Saturday, November 1, 2008

FRENTE NORMAN BETHUNE: Building People-to-People Solidarity, Venezuela to Canada

by Erica Peña & Nico Lopez (of Barrio Nuevo) Basics #11 (November 2008)

As a launching initiative for Frente Norman Bethune [FNB], this past October several community organizers and hip hop artists visited Canada from Venezuela for an 18-day tour. The Venezuelan delegation included members of Comite Nacional de los Sin Techos (National Homeless Committee), and rap-groups Familia Negra, and Area 23. They came to our corner of the world to learn a little more of what hip-hop group Familia Negra poetically refers to as Babylon. During very intense and important times they had the opportunity to compare the social, economic and political situation in their homeland with what they experienced in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Haudenesaunee (Six Nations Confederacy). Surprised and curious about the rich cultural diversity in our neck of the woods, the delegates of FNB shared their revolutionary messages not through hip hop music, but also during discussions and meetings with local organizations.

Besides opening dialogue with diverse groups of people to inform them on the positive changes in Venezuela, which our mass media rarely mentions (if at all), visiting FNB delegates met with grassroots collectives and student organizations, inviting them to participate in this Toronto-based exchange project that can bring us closer to their people’s movement. The exchange will initially allow people from Canada, Quebec , and indigenous territories to travel to Venezuela to volunteer in specific tasks during 3 or 4 weeks, during which they will be exposed to a vibrant social and cultural urban (or semi-rural) landscape. Set out to take organizers and activists to a country that has been in the spotlight of international news during the past decade, FNB is not just a solidarity effort to build stronger North-South ties: it is also an amazing learning opportunity for those actively involved in progressive social change, and especially for those who intending to increase their community organizing involvement in the future.

The visit of FNB delegates could not have happened at a more opportune time as Canada was in the midst of electing its next Prime Minister. The electoral context surrounding their stay allowed the Venezuelans, who have strengthened their system of participatory democracy for almost a decade now, to witness “the celebration of representative democracy”. In the case of Canada, they could notice that voter turnout is way lower compared to their own country, where millions flock the voting centers on the day to choose or even recall the head of Government. Additionally, they were able to see that the mechanisms to avoid electoral fraud did not seem as rigid as they are in Venezuela, where elections are enhanced by voting machines and others that verify your fingerprint coincides with the one on your identification, plus there is a paper track for every vote to avoid any discrepancies when the time to count comes. Finally, the Bolivarian visitors inquired about the lack of “international observers”, who seem to flood their country on every election, “to ensure the transparency of the voting process”.

While visiting various communities and organizations, the delegates gained insight into the many local issues we’re facing in Canada. For instance, their visit to St. Jamestown was useful to learn about the current efforts going towards organizing resident involvement in Toronto’s Mayor Tower Renewal project in North America’s most densely populated neighbourhood. Familia Negra performed at an anti-poverty rally at Jane & Finch, galvanizing the atmosphere as its residents “sung out against poverty and inequality.” They also performed in Montreal during a demonstration in solidarity with police-slain youth, Freddy Villanueva. FNB delegates were invited to speak at radio shows from four different stations, sharing with the local audience their insight on the important role community media has played in strengthening their Bolivarian Revolution.

By visiting indigenous communities in struggle at Six Nations near Caledonia, ON and meeting with solidarity groups such as Students Against Israeli Apartheid, the FNB delegates increased their awareness of our local struggles and solidarity initiatives and were able to parallel to theirs while opening doors to possible mutual exchanges.

The Frente Norman Bethune campaign is demonstrating that the time has come to take a closer look at successful efforts for change in other parts of the world and learn from their positive experiences. Given the global socio-economic turmoil and its local effects, community groups and organizations in Toronto are building international solidarity links to find collaborative solutions to global problems.

For more Info on the FRENTE NORMAN BETHUNE initiative contact Barrio Nuevo at

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