Report back from the World Festival of Youth and Students

In December, an RCG delegation went to Quito, Ecuador for the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students (WFYS). They joined around 8,000 young people from all over the world for debates and discussions around fighting imperialism and capitalist austerity. Sam Baker reports.

WFYS provides an international forum for anti-imperialist youth to meet, discuss and build links. It takes place every four or five years and is organised by the World Federation of Democratic Youth. The first festival took place in Prague in 1947. The RCG sent a delegation to this year’s festival as it was hosted in Ecuador, part of the anti-imperialist bloc that has emerged in Latin America since the late 1990s. In 2009 Ecuador joined the Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America (ALBA), a progressive regional bloc set up by Venezuela and Cuba.

Venezuela

Most of the Venezuelans arrived late to the festival because they needed to stay in Venezuela for the crucial mayoral elections, in which the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) took 54% of the popular vote, a 10% lead on the opposition. We spoke to Xoan Noya, Head of International Relations for JPSUV (PSUV youth wing) and Neirlay Andrade, a member of the national directorate of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV).

The PCV, whilst maintaining its distinct identity from the PSUV, works with it as part of a revolutionary alliance. In the recent municipal elections the alliance managed to stand 92% of its candidates in unity. Neirlay welcomed the victory this had brought and told us:

‘Now we need to take forward this unity, this popular mobilisation for socialism beyond a partial and time-limited electoral alliance. We need to transmit a fundamental message that as long as we continue to operate within a capitalist system, the victories achieved in the last decade will be left by the wayside. As the PCV, we see our task as the construction of a popular revolutionary block that goes beyond an electoral alliance…

‘The Programa Patria sets out the construction of socialism as an alternative model to capitalism in Venezuela. It is more than just a plan, it’s a real challenge to the state because it requires a process of real organisation…’ She warned of what the PCV sees as the risk of the ‘institutionalisation’ of organisations of popular power such as the comunas and communal councils and explained that her party stresses the importance of workers’ organisation and control in the workplace, ‘placing more control in workers’ hands, equipping workers with the tools of experience and organisation necessary to confront and destroy whatever the bourgeois opposition throws at them’.

We were able to screen our documentary film, Viva Venezuela: fighting for socialism, twice at the Festival - once in the Casa del ALBA, run by the ALBA countries, and once in the cinema tent. Both were well-received and comrades from Venezuela were impressed with the accurate portrayal of what they are trying to achieve.

Cuba

350 activists from the Union of Young Communists (UJC) and the Federation of University Students (FEU) attended the festival. We met with Jose Maury, Secretary of International Relations of the UJC and Dianette Martinez, President of the Student Christian Movement. The Cubans reiterated to us the urgent necessity of a political campaign to win freedom for the Cuban 5. We attended a forum event about the Cuban 5 and explained our solidarity work in Britain.

We also attended a presentation by Raul Capote, a Cuban agent who pretended for years to be working for the CIA, while in reality he was instrumental in destroying plans to orchestrate uprisings in socialist Cuba. Capote’s book, Enemy, will be reviewed in a future issue of FRFI.

Colombia

One of the surprises of the Festival was that there was a delegation of around 800 young Colombians. This was an impressive achievement from a country where you can be killed just for being an activist. The Colombians explained that the delegation was part of a process of organising and uniting the different youth groups on the left. The Festival provided the Colombians with an opportunity to talk and debate more openly than they could in Colombia. (For more on the situation in Colombia, and the peace talks between the government and FARC, see facing page).

Ecuador

Like other South American states, in the late 1980s Ecuador was hit by a debt crisis. The International Monetary Fund offered bailout money, in return for cuts in public spending on health care, education, and welfare. Poverty rates shot up to 60% and unemployment reached 80%. This led to two decades of protests, including demonstrations and strikes led by social movements and labour unions, which brought President Correa to power in 2007.

In 2008 two-thirds of the population voted in favour of a new constitution that re-established the redistributive role of the state and assigned rights to indigenous Ecuadorians, LGBT people and even to Mother Nature. Also enshrined in the constitution is the right of everyone to buen vivir, which translates as ‘to live well’. Good food, shelter, education, and health care are now protected basic rights.

Eradication of poverty is identified as the main priority of the state. This has been funded through a renegotiation of contracts with multinational companies. Previously 80% of oil profits went to the multinationals, now 80% flow to the state. Since 2006 the poverty rate has fallen from 37.6% to 27.3%, while Ecuador has achieved the greatest reduction in the Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality) of all Latin American countries (Six years of the citizen’s revolution, Ecuadorian National Institute of Statistics.)

The Correa government has set up a universal state-funded health care system and made education free up to and including higher level. Between 2006 and 2012, access to university for indigenous people and Afro-Ecuadorians doubled. Over the same period 2,690 university scholarships were awarded and children in state schools now receive free uniforms and textbooks. The higher education registration rate has increased by from 34% to 40%. Over 7,000 students are studying at overseas universities paid for by the state with the only condition being that they return and work in Ecuador for two years.

In addition to these investments in state welfare, Ecuador’s foreign policy has been transformed, from that of a US client state, to principled anti-imperialism. This includes:

• the closing down of the US military base at Manta;

• the audit and write off of $8bn of foreign debt

• defending Cuba at meetings of the Organisation of American States and opposing the military coup in Honduras in 2009.

• Giving political asylum to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, defying the British government, which threatened to invade the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

The activists we met all supported the Correa government and Alianza Pais, Correa’s electoral party. They saw their own role as one of radicalising the movement and pushing for the gains made so far to be deepened. All agreed that Alianza Pais has within it a right wing that will limit reforms, so they saw their work as socialists and communists as vital to pushing the process forward.

We met with Diego Vintimilla, Secretary of Foreign Relations of the Communist Youth of Ecuador and an elected member of the National Assembly. He spoke about the coup attempt against Correa in 2010 which was carried out by sections of the Ecuadorian police:

‘They took up arms against the national assembly, kidnapped the president and used their weapons against the people. Thousands came out to defend Correa. The coup attempt failed and those who were shown to be involved were sacked and arrested. However I am sure that people continue to infiltrate the police in order to generate destabilisation; a WikiLeaks cable exposes US intervention in the police. In this context we have introduced a law that allows us to monitor all the online activities and connections of the police, to highlight any connections with the CIA. It is essential that we take these steps, to develop much more patriotic security forces. These issues are repeated across Latin America. Imperialism will always have money to buy off our soldiers, and so we need to confront this. In the coming months the National Assembly is due to approve the Citizen’s Security Law, which will see further reforms to the police and security forces, to create a civil police force integrated into the community, in order to serve the citizen’s revolution.’

We also spoke to Diego about the recent government decision to allow increased oil exploitation from areas of Yasuni National Park, part of the Amazon rainforest. This decision has been taken after intense national debates and protests, and after an attempt to get funding from rich countries to protect Yasuni from further mining failed. Diego put the issue in its proper context – as a complex decision on how best to develop the country and eliminate extreme poverty when starting from conditions of underdevelopment that are a result of centuries of imperialist exploitation:

‘It is the hypocrisy of imperialism, that no country demanded the conservation of Yasuni from multinational companies who have been exploiting Yasuni for years; not one spoke out that this was against the environment or against the human rights of indigenous people, no. Not one country has acted on the strategy of paying to conserve Yasuni. But when Ecuador takes the difficult decision to use its own resources, for its people’s development, not one of these countries recognises that we have the sovereign right to do this.

‘...The government must demonstrate that it will act in accordance with the constitution and consult those potentially affected, that it commits to environmental restoration and decontamination. The government must demonstrate that mining and oil extraction can be conducted in a different way, to benefit the indigenous people, and the whole population of Ecuador, rather than just enriching multinationals.

‘Of course, there are foundations being set up, with thousands of dollars of resources and publicity, in order to fund illegitimate resistance to the state, using the Yasuni debate. They present themselves as the biggest ecologists in the world, but their interest is in the destabilisation of the citizen’s revolution.

‘... So we have a political fight, to intervene against arguments that all oil extraction or all mining is bad. Our main fight is against poverty, to develop away from dependency. It is in this context we must understand the decision to exploit Yasuni Park.’

We also interviewed activists from the US, Chile, Western Sahara, Palestine, Argentina and Vietnam. For these interviews and all of our activities at the Festival, go to the delegation blog: rcg-ecuador2013.tumblr.com

Conclusion

We are constantly being told that austerity, racism and war are necessary evils, but Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and other countries have emerged from what Correa called ‘the long dark night of neoliberalism’ and are moving towards socialism. Cuba has been successfully building socialism for more than 50 years, despite the US blockade and the best attempts of US imperialism to attack and subvert their revolution.

We have to create an anti-imperialist movement in Britain that changes the rules of the game and insists that there is an alternative. The example of socialist movements in Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba and all those around the world who are fighting for a better future can inspire us and help to get that message across to British people.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

 

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