Venezuelan ambassador visits CWU
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.
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."
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
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."
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.