boy in doorway, Caracas.
Xicano at the
Luis J. Rodríguez
to Xispas Magazine
photos by Luis J. Rodríguez
Venezuela - The rambling ride through steep hills and
on amazingly small roads where dilapidated housing hugged
the sides of cloud-blanketed mountains was one of the
most harrowing aspects of my trip to Caracas as a delegate
to the World Social Forum this past January.
bridge that normally allowed traffic to and from the airport
had crumbled not long ago. What normally would take a
half hour was now two to three hours long. Entering Caracas
you fall into a capital full of concrete buildings, car-and-bus
exhaust, and noise. Surrounding it are the poor who’ve
built their makeshift homes squirming up the cerros in
almost all directions. Although it has its own flavor,
heavily Caribbean, Caracas also reminded me of Mexico
City, Guatemala City, San Salvador, Managua, San Juan
- some of the other Latin American capitals I’ve visited
over the years. There’s a feel, a look, a sense that all
Latino nations seem to share, even as each one evokes
their own energies, deities, tastes, and sounds.
Spanish did not advance the culture there - it enslaved
most of the inhabitants while forcing the rest to become
Christians and subordinates to Spanish rule and power.
In turn, the wealth of most of the Americas - including
from massive deposits of gold and silver mines - were
transferred to Europe, creating one of the vast sources
of primitive accumulation that allowed Europe to develop
the incipient capitalist economy into a world-wide phenomena
and an age of conquest that became unprecedent.
know you are in a poor country. You fall right into
the madness of cars coming in all directions, people
walking through and around them as if they could trust
that drivers would stop (I never could figure out how
anyone can have such trust, but in some places they
saw one legless man on a hand-made skateboard maneuver
through rushing traffic with gloved hands in between
and under cars - harrowing
in its own right.
Graffiti in Caracas.
was part of the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights
Campaign from the United States. Around 100 of us made
it for the 4th World Social Forum that some reports claimed
brought 300,000 people to the country. The US delegation
was much larger, but not many were as interesting as the
PPEHRC group. Here we had people who had been formerly
homeless (some had built tent cities in Philadelphia);
people who fought for health care in Ohio and Illinois;
migrant workers from California’s Central Valley, including
one who had lost a son in Iraq; a Tennessee woman with
a terminal illness made worse after the state threw her
off its health care plan for the poor; and Iraqi veterans
against the war (who came in camouflage uniforms); among
others. I got to meet members of the Frente Francisco
de Miranda, young people incorporated into the revolutionary
process in Venezuela where the poor have created Bolivarian
Circles to study, to organize, to mobilize; and where
their president, Hugo Chavez, has endeared himself as
a leading representative of their interests onto the world
poor people's panel, Caracas.
of my trip was about knowing the Venezuelan people and the
changes they have painstakingly struggled so hard to obtain
in the past seven years - and in informing them about the
plight of the poor in the United States, a story that is
largely untold and mostly misunderstood. I did a poetry
reading in the US Tent one Thursday evening (around 250
showed up). I also took part in a press conference sponsored
by PPEHRC and its tireless leader, Cheri Honkala, who has
taken the common cause of the US poor to countries, forums,
debates, and demonstrations around the world.
the way, we ended up on national TV, radio, and some print
publications. We also got a chance to sit front row for
Hugo Chavez’s presentation to around 100,000 people in
one of their main stadiums that lasted two-and-half hours
(more or less). You’d think an adult ADD poster child
like me would go nuts there, but I actually paid attention,
recording most of the talk, and learning much about how
words and ideas can swim easily with quotes (from Jesus
to Marx), anecdotes, slogans, and even a song, which Chavez
used to keep his talk engaging and moving.
course, any leader has flaws and Chavez is no exception.
But very few in the Americas have challenged the mighty
Empire of the US the way Chavez has. And since his election,
many more progressive and socialist leaders have been
elected to countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay,
and most recently Chile and Bolivia. Something amazing
is happening where the poor, the indigenous, the class
conscious, and the creative now have a central place in
the debates, in the streets, and in the policy-making
chambers about where the country must go.
in Bolivar Park, Caracas.
has been working for years to break the isolation of the
US poor from the rest of the world (and the isolation
of the world’s poor from the US), and to begin the process
of unifying strategies and goals to help end poverty once
and for all. The difference between this group and others
professing to do the same involves placing that change
in the hands of the poor themselves.
Venezuela with a renewed sense of what is possible in
Los Angeles. I also spoke much about the Xicano people
and our long-history against combating class power, racism,
injustice, and war.
Venezuelans seems genuinely interested in Xicanos and
the cultural and social bridge we consist of from the
US to the rest of the Americas. I
saw great possibilities that I’ve only seen a few times
in the more than 30 years I’ve been involved in these
battles. I know there is also grave danger looming over
the new Venezuela, as it is for any country trying to
break the bonds of neo-liberalism and globalized capitalism.
But the dangers must never stop the advances of our causes,
our dreams, our deep aspirations.
end poverty in this century is a lofty goal, almost impossible,
but as much wiser heads have often said, the “impossible”
battles are the battles truly worth fighting.
I left Venezuela
feeling the need to spread this process everywhere I go,
but most certainly in the belly of the beast. If we change
this country so that the interests of the poor, the hungry,
the children, the forgotten and abandoned are foremost
and center, we can save the whole planet. The heart of
the matter is that the interests of the poor are not just
for material needs and health care and food and decent
housing of the poor (although this is extremely vital),
but for a balanced, spiritually-centered, and abundant
earth for all.
drummers in Caracas.
must benefit, poor and rich, all must learn, be empowered,
and develop in wholesome and healthy ways, not just for
this generation but for many future generations. I see
the seed of this in Venezuela, if not crushed by the military
and media might of the United States and those who support
it in South America. We must do all we can to safeguard
the revolution in Venezuela, and in so doing, to safeguard
the revolutionary process already breaking out in this