Over 250 people attended the Latin America 2005 conference in London last Saturday, with at least another 100 turned away because of lack of space.
The conference, backed by the Venezuela Information Centre, the T&G union and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and other organisations, discussed the struggles taking place across the continent.
The “Bolivarian Revolution” unleashed by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez formed the main focus.
The conference came on the eve of the country’s national assembly elections. The main opposition parties withdrew from these elections, claiming that they were not democratic.
Alfredo Toro Hardy, the Venezuelan ambassador to London, told the conference that the elections would be “the 11th electoral process since Chavez was elected”.
These processes have seen Chavez secure increasing support, which reflects “the highest satisfaction levels of any government in Latin America,” he added.
Chavez’s party, the Fifth Republic Movement, won 114 out of 167 seats in the assembly, according to a senior party member, securing the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution.
Backing for Chavez comes overwhelmingly from poor Venezuelans, who are mainly indigenous, black or mixed race. According to the BBC, people queued to vote in poor areas of the capital, Caracas, while in middle class areas polling stations were almost empty.
The poor have benefited from ambitions social programmes funded from the country’s huge oil wealth. Previously this wealth passed into the hands of the small elite now keen to overthrow Chavez.
Richard Gott, author of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, told the conference that the elections were “a crisis weekend for Venezuela”.
Gott said, “I received an e-mail saying that the atmosphere there is very tense. We are seeing the fourth attempt by the US and opposition to overthrow Chavez.
“Every election that has taken place has been certified as free and fair. The opposition parties have got nowhere because they are paper parties with leaders but no followers.”
Last Sunday’s elections were certified as fair by both the Organisation of American States and the EU. The elections are a reflection of a much broader process in Venezuela.
Gott said, “There is now a revolution going on. People feel that they have become agents of their own destiny.
“It’s a real revolution — a Bolivarian Revolution. It is something completely new, but at the same time it is something rooted in the past, in the ideas of Simon Bolivar who liberated the continent from the Spanish.
“The opposition don’t understand what’s going on because they are mostly white settlers. Their parties pulled out of the election because they knew they would face defeat.
“They claim that democracy is in danger. It is — but from the opposition and the US.”
He added that the Bolivarian Revolution could have an impact in Britain. “It shows that we don’t have to go along with neo-liberalism, with the agenda of Bush and Blair.”
The conference also discussed the forthcoming elections in Bolivia. A huge movement in June prevented the handing over of Bolivian oil and gas reserves to the multinationals, and brought down the president.
John Crabtree, a leading writer on Bolivia, told the conference that the people faced a stark choice.
“In the blue corner is a candidate who is almost an official of the World Bank, Jorge Quiroga,” said Crabtree. “In the red corner is Evo Morales, who is from an indigenous background and came to prominence as a leader of the coca farmers.”
If Morales is elected on 18 December he will raise expectations of major change in Bolivia. Whether this change comes about will ultimately depend on the continuing strength of the movement from below.