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ELEVEN African Americans, Transnational Contention, and Cross-National Politics in the United States and Venezuela Sekou M. Franklin Introduction On September 1, 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Rev. Jesse Jackson, the founder and president of the Rainbow/push Coalition, held a press conference at the Baton Rouge command center. Accompanying Jackson were Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco and Felix Rodriguez, the president of citgo, a subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (pdvsa), Venezuela’s stateowned , oil company. At the conference Rodriguez announced that Venezuela would provide an assortment of aid to Katrina survivors: 1 million barrels of gasoline, $5–6 million in cash, medical supplies, and 50 tons of canned goods. Venezuela was one of seventy countries that initially offered humanitarian assistance to Katrina survivors, and within a week Venezuela reconfirmed its offer at the Rainbow/ push Coalition’s Chicago headquarters. Yet, due to mounting tensions between the United States and Venezuela, President George W. Bush rejected most of the aid package. Venezuela redirected the aid to the American Red Cross and Louisiana state government, and more than a year after the hurricane, Venezuela assisted organizations such as the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, which have carried out social justice-oriented reconstruction initiatives in New Orleans. Coincidentally, Jackson traveled to Venezuela a few days before the hurricane battered the Gulf Coast, at the invitation of President Hugo 283 Transnational Activism & Globalization 284 Chávez Frías (generally referred to as Hugo Chávez). Jackson’s delegation, which included a Texas state senator, Rodney Ellis, discussed a number of issues with Chávez: immigration policy, Chávez’s petroleum diplomacy, and which U.S. “markets” or jurisdictions would be receptive to coordinating domestic social programs with Venezuelan officials. The delegation also met with other government officials as well as activists from the Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations, the foremost black social movement organization in Venezuela. The highlight of Jesse Jackson’s trip was his thirty-minute speech before the Venezuelan National Assembly on August 28, perhaps the first of its kind by an African American leader. During the speech, Jackson linked Chávez’s populist social programs—what Chávez refers to as twenty-firstcentury socialism or the Bolivarian revolution (named after Simón Bolivar, the nineteenth-century, Venezuelan-born independence leader)—with the social justice orientations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Rosa Parks. These programs include urban land committees, community councils, cooperative economic initiatives, subsidized supermarkets in poor neighborhoods, and social missions (government institutions that provide free health care, eye surgery, literacy development, adult education, and food security to the country’s poor and working class). Jackson gave additional praise to the Venezuelan government for institutionalizing participatory democracy and antidiscriminatory protections for women and Amerindians (indigenous/Native Venezuelans) in its 1999 constitutional reforms. Finally, he encouraged the assembly to implement the civil rights proposals recommended by the Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations. The Rainbow/push Coalition’s visit was part of a series of dialogues involving African American activists and elected officials, Venezuelan government leaders, and Afro-Venezuelan activists. For example, TransAfrica Forum, a U.S.-based social justice group that lobbies for African and African Diaspora issues, sent a delegation to Venezuela in January 2004. Traveling with the group were entertainer-activists Danny Glover, the chair of TransAfrica’s board of directors, and board member Harry Belafonte, both of whom are staunch allies of Hugo Chávez. Two years later, TransAfrica sent another contingent of activists to Venezuela, which included scholaractivist Cornel West; Dolores Huerta, formerly of the United Farm Workers ; Malia Lazu, a young voting rights activist; and Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez of the antigang organization Barrios Unidos. This chapter examines African American/Venezuelan alliances and social movement activities, or what I refer to as transnational contention. 285 franklin ) Transnational Contention and Cross-National Politics: U.S. & Venezuela Transnational contention involves cross-national sociopolitical activism, consciousness-raising activities, international solidarity work, cultural and political exchanges, the allocation of resources from one country to another (or resource exchange between civil society groups from two or more nations), the formation of social and political networks, and initiatives targeting the foreign policies of constituent (African American/Venezuelan) nations or global/supranational institutions. From the standpoint of African American/Venezuelan relations, transnational contention is dissident political behavior because the aforementioned initiatives do not comply with the established norms and rules of the U.S. foreign...


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