February 3, 2004

Speaker talks about situation in Venezuela

Nora Castañeda, president of the Women's Development Bank in Venezuela, discussed her nation's new constitution with students and other members of the University community Monday.

The Women's Development Bank in Venezuela is a bank that funds projects to benefit the nation's poorest families and communities. It attempts to help women in poor areas start their own businesses, get an education, and receive counseling.

Castañeda delivered her lecture in Spanish, stopping every few minutes to let a translator put her words into English. Much of the talk centered on explaining direct passages from the new Venezuelan constitution, focusing on those passages which guaranteed equality for all members of Venezuelan society.

Throughout her lecture Castañeda described positive steps that the Venezuelan government has taken to advance women's and workers' rights over the past several years.

Castañeda works for the Venezuelan government, and she presented a very positive view of the current regime. The Venezuelan government, currently headed by President Hugo Chavez, has come under considerable international criticism over the last few years.

Castañeda acknowledged that Venezuela has detractors, but remained wholly positive about the direction in which the country is heading. "I ask that yes, you should watch us; but that you also respect the free will of our people and that you protect us from attacks," she said.

While the country is currently the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, 80 percent of its population lives in poverty. Castañeda argued that Chavez's regime does significantly more to advance her country's people than the more traditional and popular methods of development encouraged by the international community.

The event was sponsored by the Organization of Latin American Students, Students Organizing and United with Labor, and the Chicago Coalition of Venezuela. Castañeda is currently on a U.S. tour coordinated by the Bolivarian Circle of the Global Woman's Strike with the support of the Venezuelan Embassy.