Another World is Possible

The ride from the main airport in Venezuela to the capital city of Caracas took close to three hours, normally a half hour ride, due to bridge construction that complicated the accommodation of some 300,000 visitors to the World Social Forum here (with the slogan "Another World is Possible"). The re-routing took our bus through mountainous and heavily trafficked roads laden with shacks and poor people selling food and refreshments as traffic moved like molasses. Venezuela, as most Latin American countries, is extremely poor. Before you get to the main center of Caracas, you have to pass the poor dwellings, built as if on top of one another, in the outskirts.

Yet, Venezuela is in a revolutionary process, as the young members of the Frente Francisco de Miranda say, to remove poverty, erase illiteracy, and help become a beacon for social equitable change in the hemisphere.

I came as a delegate of the Poor Peoples Economic and Human Rights Campaign from the United States, representing leaders among the homeless, migrant workers, inner-city poor, Native American reservations, and in the battles of health care, decent housing, education, and dignity in the richest country of the world. The irony of bringing US leaders among the poor is not lost on me as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the government-owned oil industry have made numerous offers to get gas and heating oil to the poorest sectors of the US.

I also came as a writer for the various magazines and radio outlets I freelance for. This, as you can see, is not a contradiction. I can be part of a movement and I can also bring out the voices, stories, truths of this vitally engaging conference, its mission, and diverse participants.

There is a US Tent where many groups, including PPEHRC, will hold panels, reading, and press conference. On Thursday night, January 26, at 7 PM, I will do a poetry reading and lead a talk on the major issues facing the poor in the US.

My first night in Caracas involved trying to find a place to stay (some of our party ended up sleeping under the US tent in the cold). I was able to hook up an $18 (which translates into 40,000 Bolivars) in a rundown section of the city (few amenities and lots of cockroaches). I didnt mind since Ive slept in park benches, in caves, and hammocks in Mexico and other countries Ive visited.

The highlight of my first evening was an impromptu talking circle with members of the PPEHRC delegation (which included a cross section of US activists) and the youth leaders of the Frente Francisco De Miranda, presently active in the re-election this year of Hugo Chavez and the continued growth of the Venezuelan Revolution.

The country seems to be united on the need to end poverty and have the world come here to witness as well as to voice the intricacies and complexities of this process. I was particularly impressed with the intelligence, spirit, and selfless efforts of the Frente to make sure the US delegation was taken care of, protected, fed, and talked to.

There are some people I met who had bad things to say about Mr. Chavez and the whole revolution, including the hotel proprietor who, when he found out we were part of the World Social Forum, threw four of our company out of the hotel (thus their night in the open), despite our pleas and willingness to accommodate them. He said he had to follow "rules of business." We said, damn the rules, people shouldnt be forced to walk the streets at night looking for places to stay, especially guests of the country. Fortunately, most Venezuelans were hospitable and self-sacrificing, particularly to the needs of the many foreigners in their country.

Today, I hope to make some connections as well as interviews to leaders in the US delegation, the Venezuelan Revolution, and among the many visitors from around the world.

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