On Thursday afternoon, October 21, around twenty activists from the Hands Off Venezuela solidarity campaign gathered outside the Venezuelan consulate in London. They brought with them a surprise guest: George “Christopher Columbus” Bush, who had Tony Blair sitting atop his shoulder in a puppet form. They were there to hear about three protesters in Caracas who have been jailed for toppling... a Columbus statue.
Banners were attached to the railings outside, reading “Hands Off Venezuela”, “The Revolution Will Not Be Terrorised”, and most importantly “Free the O12 Prisoners”. With a low-key police presence, hundreds of flyers were given out to curious passers-by, explaining why the picket was taking place, and after learning about the issue many people signed the solidarity petition demanding the release of the three political prisoners.
Speeches were made by two of the campaigners highlighting the contradictory nature of a “Revolutionary” government. Some of their great achievements were mentioned, including the advances in health-care, education, housing and human rights. Their new constitution, the most democratic in the world, brings with it new methods and tools for changing society, which the Venezuelan people are busy doing.
However, the point was made that as a solidarity campaign, our support for the Bolivarian government is not unconditional; rather it is conditional on it retaining the support of the Venezuelan people. The fact that it still has this support was made clear from the overwhelming victory for President Chávez in the recent recall referendum, but it was established that Hands Off Venezuela stood in solidarity with the whole Bolivarian Movement, not just its leaders and officials but its grass-roots as well.
It was emphasised that the leadership of the Movement should listen and learn from its grassroots. The fact that the statue-toppling has received considerable support from the plethora of popular movements in Venezuela, as well as internationally, was underlined. It is significant that the toppling of the statue of Columbus (who Chávez himself has described as “worse than Hitler”) was carried out publicly in full day-light without masks, which shows that this was a principled, political act of rebellion, rather than wanton vandalism.
Symbolically, after re-affirming Christopher Columbus’ guilt in facilitating genocide against indigenous people of the Americas, Blair and the monstrous Bush/Columbus hybrid were toppled to loud cheers. Lying in the street, they were covered with a sheet, and the crowd was reminded that November 5th is just around the corner (when traditionally effigies of Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament, are burned on giant bonfires over Britain).
Another brief speech was made restating that the campaign was very supportive of Venezuela’s Bolivarian government, which was in fact why it had been set up. However, it is clear that in the case of the “O12 prisoners” they have made a mistake and are scape-goating three peaceful activists in order to avoid an embarrassing show-down with the King of Spain. Apparently the Royal had instructed his Ambassador to pressurise the Venezuelan government into stopping the toppling, which is ironic for a “Day of Indigenous Resistance” (as October 12th was renamed in Venezuela by Chávez three years ago).
The protest ended with the announcement of an upcoming open debate on the legitimacy of the original statue-toppling action, and a promise to return if the O12 political prisoners are not released soon. An appeal was also made to the Bolivarian government to agree to hold a joint-trial for the more than 150 activists in Venezuela who all claim collective responsibility for the original action, as they have publicly demanded.
For pictures of the actual toppling and further analysis, see the statement by the Revolutionary Marxist Current (in Spanish):
El derribo de la Estatua de Colón y las tareas de los Revolucionarios.
- October 12: More than 500 years of oppression in Latin America (October 14, 2004)
- October 12th – Venezuela solidarity day of action in London kicks off the ESF (October 14, 2004)
- Hands Off Venezuela! Website of the International solidarity Campaign in defence of the Venezuelan Revolution