After two long years of struggle at long last the expropriation of the CNV was put into practice. The CNV had been taken over by the workers throughout this time.

The Constructora Nacional de Valvulas is a factory which was owned by the coup plotter Andres Sosa Pietri, a former president of PDVSA. After the coup he refused to restart the operations and the workers decided to take over the installations.

Jorge Paredes, one of the main leaders of the factory said: "this is a new experience for the workers, a new model of development which will be at the service of the workers and the community. This process of co-management that we now start must be taken to other companies and other workers."

The company at one point supplied 22% of the national market for valves. It is calculated that this year PDVSA has to invest 148 million Bolivars in valves.

The workers estimate that in three months they will have the company ready to start producing. 

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During his weekly Alo Presidente broadcast Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave an explanation of the reasons for the suspension of the bilateral military exchange programme with the United States. According to Chavez, US military advisors "were carrying out their own campaign within the military institution and this cannot be allowed". He added that they were "talking ill of the [Venezuelan] president to our boys", which is something that goes against the country's stability and sovereignty.

Hugo Chavez argued that this measure was also taken in order to protect the physical integrity of US military personnel. He reminded the audience that in the build up to the US invasion of Panama, a number of US military personnel were attacked in the streets. It was later found out that these attacks had been carried out by the US intelligence services in order to prepare a "justification" for the invasion.

Last year, Venezuela had also suspended the military mission that the US had kept within Fuerte Tiuna, the main military garrison in the capital. Chavez accused the US officers of being CIA agents and there is suspicion that they participated in the failed military coup against Chavez on April 11, 2002. The first place Chavez was taken after being deposed by reactionary military officers was precisely the Fuerte Tiuna barracks.

In the same programme Chavez explained that the desperation of the US in relation to Venezuela is because of its oil. The "United States want to continue to get hold of that oil, but it is now ours (...) and it is being used for the welfare of all Venezuelans, and not of a privileged minority" he added.

A video of the US organised Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961 was shown during the weekly programme. President Chavez said that a similar strategy had been planned in relation to the 100 Colombian paramilitaries arrested on a ranch in El Hatillo, near the capital Caracas, in May 2004. Chavez also announced that a US military officer had been found taking pictures of the Command of the Armoured Army Brigade in Maracay, and a number of US citizens, who later identified themselves as journalists, had been found taking pictures of the El Palito refinery in Moron. He warned that "if any officer of the US military repeats these kind of activities again, they are going to be arrested and tried in Venezuela."

To combat these threats, Chavez argued, it is necessary to organise the reserve forces of the army, which he wants to increase to 2 million people, and to "strengthen the mobilisation of the people ... to defend the country in any circumstance"

Since the beginning of the year, the US administration and media have stepped up a belligerent campaign against Venezuela. The democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez has been accused of everything from linking up with North Korea, supplying arms to the Colombian FARC guerrillas, funding the "subversive" MAS in Bolivia, forming an axis of evil with Cuba's Castro, starting an arms race in Latin America, to harbouring Al-Qaeda terrorists.

On March 13, an article in the Financial Times quoted US Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, Roger Pardo-Maurer, who accused Chavez of "picking on the countries whose social fabric is the weakest. In some cases, it’s downright subversion." This is in fact the key to the belligerent attitude of the US. Translated into plain English, what Roger Pardo-Maurer is saying is that the Venezuelan revolution is seen as an example by the workers and peasants throughout Latin America. The policies of privatisation, de-regulation, the opening up of markets, and the free trade agreements pursued by Washington in the whole of Latin America for the last two decades have plunged these countries into deep economic crises. The number of poor and unemployed have gone up, while multinational companies have plundered these countries' natural resources.

The policies of the Chavez government of opposing privatization, using large amounts of the country's oil revenues, his stance against the policies of US imperialism and the Free Trade Area of the Americas, are obviously seen as an alternative. Furthermore the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela has proven that the diktats of Washington can be defied and that the attempts of the oligarchy and imperialism to put an end to this defiance can be overcome through mass mobilisation. Venezuela is indeed a very "dangerous" example from the point of view of the White House. For them, anything that threatens the rule of big business is "downright subversion".

Many in the current US administration know a lot about “subversion”. Rogelio “Roger” Pardo-Maurer himself was the political officer in the Washington office of the Nicaraguan contras from 1986 to 1989. Other prominent figures in the US administration are also well versed in “subversion”, having been involved in the counter-insurgency operations in Central America in the 1980s (Elliot Abrams, Otto Reich, John Negroponte, Roger Noriega, etc). Several of them also met the Venezuelan April 2002 coup organizers in Washington in the weeks prior to the “subversive” ousting of Chavez. As for “picking on weak countries” Roger Pardo-Maurer, Otto Reich, and other US officials, intervened directly in El Salvador last year to prevent a victory of the left-wing FMLN in the elections. They hinted that this would put at risk the remittances of Salvadorian immigrants in the US (one of the country’s main sources of income). The FMLN lost the election by a very small margin.

President Chavez and the Bolivarian revolutionary movement are right to take measures to defend themselves from the threat of intervention by the US. To act in any other way, taking into account the long history of US participating in the crushing of revolutionary movements in Latin America, would be downright irresponsible.

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Minister of Energy and Petroleum and PdVSA President Rafael Ramirez
Credit: ABN

According to Venezuela’s minister of Energy and Petroleum, Rafael Ramirez, the operating agreements that exist between the state oil company PDVSA and various transnational oil companies caused $260 million of losses for PDVSA and will thus be revised. During a press conference yesterday, Ramirez said that the goal would be to change the operating agreements into joint ventures with PDVSA, where PDVSA would have a majority stake.

Ramirez, who also serves as president PDVSA, explained that there are 32 operating agreements with companies such as ChevronTexaco, Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Total, and Spain’s Repsol, which produce about 500,000 barrels of oil per day, mostly from marginal oil fields. The contracts were signed in the between 1992 and 1997, when the price of oil was very low and the government at the time was interested in opening up the country’s oil industry to foreign investors.

The operating agreements are service agreements, in which the Venezuelan state pays a fee for the production of the oil. According to Ramirez, in many cases the fees the state paid for this extraction service cost more than could be earned by the sale of the oil, thus leading to losses in many cases for the state-owned oil company. Ramirez says that it costs $14 per barrel to extract oil under the service agreements, while in other oil fields the PDVSA operates it costs only $4 per barrel.

The Energy Ministry’s new requirement is to have all operating agreements changed into joint ventures in the next six months, under which they would pay 30% royalties, as well as taxes of 50%. A royalty is the percentage of the extracted oil’s market value that an oil company must pay directly to the government, before it subtracts any of its expenses. The taxes are then applied to the profits that the oil company makes on the sale of the remaining oil (i.e., after subtracting its expenses).

According to the new law on hydrocarbons, which went into effect in late 2001, international investment project in the oil sector would take the form of joint ventures, with PDVSA maintaining a 51% stake in these ventures. The new law also raised royalties from 16.6% to 30% and lowered taxes from 67% to 50%.

A day earlier, on Wednesday, President Chavez had said during a speech that many of these oil companies declared losses in Venezuela and were thus not paying any taxes at all. Chavez announced that the state’s tax collection agency, SENIAT, would investigate these companies. “In some cases, and we already have the proof, that there are transnational companies that have not paid the taxes that they should have paid, so we will charge them,” said Chavez. “A country cannot allow itself to be looted in this way,” he added. Ramirez said that the back taxes could amount to as much as $2 billion.

The oil companies affected by this move have yet to comment on it. Industry analysts, however, say that it is unlikely that the companies will challenge the changes, since the oil price is expected to remain high and profits can still be made.

Last year, in a surprise announcement, the Chavez government had increased royalties that extra-heavy crude production projects pay in the Orinoco oil belt, from 1% to 16.6%. These extra-heavy crude production projects contribute another 500,000 barrels per day to Venezuela’s overall output. The extraction of extra-heavy crude is particularly difficult because the oil is so thick and thus needs to be processed with lighter forms of crude so it can be transported. The royalty rate for these projects was kept so low because when the contracts were signed, the price of oil was very low. However, the Chavez government says that the oil companies can afford to pay more, now that the price has reached new highs.

When the announcement of the royalty increase in the extra-heavy crude projects was made, all companies except for ExxonMobil accepted the change. ExxonMobil is currently engaging in negotiations over the increased royalties.

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Although we do not agree with the slant of this article published by the Inter Press Service News Agency, we think it is worthwhile to republish Humberto Márquez's piece as it shows the increased support for president Chavez and the weakness of the Opposition.

President Hugo Chavez is governing Venezuela today virtually without any effective, united opposition, as shown by the third anniversary of the events of April 11-14, 2002, when massive opposition protests preceded a short-lived civil-military coup d'etat, and huge groups of Chavez supporters and loyal troops reinstated the President.

Hundreds of thousands of anti-Chavez protesters marched on the government palace on April 11, 2002, prior to the President's brief overthrow, and similar shows of the strength of the opposition movement continued to occur up until the August 2004 recall referendum in which the opposition unsuccessfully attempted to remove the President.

But only a few hundred demonstrators came out for Monday's anniversary march in a middle-class district of Caracas.

"People are discouraged, because the (opposition) leaders have gone from one failure to another. I used to march, but I don't anymore, and I won't until new leaders crop up,” Daisy Torcatt, an employee in a cafeteria along the route taken by the protesters, commented to IPS.

By contrast, a pro-government rally in the center of the capital drew tens of thousands of Chavez supporters Wednesday, including people from poor Caracas neighbourhoods as well as civil servants from the central administration and local governments of nearby cities and regions.

"We came here three years ago to demand that they give us back 'el comandante' (Chavez). That is what we are celebrating, and we have learned a lot. We will not be taken by surprise again by another coup,” said Luis Martinez, a motorcycle taxi driver standing in a group of 100 other motorcyclists, 200 meters from the government palace.

Chavez, a former paratroop lieutenant-colonel, led a failed armed uprising in 1992 against then President Carlos Andres Perez (1974-1979 and 1989-1993), who was later removed from office and convicted on corruption charges.

In 1998, Chavez was elected President, and under a new constitution that was approved by voters in a 1999 referendum, he won a six-year term in 2000.

After the 2002 coup staged by dissident high-ranking officers in alliance with business and other opposition sectors, tens of thousands of Chavez followers along with troops that supported the constitutional order brought the President back to Caracas from where he was being held under arrest.

The intense political polarisation continued for two years after the ouster, with the opposition holding huge protest rallies as well as a December 2002-January 2003 general strike, all of which failed in the aim to topple Chavez.

But the opposition began to run out of steam after 59% of voters backed Chavez in the 2004 Presidential recall referendum.

Another blow to the anti-Chavez movement occurred when the president's allies won 22 of the 24 regional governments and 75% of the 335 city governments in the October 2004 elections.

Political analysts also predict victories for the governing party and allied forces in the elections for city councillors in August, the December legislative elections, and the 2006 Presidential poll.

The enormous street demonstrations have disappeared for now, and Chavez is forging ahead with his self-styled ”social revolution,” including agrarian reform, a spate of social programmes that have benefited the poor majority, and the creation of citizen reserves aimed at deterring aggression against Venezuela.

On Wednesday, 20,000 reservists wearing olive-green fatigues paraded before the President at a military academy in Caracas, as part of the formal creation of the popular defence units as a fifth branch of the armed forces, along with the army, the navy, the air force and the national guard. The reserves will answer directly to the Head of State.

The government's foreign policy, meanwhile, has focused on the ongoing war of words with Washington, oil industry cooperation with Venezuela's neighbours in South America and the Caribbean, and the strengthening of political and trade alliances with countries like China, India, Iran, Russia and Spain.

A survey of 1,500 people in seven Venezuelan cities, by the polling firm Hinterlaces, found that 53% of respondents supported Chavez and 38% were opposed to him.

Meanwhile, only 10% of those surveyed said they backed the opposition movement ... which was rejected by 83%.

"There is a new political panorama in the country,” Hinterlaces director Oscar Schemel remarked to IPS. "The people see the opposition as a class of politicians stuck in the past, who want to maintain their privileges and who are neither working for the interests of the people nor coming up with a viable alternative to Chavez' programme.”

In focus groups with respondents, Schemel said he had found that "more than 60% of those polled would like to be able to compare Chavez to some alternative.”

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel called for this year's anniversary of the coup to serve as an opportunity for the opposition to "renew itself, issue a mea culpa on the maneuvers it has used in its attempts to get rid of Chavez, and rebuild its forces in benefit of democracy. Governing without opposition is very boring.”

The opposition parties linked by the Democratic Coordinator coalition that sought to topple Chavez have been severely weakened since the 2004 Presidential recall referendum and the October 2004 regional elections, and have failed to reach agreement on a united platform for taking part in the August 7 local elections.

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Three of the five Colombian paramilitary fighters that were captured in Venezuela.
Credit: VTV

Sunday morning Venezuelan security forces captured five Colombians in Venezuela’s Amazon state, who presumably belong to the United Self-Defense of Colombia (AUC). Commissar Victor Bolivar, of Venezuela’s national police, the DISIP, reported that the presumed paramilitary soldiers were apparently extorting local indigenous people of the Amazon, who they were forcing to mine for gold. The fighters were captured in a national forest preserve, where mining is prohibited.

The captured fighters were carrying seven AK-47s and over 2,400 rounds of ammunition, among other military equipment. They were detained without resistance.

“The first investigations and declarations of the captured indicate that these individuals were safe-guarding the area for the subsequent smuggling of drugs,” said Bolivar.

Minister of the Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacon, said today that Venezuelan police are now in the process of identifying the captured irregular fighters. Chacon explained that there is a growing problem of illegal mining in Amazonas state, which borders both Brazil and Colombia.

This incident coincided with separate incident, a day earlier, when eight soldiers of Colombia’s regular military force were captured, who were dressed in civilian clothes. According to Colombian officials, it is common that Colombian soldiers temporarily cross the border with Venezuela, only to take a shortcut to another location in Colombia. However, Colombia’s ambassador to Venezuela, Enrique Vargas Ramirez, said that these soldiers had no permission to enter into Venezuela. Venezuela's foreign minister Ali Rodriguez, said that the Colombian soldiers would probably be soon released to Colombia.

Border incursions of Colombian soldiers, paramilitary fighters, and rebels into Venezuela have been a relatively common occurrence over the years. On various occasions fights have broken out between Venezuelan military forces and armed fighters coming from Colombia. U.S. government officials have repeatedly claimed that Venezuela allows Colombian rebels to camp out on Venezuelan territory, but Venezuelan officials deny this.

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