New Afrikan Connections: Report Back from Venezuela by NAPO Member Akinyele Umoja

I was invited to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to participate in a ceremony where President Nicholas Maduro endorsed the United Nation’s (UN) International Decade of People of African descent (2015-2024. African descendant activists, scholars, elected officials were invited for this occasion and Danny Glover, the UN Ambassador for the International Decade, was the special guest of honor. I was officially invited due to my role as an academic, specifically being Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University. Unofficially, my membership in NAPO and MXGM and our organization’s solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution was noted. The invitation and trip is significant due to me being present at an event with officials of the Bolivarian republic and to be able to interact with African descendant leaders from different countries in the diaspora.

The trip took place on Friday, March 23 through Monday, March 26, 2018. Upon my arrival, I was transported an official meeting of African descendant movements with members of the Bolivarian Republic. Over 40 participants in this meeting with representation from Saint Vincent
Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina, Columbia, Barbados, Brazil, Peru, and Dominican Republic. It also included Yvette Modestin who resides in Boston, but represents the African descendant movement in Panama and UMass professor Agustin Lao-Montes from Puerto Rico. Professor Mireille Fanon (daughter of Frantz Fanon) and president of the Frantz Fanon Foundation. Mireille Fanon is also an expert on the UN Working Group on People of African descent. Another key person in the delegation was DC based scholar-activist and Marxist-Leninist James Early. Early is fluent in Spanish and an associate of Danny Glover. Of course, representatives from the Network of Afro-Descendant Organizations of Venezuela were in attendance, including comrade Jesus Garcia. Many of the African descendant representative there trace their activism to the motion towards the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa and the resolution to recognize the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as a Crime Against Humanity. Many of the movements in Latin America embrace the identity “Afro descendant” that was collective agreed upon in a December 2000 international gathering in Chile.

Due to the time of my arrival, I missed reports from Afro-descendant throughout the Americas on March 23. I hear did a presentation from Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. Arreaza expressed solidarity with Africa and African descendant movements. He expressed the history of Black resistance in the country and the relationship of the Bolivarian Revolution to Afro-Venezuelans and the African world. The Foreign Minister outlined the importance of the May 20 elections to maintaining the Revolution. After Arreaza’s address, the delegation was treated to a cultural presentation and screen a movie, Mama Africa. Mama Africa is a documentary advocating the embrace of traditional African religion, particularly Ifa, to reclaim heritage, by a young Venezuelan filmmaker Benito Marquez. The second day, March 24, started with a tour of a museum dedicated to Hugo Chavez. His African heritage and that fight against racism is highlighted in the museum.

Event with Maduro

The event with President Maduro was broadcast nationally. Danny Glover, Foreign Minister Arreza, and Maduro sat in front facing the audience. I was seated in a prominent place on the front row of the audience across from officials of the Venezuelan government. Maduro not only signed the document but announced he was going to promote reparations for Africans in the Americas in the non-aligned movement.

Tour to Afro-descendant Venezuela

Our delegation was taken to Afro-Venezuelan communities on Sunday, March 25 to witness the relationship of the Afro descendants and the Bolivarian Revolution. First stop was an economic cooperative in the city of Marizapa. The cooperative produces chocolate products, including candy bars called “Cimarron” (dedicated to “maroon” or kilombo heritage) and hot chocolate. Africans historically cultivated cacao, which Is used to produced chocolate products. The cooperative formed the chocolate factory an investment from the revolutionary government. It is the first socialist factory run by Afro-Venezuelans.

We next visited the Ciudad Socialista de Hugo Chavez (the Socialist City of Hugo Chavez), a housing development of 2400 units and 12000 residents. This community provides free housing, health clinics, and education for its residents, who are predominately people of African descent, poor, and working class.

We visited the Barlovento region of Miranda state, which is known for its African retentions, including drumming, religious survivals, cuisine. There we held a press conference at the Centro de estudios integral de Barlovento (Center of Integral Studies of Barlovento) and African educational and cultural center and Afro TV a vehicle to promote Afro-descendant and Pan-Afrikan culture. Finally, the Mayor of the city of Curiepe, Nora Delgado, hosted us at a cultural center there. Mayor Delgado greeted us with a powerful anti-imperialist and revolutionary nationalist speech.

ARAAC

Chucho Garcia invited me to participate in meetings of ARAAC (Regional Council of African Descendants in the Americas). Representatives were in the meetings from Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, with Modestin (Panama) and Lao-Montes (Puerto Rico). A couple of representatives from the Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations, Fanon, and Early participated in the meeting. ARAAC started in 2011 at a left forum in Sao Paulo, Brazil that was called but the issues of Afro-descendants was not a part of the official agenda of the gathering. ARAAC’s political orientation is revolutionary, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and Pan-Africanist. It political agenda is to support reparations for African people in the Americas, support progressive spaces and anti-imperialist states in the Americas, particularly Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Chucho stated that Maduro’s signing on to the International Decade is a result of lobbying by Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations.
The structure of ARAAC, promotion of the International decade and reparations was discussed. Mirielle Fanon emphasized the necessity of those who have influence with their states to have them participate in the activities of the UN Working Group of People of African Descent.

I will provide a list of contacts with contact info for NAPO leadership

Recommendations

1) Continued solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution: the Bolivarian Revolution is an important anti-imperialist struggle today. Similar to the Cuban Revolution, Venezuela is in the vanguard of contemporary socialism and anti-imperialism and is one of the best allies of Pan-Africanism and the human rights of New Afrikan people. Because of previous work, they are familiar with the work of our organization in Jackson, which they believe is significant. We must discuss concretely building on this relationship and assisting solidarity with the Revolution as well as connecting people to people relationships with African communities in Venezuela.
2) ARAAC: Consider MXGM being an official member organization. One of our members (Damani Acquil-Atlanta MXGM) is currently a member of ARAAC. Through Damani, We could have representation and a connection to movements throughout Central and South America. As Malcolm stated the unity of Afrikans in the Americas is potentially more powerful than an “atomic bomb.” Through ARAAC, We could also build consciousness of our struggle for self-determination in the US empire.
3) Promote the International Decade: Our organization has mentioned the International Decade for years with no programmatic activity. I propose with ARAAC, We coordinate an campaign to have academic organizations (Association of African-American Life and History and the National Council of Black Studies), activists organizations (e.g. NAACP, National Black United Front, NCOBRA), local governments (Atlanta, Jackson, Detroit) endorse the International Decade.
4) Reparations: We must have a conversation about revitalizing NCOBRA or initiating a new reparations movement. This includes a conversation on the National African-American Reparations Commission (which some of our MXGM members are listed as being involved in), led by Ron Daniels.

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