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Protest Outside the US Embassy (Grosvenor Sq, London) Monday 13th June 4-7pm

BUSH - GIVE UP THE TERRORISTS!

"America has a message for the nations of the world: If you harbor terrorists, you are terrorists. If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist, and you will be held accountable." George W. Bush, 21st November 2001


Cuban-Venezuelan Luis Posada is wanted for blowing up an airliner in 1976, killing 73 people. He was arrested last month in the US, which is refusing to hand him over to Venezuela, where he escaped from jail. His partner in crime, Orlando Bosch, was given a presidential pardon by Bush the Elder and now lives in Miami, where they have named a street after him.

In Colombia this year a total of seven US soldiers (including a colonel) have been arrested for, between them, selling ammunition to right-wing paramilitaries and attempting to smuggle cocaine into the US. Before the Colombian judiciary could blink, they were whisked out of the country to prevent further embarrassment and have not yet been charged with any crime.

Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada used to be President of Bolivia, before he ordered the massacre of peaceful protesters in 2003 and fled to Miami to escape the furious backlash. Bolivians want him tried for crimes against humanity, but that doesn't seem likely while he's protected by the US government, who immediately granted him political asylum.

Notice a pattern?

The problem for Bush is that these cases all reveal the ugly underside of US foreign policy in Latin America. Declassified FBI documents prove Posada was a CIA agent (specialising in explosives) while also freelancing for the Las Vegas mafia. After escaping Venezuelan jail in 1985 he worked for Oliver North supplying arms to the US-backed Contras in their war against the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. His terrorist career continues in Cuba (where he had been a policeman under the Batista dictatorship) with a string of hotel bombings during an international youth festival in 1997, resulting in several injuries and the death of an Italian tourist. In an interview with the New York Times the following year Posada practically boasted about this terrorism. He was part of the infamous Operation Condor, which co-ordinated right-wing military dicatorships in the region for the US government, and has tried to assassinate Castro at least twice: once in Caracas in 1971 (while head of DISIP, the Venezuelan political police) and again in 2000 in Panama, where he served four years in jail before being pardoned by the outgoing president (who now lives in Florida).

On Monday 13th June, there will be an immigration hearing in El Paso, Texas, to decide Posada's fate. The case has become a major headache for George Bush, as Posada is hailed as a hero amongst the rich right-wing Castro-hating Miami Cubans who form a key component of his (and especially his brother's) base of support. However, refusal to extradite Posada will clearly make a mockery of the whole "War on Terror". Posada is a 77-year-old man who has lead a lifetime of terrorism directed against progressive movements in Latin America. The embarrassing fact that this terror was in line with US foreign policy and supported by the US government doesn't make harbouring him any less hypocritical. Join the international outrage over these double-standards and protest outside the US embassy in London on this day from 4pm to 7pm. Music, food and an open-mic, with speakers from Hands Off Venezuela, Bolivia Solidarity Campaign, Colombia Solidarity Campaign and others. Pass it on!

www.handsoffvenezuela.org
www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk
www.boliviasc.org.uk

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On his way back from the International Labour Organisation Conference, Orlando Chirino, National Coordinator of Venezuela's National Workers Union (UNT) will be speaking at a meeting in London.

The UNT was founded in August 2003 as the response of democratic trade unionists in Venezuela to the fact that the unelected and illegitimate leadership of the CTV had supported and participated in the military coup in April 2002 and the bosses lock out in December 2002.

The UNT has now became the main trade union organisation in Venezuela and is actively participating in the struggle for workers' control and co-management that is taking place in state owned companies like Alcasa and Cadafe and recently nationalised ones like Venepal and CNV.

With decades of experience in the trade union movement, especially in the hard struggles of the textile workers, Chirino became one of the main trade union leaders in the industrial state of Carabobo, participated in the formation of more than 80 different unions and was a member of the regional trade union centre Fetracarabobo. He played a key role in the struggle against the coup in April 2002, and the bosses lock out of December 2002. He lead the foundation of the UNT in his capacity as a leader of the Bolivarian Workers' Force.

Other speakers at the meeting are still to be confirmed, but with growing interest in the British trade union movement about the situation of the trade unions in Venezuela this is a unique chance to come and discuss.

June 15th
7pm
University of London Union
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HY
(nearest tube stations: Russel Sq, Goodge St, Warren St)
see map

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Hands Off Venezuela supporters organised a stall at the conference and we were able to distribute literature and collect 130 signatures (about half of conference delegates) for our open letter to the US trade union movement, including many of the leaders of the union. There was a lot of interest in our stall, delegates were keen to hear about events in Latin America and we had some very interesting discussions. We also made some important new links for the campaign with several delegates agreeing to organise film screenings in their colleges.

Fringe meeting

We held a joint fringe meeting, with Justice For Columbia and the Cuban Ambassador in the conference hall on Saturday evening. The attendance, of around 35, was not bad considering it was cut across to some extent by the late finish of conference and other meetings taking place at the same time.

Zelmys Dominguez, Political Counsellor of the Cuban Embassy spoke first and highlighted the role that Cuba has played in helping other countries around the world develop their health and education systems by providing teachers and doctors. This has been very important in Venezuela. She also explained that US imperialism has been trying to isolate Cuba, and that international labour movement support has been important.

The next to speak was Hubert de Jesus Ballesteros, Deputy Leader of the Fensuagro, the Colombian agricultural workers union, who talked about the climate of repression that exists for trade unionists in Colombia. He explained that assassination of leaders and activists is a standard way for the bosses to deal with the unions, and even ‘respectable’ multinationals are implicated in this.

Noting that there are stark contrasts in Latin America, from the severe repression of Colombia to the situation in Venezuela that is strongly in favour of the working class, the chair, NEC member Maire Daley, introduced Jorge Martin from the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.

Jorge talked about recent pressure by US imperialism to isolate Venezuela diplomatically. A recent article by Otto Reich, describes Castro and Chavez as an axis of evil, while high profile trips to Latin America by Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfelt have attempted to stir up opposition. These attempts have so far been unsuccessful.

He explained that the masses have been the driving force of the revolution at every stage, first in overturning the successful opposition coup, then in saving the economy by taking over the running of industry at the time of the bosses lockout and finally in defeating the opposition during the recall referendum. He went on to list the social gains of the revolution which include the nationalisation of certain factories under workers control, the distribution of unused land to the peasants and the extensive social programme which is introducing universal healthcare and eradicating illiteracy.

There was a lively discussion that focused on how best to build links with the workers in each of these countries, especially Colombia and Venezuela, and on what we can do to help. The meeting helped to prepare the ground for the motion before conference to support Venezuela.

Conference motion

The motion on Venezuela was heard in the international discussion on Monday morning. The mover of the motion, Darrel Cozens from West Midlands region, drew attention to the gains that the revolution has meant for ordinary people, pointing to the social programmes that are bringing health and education to young and old. He also explained that Venezuela has become a beacon of hope to the oppressed across Latin America, noting especially the recent demonstrations and uprisings in Bolivia over multinationals exploiting the country’s gas reserves.

The speakers on the motion were very well received and the motion unanimously supported. This opens the way for greater links between this union and those in Venezuela and this will be further advanced by the commitment to participate in a joint union delegation to Venezuela to see the revolution in action.

The conference was a step forward for the campaign and has given us many new links and points off support to build upon. The task now is to follow up on these and use them to spread the word about the Bolivarian Revolution and Hands Off Venezuela, to which NATFHE already agree to affiliate at last year’s conference.

Text of the motion:

This conference congratulates and supports the Bolivarian Revolution and the Venezuelan government for utilising the country’s wealth and resources for reforms to benefit the working class, the poor and the landless.

Conference views with alarm however the bellicose statements being made by the USA and its allies Columbia and the financial oligarchy in Venezuela which pose a real threat to these reforms.

Conference agrees to join with the NUJ to organise a trade union delegation to Venezuela in solidarity with the Revolution and to support a delegation to the World Youth Festival in Caracas in August 2005.

Key signatories to the Open Letter to US Trade Unionists.

Fawzi Ibrahim, NATFHE, Treasurer
Paul Mackney, NATFHE, General Secretary
M. O’Mara, NATFHE, Ex – President
Paul Bennett, NATFHE, Fulltime Officer
M. Daley, NATFHE, NEC
D. Armstrong, NATFHE, NEC
J. Clay, NATFHE, NEC
M. Jardine, NATFHE, NEC
Stephanie Sanders, NATFHE, NEC

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The Hands Off Venezuela campaign has received a letter from the UNT in which the UNT leadership expresses its support and recognition for the campaign. We provide a scanned version of the signed letter (signatures of Ruben Linares and of Orlando Chirino, Stalin Perez and Eduardo Piñate), which is a tremendous recognition for the solidarity work we are doing throughout the world!


 

Reconocimiento de la UNT a Manos Fuera de Venezuela

Los abajo firmantes, miembros de la Coordinación Nacional de la Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT) queremos hacer llegar nuestro reconocimiento a la Campaña "Manos Fuera de Venezuela" por las distintas campañas de solidaridad que viene realizando en apoyo al proceso de cambios que vive nuestro país y en particular al movimiento obrero revolucionario venezolano.

Reconocemos en particular  la positiva labor que esta campaña ha llevado a cabo en relación a las organizaciones políticas y sindicales de la clase obrera en distintos países de Europa y otros continentes con el fin de colaborar en la difusión de la realidad del movimiento sindical venezolano entre los activistas polìticos y sindicales de la izquierda, denunciar las manipulaciones mediáticas del imperialismo contra la revolución bolivariana y colaborar en el reconocimiento de la UNT por parte de varias organizaciones sindicales de diferentes países.

Deseamos que esta colaboración  continúe y llamamos a todos los colaboradores de la campaña "Manos Fuera de Venezuela" en los distintos países  a continuar trabajando en pro de esos mismos objetivos tal y como lo han venido haciendo hasta ahora.

Firmado,

Orlando Chirinos, Stalin Perez Borges, Ruben Linares, Eduardo Piñate (Coordinacion Nacional UNT)

 

UNT recognition of Hands Off Venezuela

The signatories, members of the National Coordination of the National Workers Union (UNT) would like to send our recognition to the Hands Off Venezuela campaign for the different solidarity campaigns it has organised in support of the process of changes which our country is living through and particularly of the Venezuelan revolutionary trade union movement.

We recognise, particularly, the positive role played by this campaign regarding the political and trade union organisations of the working class in different countries of Europe and other continents with the aim of collaborating in explaining the reality of the Venezuelan trade union and left wing political activists, denouncing the imperialist media manipulation against the Bolivarian revolution and collaborating in getting the UNT recognised by several trade union organisations from different countries.

We wish to see the continuation of this collaboration and we appeal to all the Hands Off Venezuela supporters in different countries to continue to work in favour of the same aims as they have done until now.

Signed

Orlando Chirinos, Stalin Perez Borges, Ruben Linares, Eduardo Piñate (National Coordinators of the UNT)

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Hands Off Venezuela (http://www.handsoffvenezuela.org). Speaking at a meeting in solidarity with Venezuela in London on Wednesday May 25, Frances O'Grady, Deputy General Secretary of the British Trade Union Congress, made clear the opposition of the TUC on US interference in Venezuela. "We oppose intervention of countries like the USA in Venezuela's internal affairs" said O'Grady, adding: "last week I'm pleased to say the TUC executive formally agreed to raise concerns about US intentions, including threats to the President, with the British Foreign Office"

She expressed in no uncertain terms that the official position of the British trade union movement was one of support for the Venezuelan government against any foreign threats. "As trade unionists we absolutely reserve the right to stand side by side with the Venezuelan government in opposing threats of military - or any other kind of intervention, while at the same time raising any concerns about any government anywhere in the world if there is unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of working people and their unions."

This was the result of a meeting convened by Hands Off Venezuela supporter and general secretary of the National Union of Journalists a few weeks ago. At the meeting, a number of national officials of UNISON, the FBU, the RMT, NATFHE, TGWU and the GMB, with whom we have been discussing the situation of the trade union movement in Venezuela, expressed their concern about the increased belligerence of Washington's statements on Venezuela.

Regarding the proposal raised by the Venezuelan business federation, FEDECAMARAS, to open an International Labour Organization Commission of Enquiry on alleged violations of trade union freedoms by the Venezuelan government, Frances O'Grady explained in no uncertain terms that the British TUC will oppose it. "But for those who may ask, and I am anticipating here, whether the TUC will support Venezuelan employer attempts to bring an ILO complaint against the Venezuelan government, then let me make it clear: we will resist any attempt to turn the ILO into a political football. Concerns about Venezuela frankly look small compared to the killings and the collusion that happen every day in Colombia. And yet, the Colombian unions' calls for an investigation backed by the UK trade union movement and backed by the South African government have fallen on deaf ears. So, we may be simple trade unionists, but we are not naive."

The proposal, which will be discussed at the ILO International Labour Conference taking place from May 31 – June 16, has been promoted by the Venezuelan opposition, and particularly the business federation FEDECAMARAS. This is the same body that participated in the military coup against president Chavez in April 2002, and whose president Pedro Carmona was the country's illegitimate president during the short lived coup. Opposition to their proposal by the TUC, with member unions representing 6 and half million workers, will certainly carry a lot of weight within the European trade union movement. The TUC’s opposition to the proposal also comes against strong pressure from the British employers federation CBI.

O'Grady summed up the position of the TUC by explaining that "the achievements of the Venezuelan government are truly impressive, and we support them. And while we will always retain our right to express concerns about union freedoms, we would say neither of these positions are negotiable and they can go hand in hand. We want to listen and learn much more from our Venezuelan sisters and brothers and support them in building both social justice and free trade unionism."

The patient work of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign in Britain over the last 3 years has certainly raised the profile of Venezuela within the trade union movement. A number of unions have already passed motions on Venezuela and this year's trade union conference season will see most British unions discussing similar ones. All of this is preparing the ground for a full discussion on Venezuela at the forthcoming TUC congress in September.

The audio files for Frances O'Grady statement can be heard here:

http://www.handsoffvenezuela.dsl.pipex.com/ogrady1.mp3
http://www.handsoffvenezuela.dsl.pipex.com/ogrady2.mp3

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If Washington refuses to extradite Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles Venezuela could severe diplomatic ties between the two nations, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday.  “We can't rush things, but if the United States does not extradite [Posada] we will be forced to reconsider our diplomatic ties,” affirmed Chávez during his weekly Sunday television address Aló Presidente.

Last week Caracas invoked a 1922 US-Venezuela extradition treaty to request that the US deport Posada—who has dual Cuban-Venezuelan citizenship—to Venezuela to stand trial for masterminding the 1976 bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner that killed all 73 people on board.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shows the audience documented evidence of Posada's terrorist activities and of the CIA's knowledge during last Sunday's "Alo Presidente."

Although Posada, a former CIA agent, illegally entered the US through the Mexican border in mid-March, US officials repeatedly denied that they were able to verify his whereabouts.  But Posada, a self-described “freedom fighter,” forced Washington's hand last week by holding a press conference outside Miami.  Shortly after Posada affirmed that he would "not denounce violence," he was arrested by US immigration officials.  Facing charges of illegal entry rather than terrorism, Posada is being detained in a federal detention center in El Paso, Texas without bail until his June 13th trial.

“If they don't extradite him in the time allowed in our agreement,” warned Chávez, “we will have to consider whether it's worth having an embassy there, and whether it's worth the United States having an embassy here.”

Until Chávez came to power in 1998, Venezuela and the US had a cozy relationship.  Posada and the CIA cooperated regularly in the oil-rich nation until Posada’s arrest in 1976 for the airplane bombing.  After he escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985, Posada surfaced in Central America where he worked with Oliver North’s illegal mission to supply the Contras with weapons in Nicaragua’s US-fueled civil war.

But with Chávez’s election, US-Venezuelan relations have gone from close to hostile. The Venezuelan government has aggressively pursued a path of sovereignty and social justice, fiercely attacking what Chávez describes as the US’ economic and political exploitation of Latin American countries.  For their part, the Bush administration refers to Chávez as a "negative force in the region" and a "democratically elected leader who governs in an illiberal way,”—just a few of the more vaguely-worded, recycled "concerns" about Chávez emitted by US spokespeople on an almost daily basis.

Chávez' statements on Sunday eluded that already poor bilateral relations might very well take a sharp turn for the worse if Washington decides to blatantly and hypocritically ignore its own "war on terror" rhetoric. After emphasizing that "now there is proof that the US protects terrorism because in there territory is one of the greatest terrorists in the history of America and of the world," Chávez put the option of taking the dispute to an international tribunal on the table.

Luis Posada Carriles is wanted in Venezuela and Cuba for his involvement in a 1976 bombing that killed 73. The US has so far refused Venezuela's extradition request.

"We have sufficient material to go to an international tribunal and accuse the US government of protecting a terrorist; we will go to the United Nations, we will invite all of the people to denounce this,” said Chávez.  “[This is] a government that invades a country using terrorism as an excuse, that attacks Iraq only to take out one man in that government…now they have him in prison and they publish a photo of him in his underwear.  At the US Army prison in Guantanamo Bay, “they have been so disrespectful to the Koran that they have provoked a dignified response from the Islamic people of the world," added the Venezuelan President.

Chávez went on to add that the Venezuelan government has evidence that Posada, along with his contacts in Venezuela and Central America, "participated in preparations for the April, 2002 coup" that abolished all democratic institutions in Venezuela before being reversed 48 hours later.

“It is difficult, very difficult, to maintain ties with a government that so shamelessly hides and protects international terrorism,” said Chávez.

The decision to charge Posada with illegal entry and ignore his resume of terrorist activities has enraged the majority of Venezuelans. Thousands of Venezuelans signed a petition in favor of the extradition request on Friday and then marched on Saturday in the squares of major cities in protest.

This observation has also been noted by several US politicians.

"While I'm glad that the Department of Homeland Security finally arrested Posada, it's amazing that he almost had to goad them into doing it," stated José Serrano (D-NY) adding that, "Here is a guy who has admitted to committing terrorist attacks who escaped justice by bribing his guards and hightailing it out of prison, and we're not willing to extradite him to face justice.  73 people died in that airliner, many of them children. How can we with any credibility ask other nations to help us out with our global struggle against terror when we won't cooperate with others' anti-terror proceedings? There is a two-way street here…Posada was a wanted man in Venezuela long before Hugo Chávez was elected President there.”

Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and a group of twenty legislators sent a letter to President Bush recommending that international laws be followed and Posada be turned over to Venezuela.  And in a letter to the US Congress, Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) called upon her colleagues to "uphold the principles we espouse, refrain from keeping double standards," and "extradite [Posada] to the governments with jurisdiction."  McKinney argued that "for the Department of Homeland Security to say it would not deport Posada to Cuba or Venezuela is counterproductive to our efforts in the War on Terror."

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Venezuela PdVSA president Rafael Ramírez talks to the National Assembly
According to PdVSA president Ramírez, 90% of the transnationals participating in operating agreements, have committed tax evasion, cheating the Venezuelan state out of $3 billion in taxes and $1 billion in royalties.
Credit: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN

Venezuela’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Rafael Ramírez, appeared before the Venezuelan National Assembly today in order to expose the abuses committed by transnational corporations in Venezuela's oil sector and to inform the Venezuelan people that with the opening of the petroleum industry to foreign companies, during the 1990’s, "a true assault was carried out against Venezuelan petroleum."

Ramírez explained that over the course of the past decade and a half, foreign investment amounted to an assault "coordinated by international institutions of oil consuming nations and the large transnationals, who in complicity of the oligarchy and their political representatives conspired against the Venezuelan state, causing their subsequent economic and social crisis."

Ramírez, who is also the President of Venezuela's state owned petroleum company, PdVSA, offered his testimony before a Special Commission that has been formed to investigate the irregularities detected by the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum in the drawing up and the execution of service agreements.  These service agreements, signed between the former management of PdVSA and transnational oil companies, such as Chevron Texaco, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and Repsol, were signed between 1992 and 1997, the years of years of the so-called "petroleum opening."

Currently transnational oil companies produce about 500,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) via these service agreements and another 600,000 bpd of extra-heavy oil as part of joint ventures with PdVSA, in the Orinoco Oil Belt. According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, PdVSA produces the remaining 2 million bpd, for a Venezuelan total of about 3.2 million bpd. However, analysts opposed to the government and its oil policy, contend that PdVSA produces only 1.4 million bpd or 600,000 less than the government claims.

In the course of renegotiating the 32 service agreements, it has come to light that, according to Ramírez, 90% of the transnationals have committed tax evasion, cheating the Venezuelan state out of $3 billion in taxes and $1 billion in royalties. “Some of these companies haven't paid taxes for years,” said Ramirez, adding, “They are mocking our laws. This is an unacceptable situation. We can't permit this.”

“As we will see, this is not about isolated or fortuitous incidents,” Ramírez assured, affirming that on the contrary, “this is a strategy that unfolded since the nationalization of PdVSA in 1976 and is oriented towards taking control over PdVSA for transnational interests.” Ramirez summarized the essence of the "well planned and designed," petroleum opening as a "Trojan Horse." 

In October of last year, the Chavez government announced that transnational oil companies that had service agreements with PdVSA that were signed in the 1990’s, must now be converted into joint ventures, in which foreign companies are limited to a 49% stake in any project, reserving the majority share for PdVSA. Also, in April of this year, the Venezuelan government raised the royalties that companies in the Orinoco Oil Belt must pay, from 1% to 16%. So far all oil companies operating in Venezuela, except for ExxonMobil, have accepted the new terms.

Ramírez asserted that "with the petroleum opening, the transnational capital tried to expropriate the handling and the sovereign use of our main natural resource: petroleum," converting it from a natural resource of the Venezuelan state into a natural resource at the disposal of the consumer countries of the world.

According to the PdVSA president, the collapse of Venezuela’s oil revenue in the 1990’s is attributable to earlier government efforts to sweep away state control over the oil industry.  “They were prepared to turn over our energy resources to transnational capital and to yield it to privatization and those who wanted to impose their version of globalization on Venezuela,” he said.

New attacks

In reference to the recent opposition media’s reporting of supposed problems in the oil industry, Ramírez testified that Venezuela's oil industry is now being attacked by the same people who initiated the economic sabotage of December 2002 to February 2003, which effectively shutdown the oil industry for that time and caused losses of over $14 billion. Ramirez said that the former oil industry managers are resisting the control Venezuela’s government is exerting over its own industry by engaging in a disinformation campaign. 

Ramírez requested that an investigation be carried out in order to determine who is responsible for undermining PdVSA's independence and recommended that the National Assembly adopt a firm and united position with respect to the scandal.

“The game is over with the 32 contracts and now the truth will be made known," said Ramirez. He left the revising of the 32 service agreements and the actions of the transnational companies in the hands of the National Assembly, stating that "this is an affair that the National Assembly must rule on and propose pertinent actions to take."  He also recommended that other state entities such as the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and Venezuela's tax agency Seniat should be involved in the evaluation. According to Ramirez, half of the 32 service agreements are money losing ventures for Venezuela, where PdVSA pays more to transnationals for oil production than it can recoup from the sales of that oil.

Ramirez also highlighted irregularities in the extra-heavy oil production joint ventures, saying that Sincor, which is a joint venture with France’s Total, has violated its contract repeatedly, exploiting a far larger area than it is supposed to. Currently there are five extra-heavy oil joint ventures, about which Ramirez said, “We have found irregularities in all.” The other four companies involved in the joint ventures are Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron, British Petroleum, and ConocoPhillips.

Ramirez also pointed out that Citgo Corp, the subsidiary of PdVSA operating in the United States, had overpaid taxes in that country, and that PdVSA would work to recuperate these taxes in accordance with the U.S.-Venezuelan Double Taxation Treaty.

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April 13th marked the third anniversary of the defeat of a coup against the democratically elected presidency of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In honor of the event there were massive local celebrations and an international solidarity conference: “Encuentro Mundial de Solidaridad con la Revolution Bolivariana”. Solidarity activists came from over 20 countries. The majority were from other Latin American countries. Canada had a strong delegation. The delegation from the U.S was quite small; A few from California, a strong delegation from Boston, some from Florida and Chicago. It is not clear if this small turnout is due to lack of publicity or lack of awareness of the importance of the Venezuelan revolution in the U.S. Participants chose one of eight workshops: Agrarian reform, housing, worker management, citizen participation, alternative media, indigenous people, women or education. Each workshop was held in a different part of the country. There were also hundreds of Venezuelan activists participating in the conference who were able to use the conference for a discussion of their current challenges. The following observations are mainly a reflection of the citizen participation workshop which I attended.

The revolution that is unfolding in Venezuela today is the leading edge of a massive social and political shift to the left that is happening throughout Latin America from Chile right up through Mexico. The past decade of globalization (what they call “neoliberalism”) has brought increased poverty and economic decline throughout the region. The result has been a shift away from governments beholden to the free market towards leaders and parties representing the poor and working people who are the overwhelming majority.

This process has gone the furthest in Venezuela. In the early years of his presidency Chavez was a supporter of the “third way”, a reference to attempts to build an alternative to both the capitalist and the old Stalinist economic models. He and others in the leadership now speak openly and often about their conclusion that the capitalist model is a dead end (sometimes quoting the pope) with no future in Latin America and that socialism is the only road forward.

How this new direction towards socialism will unfold remains to be seen but there are some indications that it will be a dynamic new road that may be a model for all of the Americas. What is most often discussed is desire to build a socialist society marked by a massive increase in popular democratic involvement. The forms of this new democracy are still being worked out. There has been a massive increase in local community councils and cooperatives to address economic and social organization at the local level. The conference was a forum for activists throughout Latin America who are involved in similar efforts to increase democratic participation under more difficult circumstances.

Education is a primary weapon in raising the cultural and political awareness in the poorest communities. There is a literacy campaign along with a series of “missions” aimed at enabling people to return to school and finish high school. A whole new university; “Universidad Simon Bolivar” has been built to massively expand college opportunities for students who had no access to the privileged university system before the revolution.

Local democratic participation is woven through the new national constitution that was enacted in the wake of Chavez’s election in 1999. In order to get many new services a local community has to organize itself, discuss and vote on its priorities and often form local cooperatives to carry out the work. They speak openly about the limitations of classic representative democracy where one can only hope that an elected official remains honest and does the work for the people. As another local leader put it, “Sometimes laws are not the answer, we have to empower people”. This is in contrast to the historical culture of Venezuela that was marked by passive complaining and demanding the government do something for you.

Part of the impetus for this massive expansion of democratic institutions is the fact that when Chavez was elected in 1999 he did it with a weak newly created party called the MVR- Movement for the Fifth Republic. While popular, the party is underdeveloped. Some fear it is used by many to get elected or to get jobs. The old state apparatus, with thousands of functionaries used to the old ways of doing little is still intact and a major obstacle to social change. As one activist put it, “We have won the government but not the state”. Rather than a purge, the strategy has been to set up a parallel government that provides direct social services to the poor (social service “missions”, clinics, food distribution, schools, microcredits, etc.). Community councils that provide organization and representation down to the level of block committees are being set up to take over aspects of local administration. Through this process two very important things are taking place: Whole new layers of the population are learning what it means to be active empowered citizens and a new layer of leaders in the government and the economy is being trained.

In addition, there are now increasing efforts to turn major workplaces over to workers management. This effort began in some industries that had gone bankrupt (a major paper mill). It is now spreading to major state owned industries. In addition to nationalized oil the country has major aluminum, mining and iron ore industries owned by the state. These industries were run poorly and often corruptly even during the past 6 years of the Chavez presidency. A “revolution within the revolution” is now underway to eat away at the old corrupt modes of management and turn these industries into dynamic producers of wealth, jobs and resources that can profit the whole society. The road chosen has not been to simply choose better managers or better bureaucrats. In the major aluminum factory - Venalum there has been discussion, debate and elections to choose a new leadership of the plant from the ranks of the workers in the past month. The goal is for a workers management that will revive production, efficiency and integrity in the plant. Most importantly a new model of plant management and new layer of leadership from the shop floor has a chance to emerge. This process is complex, difficult and being done with few healthy precedents. There will be many mistakes along the way. The key is to have the time needed for such a major transformation to develop.

Che Guevara spoke often about the problems of a bureaucratically planned economy in the model of the old Soviet Union. He advocated the development of a conscious and politically active population. Through the conference discussion and in projects around Venezuela you can see this process unfolding. Often the major players are women. Chavez makes it a point to highlight the development of women as leaders when he speaks. The Venezuelans do not feel they are reinventing the wheel. They are openly looking to the experience of others for examples. When the mayor of the mountain city of Merida was discussing the multiple problems they were facing he stated “If we have a problem, it has probably been solved somewhere else in Latin America”. In his opening speech to the conference, Chavez called the Bolivarian revolution, “A humble daughter of the great revolutions of the world.” When talking of deeper cultural change you often heard of the need to change from a mentality of “me” to one of “we”.

The issue of how the leadership of this revolution is organized and how it is developing a coherent theory to lead is complex and challenging. It is clear that the role of Chavez is significant. His popularity is rising. His image is seen often. He has a regular 5 hour television variety show called “Alo Presidente” that is used to educate the country about the challenges and prospects of the political process.

This is not just a cult of personality around a strong man/caudillo in the model of Juan Peron. There are thousands of dedicated politically revolutionary activists who are advancing the ideas and organization of the revolution throughout all sectors of society (except the wealthy). The organizational forms are diverse. There are “Bolivarian Circles” which are loose groupings of activist with modest organizational success. There are activists in the missions doing community organizing day in and day out. There are students who have their organizations. There are two other left parties that support Chavez that do not appear to have much of a mass base. There are activists in the workplace, the best of which have built a whole new pro-revolutionary national union federation. So when one asks, where do people go for political organization and discussion, the answer is most often that they go to work organizing.

The opposition held a rally to commemorate the coup on April 13th. There were fewer than a thousand present. By all reports the opposition appears demoralized. They have played their strongest cards and lost. Chavez predicts they will attempt to distort next years’ election. For that reason he is campaigning for 10 million votes as a goal to gain a mandate to continue the revolution.

There are a number of features of the revolution in Venezuela that can work to enhance the potential for this revolution to survive both internally and against what will be rising pressure from the United States:

1) This is a deep thorough ongoing revolution that is in progress. This is not simply the election of another left populist government. There is a mobilization of a significant part of the population to fight for its class interest. It could be defined as a “Workers and Farmers Government”.

2) The Chavez leadership is a break from the models of Social Democracy and Stalinism that could set an example of a revolutionary direction for the rest of the continent. It is typical to see posters of Chavez flanked by Bolivar on one side and Che on the other. Because of the position of Venezuela geographically and economically Chavez can play a role in the region that is more significant that that of Fidel and the Cubans.

3) The presence of oil at such a price has resulted in the immediate rise in living standards. The size of the nationalized industries inherited by the revolution means that they have the economic base to fund social programs and build broader support for the revolution. This power allowed them to withstand a massive capitalist strike in 2002 (similar to the strike that sank Allende in Chile). The government can also set up parallel economic institutions that undercut the capitalists such as the state owned food stores.

4) This economic base means that there is the potential to buy time desperately needed to develop a new revolutionary layer of society capable of administration of the state. There is less of a need to prematurely nationalize industries or collectivize land that outpaces the ability of the new society to effectively build a new administration of the economy.

5) The defeat of the coup provided the opportunity to purge the army of a substantial amount of its counterrevolutionary currents. The fact that the army can now be expanded to defend the revolution and at the same time help in social and economic development makes this a radically different road than Chile where the army led the counterrevolution. Plans are to increase the reserves from 200,000 to 500,000.

6) This revolution is embedded in a rising tide of left political movement from Chile to the Rio Grande. This is its most powerful defense and major impediment to imperialist intervention as the Bush administration openly bemoans.

7) This revolution has happened without a bloodbath, without mass public executions, without the need for a repressive state that curbs civil liberties and with massive democratic election victories. This robs the opposition and the Bush administration of cannon fodder in the propaganda war against the revolution. Many spurious charges have and will be invented by the opposition of course.

8) There are sectors that want to push the revolution forward at a faster pace. This is true among farmers wanting land frustrated by the slow pace of land reform. It is true among workers in the fight for workers control in a variety of industries. But the frustration appears to be correctly focused on the obstacles of the old state apparatus and the rich. This avoids the problem of a rise of ultra-left pressure that can then provoke a crack down from the new state.

9) The popularity of Chavez within the unique history of the Venezuelan left appears to be a gravitational force for political unity that is holding down splits and sectarian battles that can hamper leadership development (as in Nicaragua).

10) The oil wealth is allowing Venezuela to do what Che advocated which is trade based on human need rather than the market. Chavez has signed a trade agreement favorable to Cuba. He is trading oil for pregnant cows with Argentina, etc. This along with efforts to build a Pan-American trading bloc is building a regional political and economic bulwark against future U.S. intervention.

11) For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union a new model of socialism is emerging that has the potential to be an example and an inspiration for all of the Americas.

For further analysis of the Bolivarian revolution the Monthly Review articles by Marta Harnecker and others are excellent. Richard Gott’s “In the Shadow of the Liberator” is an extensive history of Chavez’s political development. He is soon to come out with a new history of the revolution. www.Venezuelanalysis.com  and www.Handsoffvenezuela.org provide current news and analysis from the perspective of defenders of the revolutionary process..

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Over the weekend Hands Off Venezuela supporters were in Brighton raising solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution at the Amicus Policies and Rules Conference. Supporters of the campaign within the union campaigned for closer links between Amicus members and the solidarity work with the Venezuelan revolution in Britain.

As part of this campaigning work the Hands Off Venezuela supporters in the union organised a fringe meeting on Saturday evening to highlight the revolutionary process in this Latin American country and to rally support for Venezuela against the threat of imperialist intervention on the part of the USA. There was a thorough debate at the meeting with those taking part asking a lot of questions about what is happening in Venezuela.

On Sunday May 15, a delegate for General Industries, and also a Hands Off Venezuela supporter, Espe Espigares presented a resolution that appealed to the conference and the union as a whole to pledge support for “the revolutionary movement of the Venezuelan people in their struggle for socialist equality and justice” and also for the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.

She explained how the USA is pointing the finger at Venezuela as rogue state, but she answered this by giving facts and figures about what the Bolivarian revolution is actually achieving for the poor masses, including the literacy campaign, healthcare etc. And she added that these are the kinds of policies we would like to see here in Britain, and therefore it is the duty of the labour movement in Britain and throughout the world to support the Venezuelan revolution.

This resolution was passed with a massive 521 votes in favour. This represents 97% of the conference delegates. On the basis of this resolution the Hands Off Venezuela campaign can now officially circulate its message of solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution among the members of one of the biggest trade unions in Europe with 1.2 million members. The Chair of the conference explained that the Venezuelan question was a very important issue and it is important that the union is now taking it on board. 

During the 5-day conference delegates and some Brighton based supporters of the campaign collected hundreds of signatures for the “Open letter to US trade unions”. Importantly, among the signatories were Derek Simpson, the General Secretary of the union, as well as several members of the NEC, including Bill Spiers, Meurig Thomas, John Oliver, Steve Davison (Chair of Amicus), Dave Hutchinson, Jane Stewart, Colin Walker, Dean Taylor, Eddie Grimes and Howard Turner. Among the international visitors C.H. Venkatachalam, the General Secretary of the All India Bank Employees’ association also signed up.

This decision of Amicus comes after a number of other important unions in Britain have already pledged support for the Bolivarian revolution and for the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. Amongst those is the railway workers union RMT, the firefighters FBU, the transport union TGWU, the journalists union NUJ and the college lecturers union NATFHE.

Now we need to build on this successful intervention at Amicus conference and reach out to more trade unions with the message of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.

Here we publish the text of the resolution that was passed.

Resolution 97 for the Amicus Policy Conference 2005

Venezuela

This Conference deplores the intents of the United States to intervene in the internal life of Venezuela. Two attempts have been made to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Hugo Chavez and behind these attempts has been the hand of the CIA. Conference pledges its support to the revolutionary movement of the Venezuelan people in their struggle for socialist equality and justice. Furthermore Conference pledges support to the “Hands Off Venezuela Campaign” which seeks to promote awareness of what is happening in Venezuela.

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