CARACAS, Venezuela.-As vast and remarkable as the country's natural landscape, the intelligence and heart of this people are impressive. Without mentioning the humility in the eyes, in the spirit, of this combative people - without considering their lovely way of speaking, with fluid words, no mumbling or non-sequiturs, sprinkled with metaphors and endearments. This opinion has been formed over the course of many days talking with Venezuelans. The high point was
perhaps on July 8, during the annual workshop of the Bolívar, Martí, and Chávez Studies department, at the Andrés Bello Lyceum in the Capital District.
A product of the Bolivarian Revolution's Mission Sucre, initiated in 2003, the department brings together diverse forces, who share the common denominator of love for the homeland. Since this is a country of orators, the workshop featured a parade of men and women of all ages, prestigious academics and workers of the land and letters, all immersed in defending the heart of Our America, which right now means addressing the importance of the National Constituent Assembly which will begin its work after members are elected July 30.
Attending the workshop as an observer, I had the good fortune to sit beside a candidate for one of the 545 seats in the Constituent Assembly which will chart the nation's course. His name is Gabriel Venegas Díaz, a 35-year-old university graduate in Physical Activity and Health. After the events, in the Lyceum's garden he explained the concept of "university village," a structure through which diverse groups come together to discuss the three great men.
"Aldea (village in Spanish) has a meaning: Local Environment for Alternative Student Development. It is the result of taking the university to small settlements. We have more than 1,100 in the country. We are in all municipalities and states. This is the localization of university education that Comandante Chávez gave us, in an effort to repay a historical debt to the humble."
"Mission Sucre," Gabriel explained, "emerged from a census among the population with no access to university studies, and was the result of a call made by Chavez. In all of the country's Bolivar Plazas, interviews were conducted of those with no university training and of those professionals who were willing to collaborate in taking knowledge to communities. This began the municipalization.
"Sucre," he continued, "means Unitary System of Student Certification and Registry. The mission's name is not only due to the initials but refers to Marshall Antonio José de Sucre, who was an enterprising young man taken from us, killed by the oligarchy."
The mission described by Gabriel currently includes an enrollment of almost 180,000 students, in 21 national training programs and the initial preparatory course. Graduates are able to earn a degree in scientific areas, in education, administration, social communication, civil construction, environmental management, informatics, and comprehensive family medicine, among others.
"One of the proposals we have, if we get into the Constituent Assembly, is that education be linked to the needs of society," he said.
I asked what role Cuban collaborators play in this mission and Gabriel answered, "They are fundamental."
The response is accurate since, for more than 13 years, Cuban advisors have contributed to the development of all national training programs, and supported Mission Sucre efforts in all of the country's 24 states. They have helped to prepare collaborating teachers from different university and other institutions in Venezuela, who are many times working as volunteers, while also contributing to training of leadership bodies.
What do you believe is the role of a Constituent Assembly member?
This past May 1, Comandante Nicolás Maduro convoked the original power, a Constituent Assembly, the base that regulates, establishes the law for the entire country. He made the call given the opposition's unwillingness to dialogue. He was obliged to convoke the original power, with nine lines of action.
First is being able to guarantee that we consolidate the Republic's peace, something that is absolutely imperative. We are going to a constituent power, we are going to dialogue, to armor the Constitution we already have, the one the opposition doesn't believe in, and overthrew in a lock-out and the coup of 2002 against Comandante Chávez.
Today, in an effort to trick the people, the opposition is saying that we want to put an end to the legacy of Comandante Chávez, when what we are seeking is to fortify this legacy, strengthen a Revolution that has unique touch because our Chávez was eclectic, very original.
Are you worried about what could happen in the days leading up to the July 30 vote?
I am worried, but at the same time, I'm taking action. We know that we need to show the world that the majority still believes in this historical process, and we are working on this, mobilizing the people. The Revolution has not been perfect. It is being made by human beings. It is a strength of Comandante Nicolás Maduro that he has not denied the mistakes, but has accepted (responsibility).
Something must be kept very clear: The opposition does not believe the people are capable of continuing. Unfortunately the most difficult struggle is in the communications media. It is a war that has had a profound impact, and there are sectors mired in confusion. But there are many of us who want to continue bettering the work.
Once the Constituent Assembly is held, you will have a great responsibility for the future of the country…
It's an enormous responsibility. Since the Constitution of 1999, that was born of the efforts of Comandante Chávez, representatives no longer exist. Our democracy is now participative and protagonist. Those of us entering this body must understand that we are spokespeople for communities. I am going for university students, for the missions.
We are going to participate in all of the proposals that are made regarding the future, that is why it is so important to establish the Popular Constituent Committees, which are not only where we present our proposals, but where we come to understand the people's discontent and concerns.
The 545 Constituents must raise the voices of those at our side, at our level, and also those of people living at the top of the hill, with no way to move about. Our work is to advance the will of the poorest, to build a better country. •
NINE LINES OF WORK FOR THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY PROPOSED BY MADURO
1. Achieve peace, isolate the violent, reaffirm the values of justice and accountability.
2. Perfect and broaden the Venezuelan economic system, to design or install a new post-petroleum economic system
3. Include within the Constitution all of the Missions and Grand Missions established by Comandante Chávez and the Revolution, among them those focused on housing, education, health, and culture.
4. Strengthen the functioning of the justice, security, and citizen protection system.
5. Promote new forms of participation.
6. Advance the defense of national sovereignty.
7. Promote cultural identity and the country's new spirituality.
8. Guarantee youth a future.
9. Show concern for the survival of life on the planet.