January 10, 2005

Caracas: Meeting In Defense Of Humanity

By Jane Franklin

Faced with the fact that the White House in Washington plans to rule the world, Venezuela and Cuba have formed an alliance of resistance to U.S. empire--an alliance that is already creating forces aimed at changing the world for the better. After Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998, the country was renamed the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, for the Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar. President Chavez is working hard to unite Latin American and Caribbean nations in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) to counter the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement that Washington is trying to impose.

One result of the rapidly-expanding collaboration between Venezuela and Cuba was born last January when a group of Cuban and Venezuelan writers decided to organize a World Meeting of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity. Cubans and Venezuelans went to work, assisted by people from other countries, including the United States. The Venezuelan Minister of Culture sent out invitations, and the project came to fruition on December 1 when about 300 people from dozens of countries arrived in Caracas for a five-day meeting with many Venezuelans. I was fortunate to be one of those invited from the United States to this remarkable event.

The World Meeting opened in an auditorium that seats 5,000 people. It was packed, and President Hugo Chavez was greeted by cheers, chants, and clapping when he entered, greeting and hugging and kissing dozens of us as he proceeded slowly toward the stage. Forget the image of "thug" or "clown" that the U.S. media present; Hugo Chavez is an articulate, charismatic, witty intellectual with a crucial ability to project plans that are both concrete and visionary.

With the basic premise that the best defense is a good offense, he advised us to go on the offensive. In this and two other speeches at the World Meeting, he described Venezuela's efforts to reduce the poverty level, now 80% of the population of 25 million people. The main weapon in that battle is a new institution--called missions or misiones, established to provide free health care, education, cultural activities, sports facilities, and other services for people all over the country.

For one day of the World Meeting participants visited some of these missions. Some of us flew by plane into the Interior. I was in a group that went by bus to the nearby state of Vargas, where we visited two types of mission, a Barrio Adentro medical mission and a Ribas educational mission, both located in poor neighborhoods.

The Barrio Adentro missions were launched in April of 2003 when 58 Cuban doctors arrived to help establish the first Barrio Adentro (inside the neighborhood). The concept is similar to Cuba's family doctor clinics. But these doctors found patients who had never had a medical exam, some with medical problems that, untreated, would be a death sentence.

Now there are more than 13,000 Cuban doctors at Barrio Adentros located all over the country, treating 17 million Venezuelans. The doctors and other Cuban medical personnel with whom we me are obviously closely integrated with their neighborhoods in a way that leads to community involvement and therefore knowledge about the basic issues of medical care and society. The respect for each other and the pride in their achievements was obvious.

Now 250 Venezuelan medical students have graduated from medical school in Cuba and are returning to their neighborhoods to practice medicine. A thousand more are in training in Cuba and the Chavez government plans to build a new medical school within a new university in Caracas with the goal of medical care for the poor rather than only for the wealthy.

The Ribas mission that we visited is also part of a nationwide structure, this one for education. I was reminded of President Chavez's remark that now three generations study together: Grandmothers who could not read and could not teach their children to read are now helping their grandchildren learn to read. Within the next several years, Venezuela plans to build education centers called University Towns in all 344 municipalities of the country.

This medical and educational care are major achievements of the alliance between Cuba and Venezuela in which a barter arrangement provides Cuba with oil and Venezuela with doctors and teachers. Imagine if we could achieve this kind of exchange internationally.

This goal of international cooperation was and is the subject of the World Meeting. Each participant spent two and a half days of intense work at one of ten roundtable discussions to reach united positions as part of an appeal to people around the world.

Each roundtable provided simultaneous translation into French, English, and Spanish, and we met for long hours. The "Caracas Appeal" can be found online at caracas2004.info. Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel read this Appeal on the closing day. Our first task, it states, will be to create a "network of networks" to link our various actions in an international movement for the defense of humanity.

The Appeal points out that while financial resources are wasted in the military industrial complex, a silent genocide takes place every day in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. The Appeal expresses our gratitude to the government, the people and the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for their commitment to the future of this international movement. The Appeal concludes, "At this hour of great danger, we reaffirm the conviction that another world is not only possible, but necessary.

We reaffirm our commitment and make an open call to join the struggle for that world with more solidarity, more unity and more determination."




Historian Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History.

E-mail Jane Franklin: janefranklin@hotmail.com