By Marc Becker

Leading academic scholars and grassroots activists gathered at historic Howard University in Washington, DC, from April 18-20 for the national symposium “What’s Up With Venezuela: Participatory Democracy or Democracy as Usual?” The meeting provided an opportunity for 200 solidarity activists from across the United States to study the revolutionary changes sweeping through Venezuela.

In 1998, Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez as a left-populist president to lead the country. Since then, he has worked toward regional integration and against US domination of Latin America. This has placed Venezuela on a collision course with the US. “Chavez is threatening,” political scientist Steve Ellner argued, “because he shows that there are viable alternatives to neoliberalism.” In a region that seems to produce its share of bad news, Venezuela is an example of hopeful and positive change.

A principal theme that ran throughout the symposium was that the Bolivarian Revolution (so named after Venezuela’s independence leader Simon Bolivar) is not a movement built around one person. James Early, Director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution, said “Chavez is not the revolution, but a conduit for it.” Supreme Court justice Fernando Vegas explained institutional divisions of power in Venezuela to make his point that Chavez is not a dictator and does not control everything in the country.

Instead of emphasizing Chavez’s role, most of the presenters stressed the importance of constructing a participatory and protagonistic democracy to build new relations between the government and popular organizations. “Democracy is not just formal institutions,” labor leader Gonzalo Gomez with the National Union of Workers (UNT) said, “but also the mobilization of people.” Venezuela Solidarity Network organizer James Jordan argued that participatory democracy begins with organizing at the grassroots level. Read the rest of this entry »


our sponsors

March 6, 2008

Sponsored by the Venezuela Solidarity Network and the Howard University Cimarrones Student Organization.

Co-sponsored by the International Socialist Organization, Hands Off Venezuela, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, DC Radio Co-Op, People’s Media Center and the Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas.

The Venezuela Solidarity Network is a project of the Alliance for Global Justice.