queue snaked for several blocks around Congress
and the Plaza Bolivar,
which honours Venezuela's 19th-century independence
Bolivar. Perplexed, I asked my comrade Oscar why
so many people were waiting in the hot afternoon
sun. "Ah, the government is giving away one
million copies of Don Quixote."
is a keen reader and must have been inspired by
the classic tale of the poor knight setting off
to put the world to right.
be left without your Quixote!" Chavez said
this week. "We are all going to read Quixote
to feed our spirit with this fighter who came out
to get rid of injustice and fix the world."
some degree we are followers of Quixote," he
is one of the many examples of Chavez trying to
use his position to both benefit and inspire the
Venezuelan People. Incredibly, his critics accuse
him of squandering extraordinary oil revenues on
what they perceive as "stunts" like the
book offer and "inefficient" social programs.
They also accuse him of steering the poverty-stricken
country toward what they call a Cuba-style "dictatorship".
another comrade vehemently denied that Chavez's
objectives were irrational or implausible. "I
believe in his vision, and many of us share the
same vision," the 46-year-old community worker
said. To pay what Chavez calls "a social debt"
left by past governments; he has spent millions
on social programs that include a nationwide literacy
program, scholarships to help people finish high
school and Cuban doctors to improve healthcare in
prove her point, Josefina took me to the Lidice
district, situated next to hers in the vast working
class barrio of Western Caracas, to see one of the
many initiatives that she volunteers in. Getting
off the bus at Lidice, I noticed a small group of
women wearing red Chavista t-shirts all chatting
boisterously. Josefina shepherded me towards the
group of women and I was introduced by her as "Tomas,
the Irish comrade here to borrow some revolution".
I was greeted warmly with kisses on the cheek and
a slap on the arse.
was the Lidice women's collective, a close group
of fiercely pro-Chavista who were engaged in various
initiatives in their community.
notable was the "Community Kitchen". Twice
a day, every day, the women got together and cooked
lunch and dinner for over 150 of the district poorest.
The food for the project is provided by the National
Nutrition Ministry and one of the women with a larger
house donated two small rooms to the collective
that are used as a kitchen/larder and a serving
hatch. It was moving to see the pride the women
had in their efforts.
Yollimar, a tall attractive woman, spoke some English
and was able to explain to me the work that the
women do and what motivates them. "Before Chavez
and the MVR (Movement for the Fifth Republic) came
to power we did not have the ability to do things
like these. We had seen the problems we had in the
community but did not have the means to do anything.
Now we have the support of the government and are
confident that we can make good changes."
the Juan Alberdi School where I volunteer, tangible
benefits of the Revolution are also apparent. The
school staff organised a canteen along with the
Nutrition ministry to provide a free and healthily
balanced meal to every pupil and member of staff
every school day. I take advantage of the meals
when I can and can vouch for their quality. Fresh
vegetables, rice, beans and a little meat with fresh
fruit for desert is quite a meal juxtaposed with
the veritable junk fed to our children back home.
English classes have proved to be quite popular
with the children and I have been asked to volunteer
my services to the adult English classes at night.
The school doubles as a primary school during the
day and an adult learning centre at night where
adults take advantage of the Mision Ribas. The Mision
Ribas is a programme for adults who wish to continue
their education at secondary school level after
the basic literacy Mision Robinson programme.
hunger for knowledge that the people, who deprived
of a decent education for so long, show is staggering.
Alberto, an elderly pupil is short sighted and had
the misfortune of breaking his glasses. Instead
of staying at home until he gets a new pair, he
decided to make use of a pair of toy binoculars
to read the writing on the blackboard and TV
an amusing but stirring sight.
education programmes seem to be the driving force
behind the awakened political and social consciousness
of the Venezuelan people, which has reached levels
I have rarely, if ever, encountered before. I was
taken aback by some of the encounters I have had
with ordinary working class people here in Caracas.
typically hot night, Oscar and me were walking back
up the steep hill of the Manicomio area and were
finding it tough going. We happened upon one of
the typical open fronted off licenses, here in Caracas,
that serves as an Al Fresco bar for the people who
can't afford a social night out. Instead they enjoy
a bottle or two of beer with their friends on the
pavement outside of the off license. I invited Oscar
for a cold beer and a few middle-aged men noticed
the white fellow struggling with his Spanish and
one of them asked me in perfect English where I
was from. When I replied he suddenly took a greater
interest. "Ah Belfast, future is not so certain
after "Macarni" killing". I was dumbfounded
whilst the five of us sat and discussed the recent
events in political scene in Ireland for over an
hour. I asked them how they spoke English and knew
about Ireland. They told me that they had taken
the Mision Robinson and Ribas programmes and used
the Internet to look at International politics as
if it were a most common and normal thing for any
man to do.
explained this to James, the English gent kind enough
to put me up for my stay, and he said this was quite
common. I was greatly encouraged. In the political
dust bowl of Ireland it had been quite trying for
a lefty like me for quite some time and this oasis
of political activity and working grass roots socialism
has boosted my beliefs in a better system. I have
already begun to borrow some revolution.