CARACAS: Over 15,000 young people from 144 countries around the globe have gathered in Venezuela for eight days of seminars, workshops and an ‘anti-imperialist tribunal’, along with a healthy dose of music and dance, as part of the 16th World Youth and Students Festival.

“For peace and solidarity, we fight imperialism and war,” the festival’s slogan proclaims.

The festival kicked off with a boisterous parade, as thousands of young delegates — some clad in traditional ethnic costumes, others in multinational brand-name athletic gear, and a great many in faded jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with the image of late Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara — filed past Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who watched from a viewing stand outside Fort Tiuna, the Venezuelan military’s headquarters in Caracas.

The US delegation carried a massive banner reading ‘Hands Off Venezuela’, while others held aloft giant portraits of Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino, along with Simón Bolívar, José Martí and Chávez himself.

A Brazilian delegate clambered up to the viewing stand to present the Venezuelan leader with a football and a Brazilian national football team jersey.

A group of young women from Vietnam with brightly coloured dresses and flags were the favourites of photographers and garnered resounding applause from the public and the civilian and military authorities accompanying Chávez.

The opening parade stretched far into the night on Monday and was broadcast live on Venezuelan national public TV and radio stations, as well as the new pan-Latin American news network Telesur, a joint initiative of the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay.

“ Muchachos (kids), we are all facing an enormous challenge: it is not only a matter of fighting for the socialism we believe in, but also saving a world threatened by the voracity of US imperialism, which respects no boundaries,” Chávez declared against the backdrop of a sea of flags from Venezuela and the countries participating in the festival.

The Venezuelan leader called the United States ‘the most savage, cruel and murderous empire in the history of the world’.

He also warned that if the ‘hawks in the Pentagon’ were to ever have the ‘crazy idea of invading this country, we’ll make them bite the dust’.

The young delegates responded with chants like ‘Bush, fascist, you’re a terrorist’ and ‘Chávez, friend, the people are on your side’.

Others shouted, ‘Chávez is here to stay’, a slogan chanted by his supporters during the August 2004 presidential recall referendum, from which he emerged victorious with 59 per cent of the votes.

The 16th world youth festival, like all previous editions, was organized by the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), an organization founded at the World Youth Conference held in London in 1945 at the end of the Second World War.

The initiative of holding periodic World Youth and Students Festivals also emerged from the London Conference.

The first was held in Prague in 1947, and most subsequent editions were also held in former European socialist bloc countries, including the Soviet Union, or in other socialist nations such as Cuba and North Korea. However, the eighth festival was held in Helsinki in 1962, while the 15th took place in Algiers in 2001.

The choice of Venezuela as host country for this year’s festival was prompted by the fact that “the social changes made to benefit the majority of the population are clearly evident, and the empire’s aggression towards it is evident as well,” Miguel Madeira, the Portuguese president of the WFDY, told IPS.

The event will encompass 20 lectures, 24 seminars and 60 discussion workshops, “because the festival has a long tradition of promoting debate,” said Madeira.

Also on the agenda is an anti-imperialist tribunal, in which intellectuals and jurists from around the world have been invited to participate.

Delegations from numerous countries will present “roughly 160 denunciations of crimes against states, peoples and the environment for which the US government is responsible,” reported David Velásquez, a member of the Venezuelan organizing committee.

“The festival strengthens the sharing of experiences and the concrete struggles waged by young people in each of their own countries because every part of the world is affected by the imperialist offensive, which generates inequalities and differences, but also acts of resistance and protest among young people and students,” said Madeira.

In addition to political and ideological discussion, the festival will feature cultural events like exhibits and concerts, as well as excursions to other parts of the country, “because we want to give the participants the opportunity to learn more about Venezuela,” Velásquez commented to IPS.

The delegates will also have the chance to get a firsthand look at the broad range of social programmes implemented by the Chávez administration in areas like health care, adult education, food aid and cooperatives.

Festival activities are being held in various venues around Caracas, including Fort Tiuna, the Bolivarian University (founded by Chávez two years ago in facilities provided by the state-owned oil company PDVSA), a number of museums, and the Teresa Carreño Theatre.

The majority of the young delegates to the festival paid between 100 and 200 dollars in registration fees, and while some are staying in hotels and other paid lodging, others are sharing the accommodations set up for members of local youth and student organizations.

The Venezuelan government contributed eight million dollars for accommodation and food expenses, as well as the costs of preparing the venues where the festival activities are being held, reported ruling party lawmaker Darío Vivas.

The authorities have also beefed up security with a reinforced police and military presence around the meeting and accommodation facilities, in view of the high crime rates in Caracas. —Dawn/IPS News Service

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