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Monday, January 30, 2006

The End of the WSF

The day after I heard Chavez speak I tried to go to some Venezuela-specific events to get a better sense of the politics. I went to a panel discussion about "Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights in Venezuela." Each panel talked about the situation of a various aspect of the society, women, labor, education, etc. The talk was good in that it gave a good explanation of each of this things, yet again it was hard to follow the Spanish. Later I went to a film called Venezuela Rising (Venezuela Crece). It was made by Americans but this was the first time it had ever been shown in English. The film makers were in Caracas for 9 days around the election in August 2004 to recall Chavez in which the opposition lost. The film was really interesting and did a really good job at giving a history of the current political situation. Although it focused on the Chavez supporters it also interviewed people from the opposition. The opposition interviewed were mostly upper-middle class people who were concerned that Chavez was only helping the poor. Although I didn't talk to people who opposed Chavez, other people who did heard all kinds of other arguments against him that are different than those in the film. To answer some of my questions I had after hearing Chavez speak, the film interviewed a lot of people who live in the really poor barrios surrounding Caracas who talked about their improved health systems, schools, free food centers, etc. and communities of people that had formed around the new services being provided in these slums. Driving down the highway in Caracas you can see the slums. Unlike in the US where you can usually assume that richer people live in the hills, in Caracas the hills are the slums. From a distance all you see is little shacks that look like they are about to fall over that are so close together and on such steep hills that they look like they are stacked up. Someone pointed out that the colors these houses are painted and they way they are stacked up make them look dr. seuss-ish (in a weird sort of way). Here's some pictures though they don't quite show it.

I don't know if I mentioned before that we moved to a different youth camp that was much more centrally located, dryer (except the first night when it poured) and had much more going on. One morning I woke up at 9 in the morning to music and realized that the music had been going all night through to the morning. There was much more of a social scene at this camp and it was easy to meet people. Besides people from Venezuela I met so many people from Colombia as well as a lot from Brazil. I guess that makes sense because those are the two bordering countries. Here is some pictures of the youth camp.

Yesterday was the last day of the conference and I decided I was ready to move on from Venezuela. I am now in the Lima, Peru airport where I am spending the night before catching a plane to Cuzco, Peru in the morning. From there, we'll see.

I wanted to put up some more pictures from the WSF but I am having problems with uploading more. I will try to do one additional Caracas post with pictures.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Hugo Chavez

Last night I went to hear Chavez, the president of Venezuela speak. THe event as a whole was like nothing I have ever seen. The closest thing I can compare it to is a large protest in that there were thousands of people are chanting, waving banners and signs, singing and cheering, except this was not a protest but a government sponsered event with the president, nothing like you would see in the US. The event took place in a huge dome stadium. I got there about an hour and a half early to make sure I got in. The "pre-show" consisted of various performances of Venezuelan music groups as well as a Brazilian musician. They sang songs about Che and songs about Chavez that everyone knew the words to and sang along. Every few minutes a group of people would start a chant, "Chavez no se va!" "El pueblo unido jamas será vencido" and lots of others. Finally Chavez came on stage greeted by chanting, whistles, clapping and overall excitement. With him on stage were various people from around the world such as leftist writers, political figures, Che Guevarras daughter, and Cindy Sheehan. Cindy Sheehan spent weeks waiting to meet with Bush and he refused to meet with her and here she was sitting next to Chavez and being congradulated by him (At some point he told her that he loved her and he called her Ms. Hope in comparison to Bush who he constantly refers to as Mr. Danger). Chavezs speech, meant for the WSF audience, focused on Latin America and world politics rather than focusing on Venezuela. He was very critical of Bush, and the war in Iraq. He mentioned past and present leaders such as Che, Simon Bolivar, and Fidel Castro. He quoted, Marx, Chompski, Hobbes, and Harry Belafonte (about Bush being the biggest terrorist in the world). He is a very articulate and powerful speaker and what he said was all really interesting, thoughtful and I agreed with most of it. I dont think I know enough about what is going on in Venezuela to have a good sense of whether what he says is being put into practice and to what extent though. The overall event was amazing to experience. The support and enthusiasm that people have for their president is nothing like you would ever see in the US. I am going to try and post some pictures from the event in the next couple of days but I dont know if I will be able to on these computers.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The World Social Forum

Today is the third day of the actual events of the World Social Forum. The actual events of the forum are mixed. I have showed up at ones that were
canceled, there have been ones that werent very interesting, and then some that were great. The majority of workshops are in Spanish and some have translators availible if anyone wants them, some dont. Most of the ones I have been to have been all in Spanish with no translations. Some highlights: Yesterday I attended a panel talk (that I unfortunatly had to leave early) that was about the media crisis and alternative media. Most of the panel members were American and many talked about the lack of media coverage of Latin American politics in main stream media in the US, why Latin America is ignored and about alternative sources that do cover these topics. Today I went to a talk on human rights at the US-Mexico border. Although it was a lot of information I knew, it was interesting to hear the problems at the border being described as human rights abuses and the ways in which deportation and arrests of undocumented immigrants effect the border communities in the US.

Last night I finally met up with the CAS and Evergreen groups and so spent some time with Jesse, Eli, Hannah and Sophie. I tagged along with 50 global exchange people and got free dinner.

Besides specific forum events, beign here has been amazing. Everyday I meet
lots of people from all over the world (though the majority are from Latin America, the US, and Canada). Everyone is really friendly and wants to talk
about politics, or about why you are in Venezuela, or recomend workshops, etc.
In addition to the lectures and panel disscussions there are constantly films
and concerts.

This morning the Bard group decided to pack up our wet and muddy tents and move to the other youth camp which is in the center of the city. We had all been
reluctant to move because of the hassel of packing up but once we got there it
was clear that it was the right choice. This camp is dry, centrally located, and there is much more activities there. So we will stay there for the rest of the time.

Random story. Yesterday I was sitting next to a woman and I heard her mention
San Francisco so I asked here where she was from. She lives in Oakland and we
talked for a while. At some point it came up that I went to Bard and it turns out she graduated from Bard too. She hasnt had any connection to Bard since she
graduated and so was excited to hear about it. Also, (for those of you who know Bard) when she was at Bard, Blithewood was a dorm and she lived there!! Anyway, it is a small world, even when I am in another country thousands of miles from Berkeley and Bard.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Arriving in Caracas

I left from the San Francisco airport early Monday morning. I had a layover in Atlanta where I met a lot of people on my flight who were also going to the World Social Forum in Venezuela. When the plane landed at midnight I connected up with a group of kids who were also planning to stay at the youth camp. WSF volunteers met the plane and provided free buses to the city. Normally it would be a 45 minute drive but the main highway from the airport is closed because part of the highway is breaking. So the ride took about 3 hours through small towns going up and down hills on a curvy road. The fog and curves in the road made the ride slightly nerve racking but we got to the city safely at 5am. We were dropped off at a central location and from there a group of 8 of us took a cab to the park where we thought the youth camp was. At 5:30 in the morning we found nothing but joggers, hundreds of them, it was so wierd, do people go jogging that early in the morning in the US too and I just dont notice them? Anyway, no one seemed to know anything about the WSF so we figured we were in the wrong place. We picked a spot in the park and settled down to rest until the internet cafes opened and we could try and figure out where to go and whereto meet people we were meeting. I spent the rest of the morning standing on lines to register, lines to pay, lots of really long lines. At various points we all split up and went our own ways.

Right after registration I ran into some of the Bard people I was
supposed to meet up with. Once the Bard group was together we tried to find an event that was part of an Alternative Social Forum, but couldnt find it. At this point I was still carrying my 40 pound backpack, hadnt slept except a few hours on the plane and bus, and had been walking all day. I split off from the group and went to settle into the youth camp where I got to bed early to catch up on my sleep. The camp is up in the hills where there is a lot more rain than in the city and so the whole camp is wet and muddy and I woke up with my feet wet because the water had come into the tent and into my sleeping bag. Oh well. There were no real events yesterday, mostly just registration. Today was the start of activities, more on that later.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Host Family

Today I got an email with information about the host family I will be living with in Chile for the semester. I will be living in a neighborhood in Santiago called Providencia with a woman who works as a school psychologist and her two daughters, one is 22 and studies English, the other is 19. The email had some basic information and even a picture. I emailed the family to tell them about myself and sent them a picture of me. So, I now have a place where I will be living which is really exciting and makes the trip seem a little more real. I leave in three days and it hasn't quite felt real yet.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Welcome to my blog

So I have decided to keep a blog during my semester in Chile to keep you all informed about what I am up to. I will try to update it as often as I can with writing and photos so keep checking back for new postings.