Anyone still clinging to the belief that Hugo Chávez is at heart more of a democratic leftist than a Castro wannabee should read some of the accounts of the recently-concluded 16th World Youth and Students Festival in Caracas.
The festival is a periodic production of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, which was taken over by Stalinists at the beginning of the Cold War. Previous festivals have been held in such outposts of democracy as East Berlin (1951 and 1973), Moscow (1957 and 1985), Havana (1978 and 1997) and, yes, Pyongyang (1989).
The Cuban National News Agency reported that “[h]uman right violations in capitalist countries” would be the main discussion topic during one session of the festival. I’ll assume the busy schedule of parades and Chavez speeches didn’t allow for a discussion of human rights violations in “socialist” countries.
According to a highly sympathetic account by Humberto Márquez of the Inter Press Service:
The festival kicked off with a boisterous parade, as thousands of young delegates – some clad in traditional ethnic costumes, others in multinational brand-name athletic gear, and a great many in faded jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with the image of late Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara – filed past Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who watched from a viewing stand outside Fort Tiuna, the Venezuelan military’s headquarters in Caracas.
The U.S. delegation carried a massive banner reading “Hands Off Venezuela”, while others held aloft giant portraits of Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino, along with Simón Bolívar, José Martí and Chávez himself.
Am I the only one for whom this description of devoted cadre displaying giant portraits while parading before a revered leader carries disturbing historical associations?
I’ll credit Márquez for letting a bit of the reality of Chavez’s Venezuela intrude in his last paragraph:
The authorities have also beefed up security with a reinforced police and military presence around the meeting and accommodation facilities, in view of the high crime rates in Caracas.
And there was a more skeptical observer: namely Harry Hutton of the “Chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry” blog, who– coincidentally or not– was in Caracas at the time and managed to crash the festivities. He has pictures.
Harry H, who may or may not have got lucky with some hot Communist chicks, reports that “Chavez opened proceedings… with a speech so insane I was surprised the oil markets didn’t panic.”
Some random observations:
–Any gathering that includes a delegation from the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea is not a festival of “democratic youth.”
–If anyone from the Iraqi Communist party attended, I hope they informed the comrades that they participated in the “sham” January election and oppose the “anti-imperialist resistance.”
–Yes, there are some hot Communist chicks. They don’t exactly look like victims of capitalist oppression, but I suppose appearances can be deceiving.
Harry adds: Its enough to make a reformed commie all nostalgic. I might add from an experience some time ago of a similiar event that they really should be rebranded as Comrade 18-30…..
Anyway I had a small re-taste of such a nostalgic ‘festival’ myself during this summer when I found myself at the Festa dell Liberazione, the Italian Rifondazione Comunista’s annual bash. I had an excellent BBQ dinner provided by Argentine comrades which was followed by some fine grappa from a cooperativa. I was surrounded at all times by Che posters and Cuban flags and I couldn’t resist asking my communist friend if he thought such an event, organised independently of the state and aimed to some extent against the state, would be permitted in Havana.
“I suppose not,” he replied.
You can’t even get a decent argument out of the Stoppers these days.