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Venezuelan ambassador visits CWU

31st January 2013

Venezuelan ambassador Samuel Moncada addressed CWU's national executive council this morning, bringing news of his country's social progress and warnings of attacks from right-wing groups. He spoke of the success stories in alleviating poverty in the country, but spoke of the challenges presented by youth unemployment, an ageing population and right-wing attacks including biased reporting in UK media.

0 L-R: John Baldwin, Billy Hayes, Venezuelan ambassador Samuel Moncada, Jane Loftus, Andy Kerr and Tony Kearns

Ambassador Moncada ran through a recent history of Venezuela, focussing in particular on the period since the 1970s and highlighting the problems of inequality. "Venezuela has the biggest oil reserves in the world today, but despite impressive national wealth, we are socially poor" he explained.

He described Venezuela's astonishing change of political leadership in a relatively short period. "Between 1977 and 2003 we suffered an attack of neo-liberal policies. Privatisation gave our resources away to an elite and to foreign companies and that led to a lack of investment in health, education and other areas. Our poverty went up to 70 per cent and our national industries and utilities such as water were privatised.

"There was a massive failure of neo-liberal policies and there was a reaction against that" he said. "Trade unions were among those reacting against this failure. We had the Caracas massacre in 1989 when the army killed 2,000 Venezuelans. It was the same time as the Tiananmen Square massacre but it wasn't reported in the same way.

"In 1998 the people went for something different, something new. They went for Chavez. They went for socialism."

0 The Venezuelan ambassador Samuel Moncada (centre) with NEC member Carl Maden (left) and policy advisor Steve Bell (right)

He described how this change in political leadership affected the country: "We renegotiated the share of power. We used political power and wealth for the benefit of the majority of Venezuelan people. We've had more elections than ever before, bringing transparent democracy."

Touching on the coup d'etat in 2002 - supported by outside powers such as America and even the UK - he said: "we came out of the coup even stronger. We realised the only name we had was socialism."

Chavez and political leadership

Talking of more recent speculation over the health of President Chavez and the implications on the running of the country, the ambassador explained: "It's not a one-man band. The popular fervour for change is still there - with or without Chavez. It's bigger than just one man."

He spoke of the nature of the President's illness and the possible transition of leadership, saying: "Chavez's illness is cancer and his prognosis is not good. Our Vice President is a trade unionist. He was a bus driver and now he's a political leader. He's a great man."

Truth and friendship

Ambassador Moncada was keen to emphasise his role as being one of "bringing information and countering untruths" about his country. "What we need from you is for you to understand what is going on in Venezuela and not to be misled by your own media" he said. "Even left-wing press such as the New Statesman is being misleading in its coverage of Venezuelan issues" he commented, reading a recent comment piece recommending President Chavez give up his position regardless of his health. "What about the 8.5 million Venezuelans who voted for him last October?" the ambassador asked.

"We have a pro-worker government" said the ambassador. "Our best friend in the UK is the trade union movement, with whom we can identify."

New narrative for youth

Taking a question about young people in the country, Mr Moncada said: "I think we have a problem with young people now. I think we need to come up with a new narrative based around education and culture. The most problematic youths are those in the 'barrios' - the poor areas. They have less access to education and they want the government to address their issues. Jobs are critical. If you don't get a job at 16, 17 or 18 and then spend five years without a job, you can start to think that crime is an easier way to make a living."

On education, he explained: "Women are the majority in education at both secondary school and university. You may be surprised to hear that we have a problem with boys dropping out of education as young as 13 years of age.

"We have a massive higher education programme in place, in particular for new technology and telecommunications which are very important. But we have a more than 60 year old industrial base in the south of Venezuela right now and there is pressure to keep those industries and jobs through subsidy. We also have a rise in the older population, up from half a million to 2.3 million pensioners in recent years and that is also a challenge."

0 General secretary Billy Hayes (left) with Venezuelan ambassador Samuel Moncada

CWU general secretary Billy Hayes thanked Ambassador Moncada for coming to speak to the CWU's NEC. In regard to his comments about the UK media, Billy said: "I don't think you should worry about the New Statesman - they say they're left-wing but refused to recognise the National Union of Journalists, so it's not unexpected." Billy noted that the Venezuelan and Cuban ambassadors stood out for mentioning socialism and praised the work being done to disseminate information and build links between the UK and Venezuela.

Mr Moncada has been Venezuelan ambassador to the UK and Ireland since 2007 and was invited by CWU international affairs officer John Baldwin. CWU national lead on Venezuela is NEC member Carl Maden. For more information visit the Venezuelan Embassy website or the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.