Socialists to launch Cuba-Venezuela solidarity clubs on campus

By Shua Garfield

Imagine if the Australian government provided all education, from pre-school to post-graduate level, and all medical care, free of charge. Imagine if factories that were to be closed down by their owners were taken under public control and put under the management of their workers to produce for the benefit of society, rather than having the workers thrown onto the scrap-heap of unemployment and the machinery lie idle. Imagine if, rather than stealing East Timor’s oil and gas, and sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to prop up unpopular US-imposed puppet governments, the Australian government sent doctors, teachers, and sustainable development engineers to help lift neighbouring Third World countries out of poverty?

Talk like this to enough people, and you’re likely to have more than a few tell you that you’re hopelessly unrealistic. “People are too greedy and narrow-minded to support that sort of thing! Even if they did, where’s the money going to come from to fund that stuff?”, might be the reply from someone desperate to rationalise our irrational world. The more sympathetic might acknowledge that, “it’s a nice idea, but it’s never going to happen”.

But these things are happening — not in a wealthy, First World country with a massive budget surplus like Australia, but in two Third World countries still struggling with underdevelopment: Cuba and Venezuela. The achievements of these countries — in tacking poverty, disease, and illiteracy; in giving ordinary people a real say in how their community services and workplaces are run; in reversing environmental destruction; and in helping provide medical care and cheap heating oil to the poor of other countries — serve as an answer to those who say there’s no alternative to a world based on private greed, corporate profit and social inequality.

Inspiration

Cuba’s and Venezuela’s socialist revolutions provide a much-needed inspiration to all those fighting to stop privatisation of public assets and cutbacks in public education and healthcare funding, for real action on climate change, for workers’ rights, and against imperialist wars. These revolutions are a real antidote to the cynicism and demoralisation that many people in Australia feel towards political activism after years of erosion of our social rights.

For these reasons, Cuba and Venezuela are threatened by US imperialism. Facing defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US capitalist rulers are desperate to retain control over Latin America, their self-proclaimed economic “back yard”, which they have ruthlessly exploited for over a century. Washington recently revived its Fourth Fleet, a World War II Caribbean naval armada dismantled in 1950. Given its history of aggression in the Caribbean region since dismantling the previous Fourth Fleet — organizing military coups and coup attempts against left-wing governments (Guatemala in 1954; Venezuela in 2002), supporting terrorism against revolutionary governments (Cuba since 1959, and Nicaragua in the 1980s), using the US marines to invade countries (Dominican Republic, 1965; Grenada, 1983; Panama, 1989), and its 48-year economic blockade against Cuba — the longer-term threat represented by the revival of the Fourth Fleet cannot be underestimated.

We need to build a broadly based solidarity movement to defend Venezuela and Cuba against possible US-organised political destablisation and possible military attacks, and for an end to the cruel US economic blockade of Cuba. We also need to strengthen the growing international campaign to demand the release of the Cuban Five — five Cuban men imprisoned in the US since 1998 for the “crime” of infiltrating US-based anti-Castro Cuban terrorist organisations to warn the Cuban authorities about planned terrorist attacks. There’s also the need to spread awareness about these inspiring peoples’ power revolutions.

Unfortunately, far too few Australians know much about what is really going on in Cuba and Venezuela. What little most people read or hear about these countries is highly distorted by the corporate media. Despite this, there is a slowly growing awareness that something special is going on in these two countries — something quite radical, profound and challenging to the idea that there’s no alternative to the decaying global capitalist system.

To help accelerate this growth of awareness and turn it into a strong, ongoing solidarity campaign, the Revolutionary Socialist Party will be launching Cuba-Venezuela solidarity clubs on several Australian university campuses — beginning with Sydney University, La Trobe University in Melbourne and Griffith University in Brisbane – in the second semester of 2008.

Solidarity

Why Venezuela and Cuba solidarity clubs? Why not just Venezuela solidarity clubs and/or separate Cuba solidarity clubs? Because the fate of each revolution is intimately bound up with the fate of the other. It is largely Cuban doctors who staff the clinics that provide free medical care to millions of Venezuela’s poor. In turn, Venezuela provides oil to Cuba, helping it overcome Washington’s economic blockade and recover from the economic crisis Cuba faced in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Cuba and Venezuela have cooperated to create Mission Miracle, which has provided free eye surgery to restore the sight of over 700,000 people from across Latin America since it was launched in 2004. Together, they have led the way in creating the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a fair-trade zone set up as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposed by the US government, and which also includes Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Dominica.

All those who believe that the Venezuelan and Cuban peoples have the right to choose their own form of government, free of medieval-style economic sieges, CIA-sponsored terrorist attacks and US military aggression, should get involved in these campus solidarity clubs. There are many ways we can spread awareness and build solidarity with the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions on campus. The only real limitation is the numbers of students and staff involved in club activities, so come along to the club launch events in August and bring your ideas.

The clubs will support initiatives of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN), the Australia Cuba Friendship Society (ACFS) and other Latin America solidarity organisations. One possible project would be to help the AVSN campaign to bring Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Australia to speak directly to the Australian people about what the government he leads is doing. This campaign includes a broadly-pitched petition campaign, but also, to succeed, requires invitations to Chavez from institutions and official figures. Campus-based clubs could help achieve this by campaigning for vice-chancellors, university councils, student unions, and branches of the National Tertiary Education Union to endorse the invitation for Chavez to visit Australia.

The clubs could also help build the solidarity brigades organised by the AVSN and ACFS to Venezuela and Cuba respectively, and seek funding from universities and student unions to facilitate student and staff participation in them. The next AVSN-organised brigade to Venezuela, from November 20-30 this year, will witness the regional elections for mayors and governors on November 23. It will also include visits to worker-occupied factories and educational institutions, observing popular power at work in the communal councils and people’s banks, and speaking to government and grassroots organisations about the radical changes being implemented by the Venezuelan people.

The ACFS December 25-January 27 brigade to Cuba will be a very special one, coinciding with celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution’s triumph in overthrowing the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. This brigade will involve participants doing volunteer work alongside Cuban workers, such as picking fruit or pruning trees, and visits to schools, hospitals and urban agriculture projects. This brigade will have a specific focus on deepening knowledge of Cuba’s innovative approach to protecting the natural environment and stopping climate change.

Clubs could also seek sister university relationships between their universities and the new Bolivarian University (UBV), set up in July 2003, to provide free education to the poor and create a new kind of higher education focused on social responsibility. Anyone who has finished high school can study, with even meals provided for free, and every course involves students working on community projects in their own neighbourhoods. Sister university relationships could facilitate student and academic exchange programs which could allow UBV students to visit Australia while allowing Australian students and academics to experience this radical new education model first-hand.

To launch these clubs, we will be holding screenings of documentaries about the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions on Griffith, La Trobe, and Sydney University campuses during second semester. Students and staff on these campuses who want more information or to get involved should phone Kathy (0400 720 757 or 3165 7020) for Griffith University, James (0403 943 529) for La Trobe University, or Kerry (0408 735 384 or 9114 5882) for Sydney University.