CARACAS, Venezuela — The 16th World Festival of Youth and Students opened here Aug. 8 with an impressive procession of more than 15,000 delegates from over 100 countries. A colorful fireworks display, cultural performances and an indigenous purification ceremony accompanied the opening event.

Delegations from each country entered the grounds at the Tiuna Fort military complex to be reviewed by the assembled dignitaries, international guests and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The largest delegations in attendance are the Venezuelans with nearly 5,000 delegates, Colombia with more than 3,000, Cuba with 1,200, Brazil with 800, and the United States with over 700 — all told, 11,000 delegates from throughout the Western Hemisphere. The other 4,000 or so delegates hail from all other continents of the planet.

During the procession, Jessica Marshall, co-chair of the U.S. National Preparatory Committee, was pulled from the march and led up to the reviewing stand to embrace President Chavez. The gesture was seen as a symbol of the great respect he and all Venezuelans have for the large delegation from the U.S., a country whose government has tried to subvert democracy here.

Marshall said later, “Young people of the United States stand in solidarity with the youth of the world, the youth of Venezuela. We want peace and friendship, not the policy of aggression carried out by the Bush administration.”

The crowd was a rainbow of flags, banners and T-shirts representing all of the struggles and issues faced by the young people of the world. They gathered here around the slogan of the festival, “For peace and solidarity, we struggle against imperialism and war!”

Caracas was chosen as the site of the festival in recognition of the exciting developments of the Bolivarian Revolution ushered in with the election of Hugo Chavez and the mass movements that defended him against an illegal, U.S.-backed coup attempt in 2002. Young people have played significant role in the Bolivarian movement and the Venezuelan National Preparatory Committee (NPC) comprises 30 organizations. The president of the Venezuelan NPC is David Velasquez of the Venezuelan Communist Youth.

Miguel Madeira, president of the World Federation of Democratic Youth and head of the International Organizing Committee (IOC), told the World, “The festival is the result of months of collective work by the IOC, which represents every region of the world and the Venezuelan NPC.” He said he was pleased with the political character of the festival and that “all the political characteristics of the Venezuela are making a contribution to the reinforcement and rejuvenation of the principles of the World Youth Festival movement.”

The festival movement grew out of the ashes of World War II and was originally an attempt to unite the youth of the world to ensure fascism would never return. Today the festivals represent the power of friendship among the youth of the world to combat racism, war, imperialism and poverty.

At midnight, after hours of procession by the delegations of the world, President Chavez spoke to the crowd. “We pay tribute to the people who suffered on 9/11,” said Chavez. He also remembered the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing attacks in Japan and the victims of imperialism the world over.

Chavez noted the immense contribution towards social progress made by the socialist countries, including China, Cuba and the Soviet Union. He heralded the relationship between the people of Cuba and Venezuela today.

The Venezuelan president also welcomed the delegation from the U.S. “We have very special guests with us,” he said. “The anti-imperialist youth of the United States of America.” He called the people of the U.S. “brothers” to Venezuela, and pointed to the progressive traditions of Walt Whitman and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a small example of the progressive history of the U.S.

When Chavez said, “One day, the people of the United States will join with the people of the world to save this planet,” the crowd erupted in cheers.

In conclusion, Chavez reminded the assembled delegates and guests that “the struggle of Venezuela is the struggle of the world. … Down with capitalism! Down with imperialism! Long live solidarity! Long live peace! Long live socialism!”

The week-long festival will include debates, political discussions, cultural exchanges and dozens of other forums for international solidarity. It concludes Aug. 15. For daily coverage of the events, visit