Sunday 1 August there was a LALIT "open" assembly at Grande Riviere to listen to a lively Report Back from two LALIT members who went to Venezuela and Cuba on an international brigade which took the form of a "revolutionary tour" of these two Latin American countries last month.
Both countries have been through revolutionary processes, they explained, but are at very different times in the process. Our two members, Ragini Kistnasamy and Yannick Jeanne, were received in Venezuela and in Cuba by the Youth Sections of the political parties that have been and are still involved in the revolutions. Their guides, who were enthusiastic, self-critical and also extremely well-informed, were from these Youth Sections of the respective parties. While in Cuba the revolution that was led by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro took place 52 years ago and has been under seige by the United States ever since, in Venezuela the process has really only started recently, that is to say in 2002 when a right wing coup tried to overthrow the elected Hugo Chavez government. Comparing these two very different stages of revolution, and seeing them "in action" was inspiring, they both said. In fact, they kept using words like "extra-ordinary", "WOW", "amazing", "dynamic", and "fantastic experience". "I just kept saying Wow! when I was there," Yannick confessed. Ragini said that Yannick kept asking why Mauritius wasn't like that, to which they would both reply , "Let's make it like that!" Ragini Kistnasamy, who works in Cybercity is a Central Committee member, while Yannick Jeanne, who works in the Docks, is in the Port Louis daytime branch and the Youth Commission.
The idea of such brigades is to learn from other revolutions so as to prepare revolutionary change in your own country. Our two members were part of an international brigade that was led by members of the Revolutionary Socialist Party who are in the Cuba-Venezuela Support Groups on Campuses in Australia. The LALIT members were with them for nearly three weeks visiting key sites in the two countries, including agro-industries, organic agriculture, universities, shops, health facilites, cultural events, housing schemes. They had plenty of time to discuss politics, in general, with other members of the brigade.
They also had meetings with local people to get to understand how decisions are taken in the two different countries that have experienced revolutions, to see how the popular democracy works in action, and even to understand how the two very different countries co-operate so as to further their respective revolutions. Venezuela is short of doctors, while Cuba trains many more than it needs, so they send literally thousands of family doctors to Venezuela so that each set of block of flats in the cities has a doctor, for initial care. This helps de-congestion hospitals, where there has been an exodus of doctors who were indulging in private practice. In exchange for the doctors, Venezuela supplies Cuba with cheap petrol and oil, whose price was previously breaking the back of the Cuban revolution. Cuba has some very advanced agricultural diversification schemes, some of which are in belts around the cities so as to supply fresh vegetables, eggs, fish and fruit to the cities, and which Venezuela is learning from, and so on.
Each LALIT member gave an introduction about the revolutionary tour and the experience as a whole, and then Yannick projected the 60 or so best photographs he had taken (some 2,000 in all), and they used the photographs as starting point for telling about their experience of revolution in each country, and of the encounters they had. They were impressed by how knowledgeable, critical, and enthusiastic their guides, the young people from the respective Parties, were. "Of course, we do criticize and must criticise the way the Cuban revolution is running, but not to go back to capitalism, no!"
In general, both Ragini Kistnasamy and Yannick Jeanne were critical of the way the world media portrays both revolutions, and the way this portrayal is mostly just repeated in countries like Mauritius. "Though, of course, it is natural that the capitalist media world-wide will do its best to discredit any attempt to move beyond capitalism," Ragini Kistnasamy said. Yannick added that "The entire press in Venezuela is still controlled by capitalists, who run a day-in and day-out campaign against Hugo Chavez' government." They explained that on Sundays, Chavez, on the State TV station, holds a long question and answer program that is very popular, called "Alo, Presidente!" to which anyone can go and pose questions live. Yannick added that he had believed the propaganda that Cuba is such a "poor" country, but that he found there people were better off than in his own neighbourhood, and most neighbourhoods in Mauritius. "All basic needs are seen to, either free or very cheaply," he said, with photographs showing the prices in shops, "and health, education and culture are much better cared for than here. I have seen that with my own eyes." They were both very humble about how they had only visited two cities in each of the respective countries so had only had a brief visit, but at the same time felt that they had learnt an enormous amount in so short a time.
The session ended with a series of questions, that set off general discussion. One woman factory-worker member asked: "When in Mauritius we try to set the slightest wrong right, the police arrest people. How did they get past this police problem in their countries?" A long discussion on the State continued. A planter asked a question about the organic control of pests, and this also set off an interesting debate on the difficulties of any one individual planter trying to avoid using pesticide and herbicide, without the support of a framework like the State. A woman lawyer who is not a member asked about food security, and what the exact program is in Cuba. Ragini replied that it is disconcerting how similar what Cuba is putting into action is to the agricultural aspect of LALIT's "Program pu enn Lekonomi Alternatif". A man factory-worker member asked: "What effort does the Chavez government undertake in order to counter the propaganda against him?" It was at this stage that we learnt about the program "Alo, Presidente!" The foreign media are invited to it. Questions about visas to visit were also posed, and it was explained that you have to send your passport to Pretoria. Our members had special visas for this kind of "brigade-tour", and not just tourist visas. Ragini and Yannick proposed that any members who can afford it should save their money up, as they had done, and consider going on such a visit in the future. They said this kind of revolutionary tour is important in three ways: To encourage the revolutions there by visiting them, to get a taste of a living revolution, yourself, and then to share the truth and counter the propaganda against the revolutions.
The afternoon concluded with a drawing of lots amongst all those present for 6 T-shirts and 3 caps, the sharing of some chocolate our members had bought in Cuba, and each getting a puff at one big Cuban cigar while drinking a cup of coffee, tea or juice in the sun on the verandah. Everyone agreed that there is still lots to learn from our two members' revolutionary tour. Branches were encouraged to invite either of the two members to come share their experiences with another branch, over the next few months.