.

We call on all progressive forces in the U.S. to join us at the conference to build the Katrina Self-Determination and Bolivarian Solidarity Movements and to build person to person, grassroots links between the peoples of Venezuela and the United States.

What you can do

You can help this grassroots initiative by making a donation towards its operating expenses, which include venue fees, international travel and accommodation, printing, translation etc. Make all donations out to: People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (earmark Solidarity Conference) and send them to: Vanguard Public Foundation, 383 Rhode Island St., Suite 301, San Francisco, CA 94103. To make an online donation, visit and indicate Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund.

If you or your organization would like to sponsor the conference, contact Janvieve Williams at the U.S. Human Rights Network at (404) 588-9761 or or William Camacaro at (718) 510-5523 or

Volunteers are also needed for logistics, outreach etc. If you are interested in volunteering, contact the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund at (504) 301-0215 or

Conveners of the conference are the
African World Studies Program, Dillard University,
Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle, New York, N.Y.,
People’s Hurricane Relief Fund,
National Hip Hop Political Convention,
Common Ground Relief,
U.S. Human Rights Network,
Latin American and Caribbean Community Center, Atlanta, Ga.,

Venezuelan Ambassador Alvarez builds bridges in Bay Area tour

by Willie Thompson

Venezuelan Ambassador Alvarez told Bay Area media that he is the only “Chavista” among nine siblings, yet his brothers and sisters are as free as he is to express their opinions.

On a nationwide tour to win friends for Venezuela, Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez, long a close colleague of the fiery President Hugo Chávez , found many friends this week in the Bay Area, where he met with people of color and other seekers of justice who are usually excluded from meetings with ambassadors. Peter Cohn, attorney for the San Francisco NAACP, social worker and member of the host committee for the visit, had served as an election monitor when Chávez was re-elected on Dec. 6, 2006. He invited progressives in many fields to discuss with the ambassador a new vision and agenda to fight racism while strengthening democracy, inclusion, solidarity, justice, equity and environmental sustainability.

Ambassador Alvarez and his staff were accompanied by Roberto Vargas, consultant for social programs for CITGO, the Venezuelan-owned U.S.-based gasoline and heating oil distribution company with eight refineries and 14,000 gas stations throughout the United States that has been making discounted heating oil available to poor communities in this country.

In charge of arrangements for the visit was the distinguished but down to earth Venezuelan Information Office Executive Director Olivia Goumbri. Global Exchange and the Bay View were also represented on the host committee.

Participation in tour events by a large number of African North Americans – more than 40 percent of those attending on Monday evening – reflect the Venezuelan ambassador’s views that:

1) “the race issue is huge throughout the hemisphere” and can be successfully dealt with through increased solidarity with African diasporan organizations,

2) members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Black elected officials – the Ambassador met for more than an hour with Mayor Ron Dellums of Oakland on Tuesday afternoon – Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Cornel West – West’s book, “Democracy Matters,” is being translated into Spanish – TransAfrica and other African North Americans have been very helpful to Venezuela in the United States,

3) the networking by people of African descent throughout the Western Hemisphere during the last 20 years has brought the impact of race and racism out of the shadows. Peter Cohn is bringing together a diverse group of 30 to plan and implement a plan to continue to change the neo-liberal, anti-democratic, militaristic, U.S. dictated free-trade, environmentally destructive and racist agenda in the Caribbean and the Americas.

Attorney Cohn put together the NAACP election monitoring team to observe the December presidential election in Venezuela. This, I believe, is a first for a Black U.S. civil rights organization. One result is the recognition of Peter Cohn as a leader in United States-Venezuela solidarity work.

Ambassador Alvarez seemed ready to begin immediately to refine and put into action his own and others’ proposals. He invited Liz Knox, president of the 39-year-old Bay Area Association of Black Social Workers to plan a comprehensive tour of Venezuela to focus on issues of social justice and meeting basic human needs. He feels that progressive citizens can support sending government observers to ALBA and to sign on to ALBA values. ALBA is the Bolivarian alternative to corporate globalization and free trade in the Americas and the Caribbean.

Alvarez believes that art can be used to connect people throughout the hemisphere. He cited a Black art exhibit in Caracas and the upcoming Afro-Venezuelan female drummers’ tour of the Bay Area. They were hugely successful in Washington, D.C., he said.

And those progressive governments should connect with social movements. The presence of the well-known CITGO consultant, Roberto Vargas, an activist in the 1960s at San Francisco State University, was a persuasive indication that Venezuela is continuing its outreach to U.S. communities in times of disasters and crises. Local citizens are asked to propose economic and cultural programs to strengthen bonds between U.S. cities and Venezuela.

The Lawyers’ Guild reported that it is already in “unwanted” discussions with the AFL-CIO leadership about labor accepting funding for its Solidarity Centers from USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), which played a major role in destabilizing the government of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004 and in the U.S.-supported coup against President Hugo Chávez in 2002.

The Bay Area Association of Black Social Workers is preparing a proposal for its national office to hold its 2008 international conference in Venezuela. Global Exchange founder Medea Benjamin reported Global Exchange took 15 groups to Venezuela last year and the demand is increasing.

The Venezuelan consulate can be reached at (415) 955-1962 or The Venezuela Information Office can be reached at (202) 347-8081 or

Just log on to:
for the CITGO station nearest you.

Willie Thompson, president of the Organization of African North Americans, is professor of sociology emeritus, City College of San Francisco:

No comments: