Today a group of us from Global Exchange and CODEPINK were among the delegates invited to hear Hugo Chavez speak at a stadium in Caracas. The stadium was filled with Venezuelan fans of the president and people from the World Social Forum.
On the stage with the president were activists and revolutionaries from around the world, including Aleida Guevara, the daughter of Che Guevara; Ricardo Alarcon, the head of the Cuban National Assembly; and leaders from Asia, Haiti and other parts of Latin America. The one person on the stage representing the United States was our dear Cindy Sheehan, who the president greeted warmly and with great respect.
Chavez talked for about two hours--which the people here say is one of his shorter speeches. Rumor has it he is a bit sick, but sick or not he certainly exudes charm and charisma. He even sang to us in a beautiful, robust voice.
Chavez talked about the people throughout the continent, especially the indigenous people, rising up against oppression. He recalled the efforts of Bolivar and others to unite Latin America, and said that challenge now is to unite Africa, Asia and Latin America to challenge US imperialism. He talked about his friend Evo Morales, and how they were going to help Bolivia by trading soy, meat and other products for Venezuelan oil, and about the literacy plan they are going to do, together with Cuba, to help eradicate illiteracy in Bolivia.
There were a lot of Cubans in the stands, waving both Cuban and Venezuelan flags. Many of the Cubans are either here for the Forum, or are here as health workers in Venezuela (there are 20,000 Cuban doctors working here!).
The most beautiful part of the speech for us was when he talked about the US people rising up. He called Cindy "Mrs. Hope" (in English, too), and he said that the people of Latin America had to work together WITH the people of the United States to end injustice, inequality, and to create a better world. He invited us to dream of a US government that called for peace in the world, a US government that worked with everyone else to end poverty, hunger, misery. He conjured up the image of the US people waking up, the great giant inside the US awakening. "What a tremendous positive impact we could have on the world", he said.
While he was speaking, a few of us got up and walked around with our beautiful bright pink banner that said: "Mujeres Dicen Fuera Bush" (Women Say Bush Must Go), and the crowd went wild in solidarity.
The only part of the speech I didn't really like is when he talked about the slogan Socialism or Death! That slogan has always seemed over the top for me…
In any case, it was a thrill to be in the arena with Chavez and all these wonderful people from Latin America working for a better world. We will certainly be going home with the infectious spirit of the people of this continent…