Celebrating Afro-Venezuelan Heritage

The following post is written by Reality Tours communications intern William Jones Jr as he explores Afro-Venezuelan identity historically and in its current context. Visit Venezuela on a Reality Tour to learn more about the struggles, contributions, and successes of Afro-Venezuelans.

History and Legacy

Under the leadership of the late President Hugo Chávez, Venezuela has made strides toward combating the historical legacy of racism and recognizing the national importance of African heritage, promoting social inclusion and respect for Afro-Venezuelans. Among them is the official celebration of the Month of Africa in May and Day of Afro-Venezuelans on May 10.

Although Abolition occurred in 1854, freedom did not bring equality. Venezuela, like many other Latin American countries, used the idea of the mestizo born of European, Indigenous, and African blood, to uphold a myth of racial democracy that denied rampant discrimination on the basis of skin color and African identity on paper.  In reality African cultural traditions remained marginalized and European traditions were promoted. Blacks remained at the bottom of the economic and social hierarchy.

Since the election of late Hugo Chávez, conditions for Afro-Venezuelans have improved vastly. Once a privilege enjoyed by only a few, education is now considered a human right. Afro-Venezuelans are partaking in education at unprecedented rates, an education that has an intercultural emphasis and includes their historical contributions. Massive literacy campaigns and new educational institutions have allowed more than 1.5 million adults to learn to read and write, or to return to school.

With the 1999 Constitution, Venezuela became the second Latin American country after Cuba to guarantee all citizens the right to basic healthcare. To meet this goal, a partnership was initiated with the government of Cuba in 2003, which provided 20,000 medical professionals to treat previously underserved Venezuelans. Thousands of community health clinics have been established throughout the country, which has directly benefited Afro-Venezuelans. Since 2003, millions of Afro-Venezuelans have been issued national ID cards guaranteeing them the citizenship rights they previously lacked. Electoral participation among Afro-Venezuelans has grown exponentially. Social missions addressing poverty and inequality have resulted in a great rise in the standard of living for Afro-Venezuelans.

Celebrating and Connecting with African and African Diaspora Heritage

Venezuela has prioritized its relations with Africa by opening 18 new embassies in countries including Mali, Morocco, Congo, and Angola. The Second Africa-South American Summit was held in Venezuela on Margarita Island on the Caribbean from Sept. 26-27, 2009, where Chavez quoted “Africa will be an important geographic, economic and social pole. And South America will be too.”

Transnational alliances and movement building has occurred between African Americans and Afro-Venezuelans involving organizations such as the Rainbow Push Coalition, TransAfrica Forum, the NAACP and the Organization of Africans in the Americas. Prominent social activists include Cornel West, Julianne Malveaux, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and Bill Fletcher. They are just a few of the many U.S.-based organizations and activists working to build bridges to Afro-Latin America.

Visit Venezuela on a Reality Tour

Travel on a Reality Tour to Venezuela to learn more about Afro-Venezuelan history and to see how Venezuelans are working together to combat racism and economic inequality in the country. Join us on the May 3- May 13, 2014 Reality Tour to celebrate in person the Day of Afro-Venezuelans!

Thanks William for this informative and inspiring post!

After a two-year battle with cancer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died of a heart attack on March 5th, 2013 at the age of 58.

The government of Venezuela has since declared a seven day period of mourning in honor of the Commandante, heads of state from across Latin America have traveled to Caracas to issue tribute to the President and Sean Penn and Rev. Jesse Jackson were among those present at the funeral today. At Global Exchange we reflect on the legacy and impact Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías leaves on Venezuela and the world.

Hugo Chávez was a champion of the poor and marginalized and a staunch believer in the integration of Latin America. He believed in uniting Latin America as Simón Bolívar had proclaimed. As former Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva credits in his obituary of Chávez, he was not afraid to stand up to the U.S. hegemony and push for a system based on social justice.

Since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1999, Venezuela embarked on a profound and controversial project of reinventing society from within, changing a political and economic system that benefited the few and powerful to one that would give ordinary Venezuelans a seat at the table. Global Exchange was proud to launch Reality Tours to the country during this time and witness the incredible transformation of society, much of it documented in the movie, South of the Border.

Reality Tours to Venezuela flourished in the early millennium with Global Exchange establishing a full time presence in the country – on one Reality Tour, participants were invited as guests on the Aló Presidente weekly television show in which President Chávez spoke to the nation and toured social programs active in the country. This brought criticism of Global Exchange, some of which still live on our Wikipedia page. But we continue to offer the trips, believe that people who have traveled and met with Venezuelans can tell a story far better than the mainstream media coverage.

Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution gave millions of Venezuelans universal access to free health care, education, housing, land, clean water and cut poverty in half. With new spaces for political participation opened to grassroots social movements, once-marginalized Venezuelan citizens came out of the shadows to demand an active role in society.

Not only did his government give the people basic needs to survive, he also empowered communities with tools to participate in democracy in order to create positive change. It brought various grassroots movements together, including opposition groups. Much of this was recorded in a book, Venezuela Speaks! Voices from the Grassroots written by one-time Global Exchange staffers JoJo Farrell, Carlos Martinez and Michael Fox.

Beyond Venezuela, Hugo Chávez worked hard to establish a strong Latin America independent of influence from the United States and other countries in the North, proposing and championing the ALBA trade block. Always critical of U.S. Interference, he called ‘Yankee imperialism’ a ‘threat for all the people of the world’. He highlighted the importance of addressing climate change and pushed for the end of U.S.-backed wars. Venezuela was always the first to respond to natural disasters in the Caribbean and helped neighboring countries get out of their debt.

Speaking on Tuesday after hearing the announcement of the passing of Chávez, Global Exchange’s Reality Tours trip coordinator, Alvaro Morillo, said, ‘it is a great loss and a great pain for Venezuelans … We are mourning and sad but in healthy peace and with the hope that there will be respect of the pain we are feeling. Well, Chávez left a legacy of his prinicpals and work for the poor and it is this in which we will continue working … Venezuela is going forward CHAVEZ WILL LIVE IN HEARTS FOREVER!


… es una perdida muy grande y un dolor muy grande para los venezolanos … tenemos es un luto activo y con tristesa pero en sana paz y con deseo que se respete el dolor que se esta pasando. Bueno Chávez deja un legado de seguir sus principios y trabajar por los pobres y eso es lo que hay que seguir haciendo … venezuela va para adelante CHAVEZ VIVIRA EN LOS CORAZONES PARA SIEMPRE!

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías… ¡Presente!

BBC journalist Sarah Grainger on a Reality Tour to Venezuela

BBC journalist Sarah Grainger on a Reality Tour in Venezuela

Ever wonder what it would be like to go on a Global Exchange Reality Tour?

Here’s a birds-eye view, captured recently in this BBC video coverage of a Reality Tours trip to Venezuela:

BBC journalist Sarah Grainger also wrote about the experience in this BBC article, “Venezuela bids to beat bad image to win over tourists.

On a Global Exchange tour to Venezuela we meet with human rights activists, rural agricultural workers, labor unions, community activists, journalists, and government officials and opposition figures, to allow participants to see for themselves the unprecedented social change that is occurring at this historic time in Venezuela and the region.

Thanks to Sarah Grainger and the BBC crew for joining us on a Reality Tour to Venezuela, and sharing the experience with the rest of the world.


Visit our website to find out how YOU can join us on an upcoming Reality Tour to Venezuela.

In 2009, director Oliver Stone traveled to five South American countries to explore the social transformations that have been taking place in those countries. On that trip, Stone had conversations with Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Lula da Silva of Brazil, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, her husband and former president Nėstor Kirchner, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Raúl Castro of Cuba.

In his latest film, South of the Border, Oliver Stone explores those conversations and reveals a revolution in South America that most of the world does not know about.

In casual conversations with seven sitting presidents, Stone gains unprecedented access to and sheds new light upon the exciting transformations in the region.  Mr. Stone was most struck by the extent to which the presidents are committed to determining the future of their own nations without undue outside influence and control.

I saw a screening of this film last week and highly recommend it. It highlights the often skewed representations of these countries by mainstream US media and attempts to shed light on the political and social movements taking place in South America that often go unnoticed amongst the general American public.

A big focus of the film is that of Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez and the changes taking place in the country. Global Exchange has had a strong Reality Tours program in Venezuela for many years and has brought people together to learn more about the progressive model of socioeconomic development that has been shaping Latin America’s future. This is done by meeting with the grassroots that is really helping to shape and build the foundation for these changes. Find out more about our Venezuela delegations.

See the story of Venezuela and Latin America unfold on the big screen. The film is showing in several cities nationwide and is opening in more cities in the coming weeks. To our Bay Area friends, be sure to head to the theatres this weekend for its opening and see the provocative film that everyone is talking about.

South of the Border Channel on YouTube.