To name one of the many lessons from these months in Venezuela, it is never to expect a disappointing turn-out. The concept simply does not exist in the political vocabulary here. This stems from the fact that there are concrete achievements at stake, and a sense that the two choices are either to continue to advance, or to be vulnerable to set-backs. To allow the process to stagnate is not an option.
There has been much talk in recent years of the importance of continental unity in Latin America, and not only talk. On January 10th, the date on which Hugo Chavez was due to be re-inaugarated as President, huge crowds turned out in support as he continues to recuperate from cancer surgery in Cuba. The people who flooded the streets were joined by heads of states who came to show their solidarity; Evo Morales from Bolivia, Ralph Gonsalves from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Jose Mujica from Uruguay were amongst the speakers on the day.
This is not the first time that Caracas has played host to a show of the advances being made towards continental integration. When I visited the city in December 2011, no less than thirty-three heads of state came together for the opening of CELAC; that is to say, from every country in the Caribbean and the Americas, apart from Canada and the US. The statesmen and women of today follow in the footsteps of the liberators of Latin American history. Simon Bolivar would be proud.
Why? Well, in the same way that tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and on occasions millions of people are mobilised in Latin American capitals, it is clear that the stakes are sufficiently high to merit the response. In fact, history would argue that there is simply no other choice. Cuba provides a pertinent example; for many decades, the island stood alone in denouncing US foreign policy in Monroe’s ‘backyard’, and the dominance and exploitative policies of US companies. Accordingly, the country was made to suffer; an economic blocade that continues until today, the occupation of a military base at Guantanamo which continues until today and a military invasion at Playa Giron, to highlight just a selection of the features of a campaign of destabilisation, intimidation and harrassment. Perhaps Chile is an even stronger case for the necessity of unity. President Salvador Allende was a voice who spoke out in support for Cuba, as well as oppressed people across the world, but it was not long before he was deposed from power in a coup d’etat which was armed and enabled by the United States. Allende was murdered on September 11th 1973 because, as he said, either I complete the democratic mandate the people have given me, or I will die defending them.
To switch our attention to the other side of the globe, what is the future for the countries of the Arab world. Hundreds of millions of people that in large part share a language (and not, as may be the case for Latin America, one inherited from a colonial power), a religion, Islam, a cultural heritage, and many customs. Indeed, it was during a trip to Chile, in 1971, when Fidel Castro enunciated the following, in response to a question from a Lebanese journalist:
« …realmente si el mundo arabe estuviera mas unido tendria mucha mas fuerza, podria defenderse mejor de las agresiones. Usted sabe lamentablemente las grandes diferencias que hay… dentro de los paises del mundo arabe. »
In the case of the Muslim world, it seems to be viewed as even more of a threat to the imperialist powers. Partly it stems from the prejudices of racism ; the idea that these people are even more different to us, even more ‘foreign’, even more strange. But also, there is an undeniable strength in the words of a Book that have not been altered since they were first committed to paper. Ultimately, it is not foreign armies, hired mercenaries or exploitative companies that will judge them, but God.
Unity is the way. For strength, and for survival.