It was a special evening of solidarity with Venezuela on Jan. 31 in Detroit. With President Hugo Chávez ill and recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, and the U.S. government working overtime with rightwing forces inside Venezuela to promote division and try to destabilize that country, Detroiters wanted to express their solidarity with Chávez, with the Bolivarian Revolution and with the masses of poor and working people in Venezuela.
Supporters of revolutionary Venezuela met at the Garage Cultural Center of Art & Creativity in the heart of southwest Detroit, where they were first treated to musical performances by Garage executive director Ismael Duran, who was joined by his grandson and a friend. Solidarity messages and short talks were given by representatives of the Michigan Campaign to Free the Cuban Five; the Green Party of Detroit; the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization; and Workers World Party.
Fired General Motors worker and hunger striker from Colombia, Jorge Parra, also spoke. Deborah Johnson of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice chaired the program.
Special guest speaker was Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza, the consul general of Venezuela in Chicago. Rodríguez-Espinoza presented a slideshow of some of the achievements in Venezuela over the last several years and then spoke on the current situation and challenges facing the people and government in light of Chávez’s illness and the rightwing destabilization efforts.
One of the achievements highlighted was the eradication of illiteracy. This was done with the help of Cuban volunteers, utilizing a community-based campaign that involved great portions of the population, including the army and the people’s councils.
Other progress the speaker noted include Venezuela’s having Latin America’s highest minimum wage; its unemployment rate dropping to 6.5 percent in 2010 from 15 percent in 1999; a 400 percent increase in the number of retired people, who collect pensions at a guaranteed minimum wage and include mothers and homemakers; a 30 percent decline in infant mortality from 1998 to 2007; an increase in access to water to 98 percent of the population in 2011; and great advances in bringing free health care to the poorest areas, again with the help of Cuban volunteers and medical personnel.
Now more than 20 hospitals are being built throughout the country. Access to free medical care “helped stabilize and strengthen the government” after the failed right-wing coup in 2002, said the consul general.
Rodríguez-Espinoza said that the “communal councils” are “the most important thing achieved in Venezuela.” He said the constitution of 1999 has established “new branches of government” and described how the councils have taken root across the country, involving the masses at many levels. He concluded, “Even if Chávez is not there, it will be very hard for the opposition forces to get power because of communal power and the strength of the current government.”