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Current U.S. ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte has been nominated by President Bush to be chief advisor and the first National Intelligence Director,  with authority over 15 formerly independent intelligence agencies. So just who is he? For starters, John Negroponte is a multi-millionaire who has made a lot of money off of owning stock in companies that benefit directly from the war and occupation of Iraq. In Iraq, he has been linked to a proposal where U.S.-funded Central American-style death squads or the so called "Salvador option"  has been put forward as a way to quell the Iraqi insurgency against the U.S. occupation.

Negroponte has denied this, but his record indicates that his support for such a plan is not at all far-fetched. During his 41-year career with the State Department, or as some have called it "Death Squads Inc.", he and his cronies shepherded a murder machine from Vietnam to Iraq.  Negroponte worked as a political officer at the U.S. embassy in Vietnam from 1964-1968, a period during which there was increased involvement of the government in the war and thousands of executions of civilians and human rights abuses, including the massacres by the infamous "Tiger Force" of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division.

As ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985, he was in charge of the Command Center set-up to stop and overthrow all the emerging national liberation movements taking place in Central America. Military budgets grew in Honduras alone from 4 million dollars to 77 million dollars and the CIA agents stationed there increased tenfold. Money was no object legality or illegality to fight the insurgencies.  He lied to Congress about the CIA-created "Battalion 316" Honduran death squad and covert operations that occurred. He supervised the building of the "El Aguacate" air base and other regional military training centers for the Central American Forces, the Contras, and the Salvadorean military. These bases were also secret detention and torture centers and were used to launch the covert war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and the mining of their harbors.

But we must remember that Negroponte did not act alone, he got his marching orders from Ronald Reagan and William Casey and all the U.S. embassies in the region worked together to put down these revolutionary movements.In El Salvador, one player stands out from the rest, the current ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield. He played a decisive role along with John Negroponte as a political officer in the embassy cover-up of U.S. involvement in the assassination Archbishop Oscar Romero.  He also worked to cover up the murder of the four American Maryknoll nuns and other nuns escaping the violence there.  Brownfield also played a key role in directing the death squads and El Salvadorean military, who butchered tens of thousands of trade unionists and members of the FMLN. The death squads did not just kill these people, but in a lot of cases they dismembered them and placed their heads on poles as a warning to the rest of the population.

In Venezuela, ambassador Brownfield has been brought in as a relief pitcher to former ambassador Robert Shapiro, himself no stranger to coups.  Shapiro helped in the staging of the April 2002 coup against President Chavez and the destabilization programs that followed. He was also involved in the CIA-backed murderous overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende in September of 1973, and death of thousands of people under a military dictatorship that lasted a decade.

In fact, William Brownfield, as ambassador to Chile on the anniversary of the overthrow of that government in 2003, stated publicly in a memorial service that "people who hate the United States must be controlled, arrested or eliminated."

Brownfield's game plan for Venezuela is to unite the opposition, the 400 U.S. corporations, and the fifth-columnists and create an atmosphere for the overthrow of the Bolivarian Revolution. He along with Negroponte will be at the forefront in trying to stop the flowering of the Latin American and World revolutions that we find ourselves in this epoch.

These are the types of people the U.S. government makes responsible for carrying out U.S. policy around the world - under both Republican and the Democratic administrations. The interests of the U.S. imperialists are defended, while the revolutionary aspirations of working people are drowned in blood. Our task is to build a new society in which death squads, the Brownfields, Negropontes and the capitalist system that creates and nurtures them are consigned to the dust bin of history.

Hands Off Venezuela!
Forward to Socialism!

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I have said it already, I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell
(Hugo Chavez)


“I am convinced that the path to a new, better and possible world is not capitalism, the path is socialism”. With this clear statement on his weekly TV programme “Alo Presidente,” Chavez reaffirmed his point of view that socialism is the only way forward to solve the problems of inequality, misery and poverty that millions face in Venezuela and the world today.

He added: “I have said it already, I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell.” The President had already made similar statements speaking at the World Social Forum in Brazil at the end of January.

Last Sunday’s Alo Presidente programme was broadcast from Cocorote in the mainly agricultural state of Yaracuy. Chavez made an appeal to open a discussion about the question of socialism within his own party, the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), and within the Bolivarian revolutionary movement in general.

He explained how this conviction came after many years of struggle: “I am convinced, at this stage of my life – I am now 50 years old – after six years as a president, after nearly 30 years of political struggle, since 1977, when I had the idea of taking an oath from a small group of fellow countrymen, soldiers, to create the first nucleus – there were only about 5 of us then – of what later became the MBR-200 [Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement 200] ... after many readings, debates, discussions and many travels around the world, etc., I am convinced, and I think that this conviction will be for the rest of my life, that the path to a new, better and possible world, is not capitalism, the path is socialism, that is the path: socialism, socialism”.

The public cheered and applauded the speech. The reaction of the live audience to Chavez’s words shows the enormous potential that there is in the Venezuelan revolutionary movement for the ideas of socialist transformation. This is the result of the practical experience of the last 16 years of struggle. February 27th marked the 16th anniversary of the “Caracazo” uprising, which was to transform Venezuela’s political life. And in particular the last six years since Chavez was elected in December 1998 have had an impact.

Hugo Chavez’s political evolution has not proceeded in a straight line, as he explained himself on Friday 25th, at a Summit on Social Debt in Caracas. He honestly pointed out that he had toyed with the idea of a “Third Way” as a solution to capitalism: “a third way, capitalism with a human face, trying to give the monster a mask.” But he concluded: “this mask has fallen to the floor shattered by reality”.

When he came to power in 1998 Chavez did not start from a socialist standpoint. He was committed to solving the problems of inequality, poverty, and misery of millions of Venezuelans. But he initially thought that could be done within the limits of the capitalist system. His government actually has gone out of its way not to violate private property rights of big landowners, bankers and businessmen.

The contradiction from the very beginning was precisely that any attempt to seriously address these problems would clash head on with the interests of the oligarchy, a tight coalition of interests of landowners, bankers, capitalists and the state bureaucracy, completely subordinated to the wishes of US imperialism.

Since President Chavez was seriously committed to solving these problems, the oligarchy, en masse, went over to the side of armed insurrection against the democratically elected government. This shows the extremely parasitical nature of the Venezuelan oligarchy (a feature it shares with the ruling classes of all capitalist countries in the so-called Third World). They organised the military coup of April 2002, the oil industry sabotage and bosses’ lockout of December 2002, the bringing of Colombian paramilitaries to Caracas and the fascist provocation of la guarimba in February 2004, the presidential recall referendum in August 2004, and so on.

It has been this rich experience of the revolutionary movement, faced with the constant provocations of the ruling class, that has pushed Chavez and many in the Bolivarian revolutionary movement to draw the conclusion that “Within the framework of capitalism it is impossible to solve the challenges of fighting against poverty, misery, exploitation, inequality” (Venezuela’s elections: defeat for the opposition, advance for the Bolivarian movement), as Chavez himself explained during the October regional election campaign.

This dynamic of action and reaction of the Venezuelan revolution reminds us in a very powerful way of the first years of the Cuban revolution. In a process of attack and counter-attack, the leadership of the Cuban revolution, which did not start with the intention of overthrowing capitalism, was forced, in order to solve the most pressing needs of the masses, to overthrow capitalism.

This is one side of the question, but there is another side. Chavez is a man who devours books and has an enormous thirst for ideas. This is no accident. It reflects the pressing need to find a way out of the problems faced by the revolution. That is why Hugo Chavez has been reading Marxist literature, which has undoubtedly had an influence on him. He has publicly praised Alan Woods’ book Reason in Revolt on several occasions. He has particularly quoted the section that deals with the molecular process of the revolution, a section that is particularly relevant to the stage the Bolivarian Revolution is now passing through.

Even more relevant is Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, which he bought from the comrades of El Militante at the meeting with the workers in Madrid, and which he has also recommended enthusiastically. The main thesis of this book is precisely the fact that none of the tasks of the national democratic revolution can be carried out by the bourgeoisie in backward capitalist countries, since they have arrived too late on the scene of history, and that these tasks can only be solved by the working class through the struggle for socialism.

The central idea of the theory of Permanent Revolution is that in colonial and ex-colonial countries the struggle for the bourgeois democratic tasks, if it is pursued to the end, must lead (in an uninterrupted or permanent manner) to the socialist revolution. But that is only half of the theory. The other main idea in the Permanent Revolution is that revolution cannot be limited within the borders of one country, but must spread internationally as the only guarantee of its victory. Chavez has also commented favourably upon this idea, stating publicly that Trotsky was right against Stalin on this question, and that the Bolivarian Revolution must spread to other countries in order to succeed.

At the Summit on Social Debt, he said that so far in six years of government, “we have not defined our model as socialist”. He added: “I am saying this in my personal capacity, to contribute to the debate, to open the discussion within the parties that support the revolution”. But his position is clear: “if it is not capitalism, then, what is it? I have no doubts, it is socialism”. On Alo Presidente he stressed the need for a debate on this question: “let’s discuss, we are not afraid of ideas”.

In previous occasions Chavez has made it clear that what is needed is to study the original ideas of socialism, which have been distorted by Stalinism. “Which socialism, of the many that there are? We could think that none of those that have existed, though they represent experience, achievements, advancement in many cases, we will have to invent it, this is why this debate is so important, we must invent 21st century socialism.”

At the end of his Alo Presidente programme he insisted that the kind of socialism he is thinking about is based on “revolutionary democracy”: “all of this, the urban land committees, the endogenous growth nucleus, the ‘Into the neighbourhood’ mission, the Housing Mission... all of these are tools for the building of socialism, we must move away from capitalism”.

Chavez has said on many occasions that the only way to end poverty is, “to give power to the poor”. That idea is basically correct, but like all the other ideas expressed by Chavez, it must be given a concrete content. Genuine socialism can only be based on the democracy of workers’ committees in the factories, workplaces and working class communities, soldiers’ committees and peasants’ committees. This was actually carried into practice by the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky in Russia in 1917, although it was later betrayed and distorted by Stalin.

Chavez’s latest statements about socialism come after the Zamoran decrees to speed up land reform were passed in January and the expropriation of Venepal, also in January. The land reform decrees have already been used to take over part of El Charcote ranch (owned by British multimillionaire Lord Vestey). Venepal is now jointly owned by the state and the workers and run on the basis of a structure in which the Workers’ Assembly is the supreme body. The workers at the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas (the CNV makes valves for the oil industry), also abandoned by its owners, have now re-launched their struggle and are also demanding nationalisation under workers’ control.

It is clear that the Bolivarian Revolution now stands at the turning point. If it is to go forward, it must now grasp the nettle, confront the oligarchy and carry out the expropriation of the land, the banks and the big enterprises that remain in private hands. In order to avoid the abomination of bureaucracy and totalitarianism, it must develop a democratic model – not the corrupt pseudo-democracy of the bourgeoisie but a new model of socialist democracy that means that power is firmly in the hands of the workers and peasants.

Some people say that the Bolivarian model must not take its ideas from other countries, especially Europe. If that means that the Bolivarian Revolution must not slavishly import foreign models, we agree. The Venezuelan revolution has its own character, personality and historical traditions and the masses have already demonstrated their colossal capacity for creativity and inventiveness.

But if it signifies a national limitedness and narrow mindedness, that is bad and has nothing in common with the true ideas of Bolivar. Let us not forget that Simon Bolivar based himself on a very European model – that of the French Revolution. In the same way the modern descendants of Bolivar will seek to learn from other revolutions. After all, we do not need to re-invent the wheel. Revolution did not end with Bolivar, and the revolutionary ideology was later perfected and placed on a scientific basis by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, and other revolutionary thinkers.

The modern Bolivarians will be as open to genuinely revolutionary ideas from other countries as was their founder. It is no accident that, along with Bolivar and the other heroes of the Latin American revolutionary tradition, Hugo Chavez quotes the works of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. The modern Bolivarians will repeat the experience of the Russian Revolution, but on a higher level, and filling it with a genuinely Venezuelan and Latin American content. In this way they will preserve the best of the old to produce something genuinely new and original.

Above all, it is necessary to commence the debate on ideas that President Chavez has called for. The Marxist tendency represented in Venezuela by the Revolutionary Marxist Current, and internationally by El Militante and Marxist.com will participate actively in this debate. This is the only way in which we can develop a layer of revolutionary cadres, integrated in the Bolivarian Movement, capable of providing the necessary guidance in the decisive battles against capitalism.

The opening of the debate about socialism represents a decisive turning point in the Venezuelan revolution and it has worldwide implications. For the first time in many years, the leader of a mass revolutionary movement is drawing the correct conclusions from his own experience. He has come to the conclusion that capitalism cannot solve the problems of the masses and that socialism is the only way forward. That should be warmly welcomed by all sincere revolutionaries. Now what is needed is to convert words into deeds!

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In a speech that further solidified President Chavez's embrace of socialism, Chavez said that he "has no doubts" that socialism is the only model that will allow societies to overcome poverty. According to Chavez, "Within the capitalist model it is impossible to overcome the drama of poverty, of misery, and of inequality."

Chavez gave this speech at the opening of an international conference on the "social debt," which began on Friday in Caracas, where analysts from around the world discussed the foreign debt, the Social Charter of the Americas, environmentalism, and Western domination. Chavez's speech at the conference represented a further endorsement of how his views had moved towards an embrace of socialism since his speech at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a few weeks ago.

Chavez added that it was necessary to "invent the socialism of the 21st century," rather than applying the old model that had been tried before. "This is a debate that we've begun to have in Venezuela," said Chavez.

According to Chavez, it is not just the Third World debt that prevents their development, but also their lack of unified action. Also, it is not just neo-liberal capitalism that contributes to poverty, but its concept of sustainable development does not help either.

Instead, Chavez proposes "endogenous development" and the creation of an International Humanitarian Fund, 50% of which would come from Third World countries' foreign debt payments, which are estimated to be at $270 billion per year.

Chavez also reiterated the need for debtor countries to develop a unified strategy for dealing with the Third World debt.As part of this need Venezuela is promoting the creation of a Social Charter for the Organization of American States, which would complement the existing Democratic Charter. The Social Charter will be one of the main topics of discussion at the conference.

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Venezuela's National Lands Institute (INTI) says 4 million hectares are in the hands of 150 persons.

INTI president, Eliecer Otaiza has splashed adverts in the national press listing the supposed owners of idle lands and question them to present themselves with papers confirming ownership.

"We are complying with the dictates of the law ... we want owners and presumed owners to prepare themselves so that we can proceed legally knowing they have complied with the dictates of the law."

The people mentioned have 15 working days starting 8 days after the appearance of the adverts to present themselves and defend their property.

The advert lists the following farms in Apure and Aragua (12), Falcon (12), Tachira, Miranda and Delta Amacuro totaling around 4.5 million hectares. Perhaps the most famous name that appears on the list is former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez' wife, Cecilia Matos. Other names include Leopoldo Lopez Gil and rebel Air Force (FAV) Captain Silvio Bustillos. Otaiza admits that these are the alleged owners.

INTI has so far assessed 15 million hectares, discovering more than 4 million in the hands of 150 persons, which translates into 90% of farms in the hands of 1% of alleged owners.

"The assessment has been undertaken guaranteeing the rule of law ... some inspections have produced false documents with very clear interests that suppose tenancy of large extensions of lands in few hands."

Otaiza adds that some lawyers have been attempting to draw up new land registers to sustain supposed tenancies ... "they will be handed over to the courts."

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Chavez met with Invepal workers before his Sunday television program, which was broadcast from the factory.
Chavez met with Invepal workers before his Sunday television program, which was broadcast from the factory.
Credit: Prensa Presidencial

In his Sunday television address Aló Presidente, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced a new direction for economic development, centered around the slogan “made in Venezuela.” Chávez made the announcement from the Venezuelan Endogenous Paper Industry (Invepal), an enormous paper factory recently expropriated by the government after a hard fought battle by 350 paper workers.

Formerly the private paper company Venepal, Invepal was expropriated last month after the company was declared bankrupt and the National Assembly (AN) ruled the factory to be of social and public usefulness. The 900 workers at the factory were laid off in September, 2004, but 350 workers remained, threatening to occupy the factory if the government didn’t expropriate it.

Venepal had been in dire financial straights since the late 1990s, but according to paper factory union leader Edgar Peña, the company signed its own death warrant by participating in the oil industry shutdown in 2002-03. In December 2002, the traditional labor federation, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) and the largest chamber of commerce, Fedecamaras, joined forces, declaring a nation-wide “general strike” aimed at ousting President Chávez. In many cases, such as in the case of Venepal, employers locked workers out, shutting down production for over 2 months. The economic blow left Venepal reeling, eventually forcing it to declare bankruptcy in 2004. Property expropriated from Venepal covers 5,600 hectares in 4 states.

According to President Chávez, the renamed company, Invepal, will produce paper notebooks made of Venezuelan primary material. Wood produced in the Venezuelan states of Monagas and Anzoátegui, South-East of the capital Caracas, will be made into pulp at a new factory to be purchased by the state. The pulp will then provide Invepal with its own entirely domestic raw material. According to Peña, Invepal currently must import pulp from Chile, with a shipment of 600 tons expected in early March.

The idea, says Chávez, is for Venezuelan industry to satisfy national demand for paper, using domestic raw material, which is part of Venezuela’s shift to “endogenous” development.

“Endogenous development” essentially aims to promote economic and social development prioritizing the collective benefits of industry and production and focuses on local specificities in development planning. According to government literature, endogenous development is based on “cooperative and humanistic” logic, as opposed to the capitalistic individualism of the global economy.

The new paper company expects to restart production next month, thanks to a US$7 million grant from the national government. Invepal will be co-managed between worker and state representatives. A workers’ assembly, representing the maximum authority of the company, will eliminate bureaucracy, and merge production and administration, said Chávez.

“This structure will be put to the test, and we’ll adjust it as necessary, because here we are inventing our own model,” added Chávez.

Invepal is to act as a “pole” of endogenous development in Venezuela’s North-East, a long-time manufacturing center. The government is also looking into building a plastic parts factory to produce for the automobile industry, as part of a joint-venture with Iranian companies, and soap and fertilizer factories to supply the domestic economy.

The government is simultaneously working on a plan to bring all basic industry into the state-run endogenous development model. The mining and processing center in the country’s South-Eastern state of Bolívar looks to become a similar “pole” of co-managed state run enterprises. According to preliminary reports, Basic Industry Minister Victor Alvarez plans to begin with the Aluminum processing plant Alcasa, much as the North-Eastern pole is being launched with Invepal.

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We, the undersigned leaders of the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT), issue this appeal to the trade unions around the world that are represented in the Workers' Group of the International Labor Organization (ILO), as well as to all our sisters and brothers who are championing the trade union battles in defense of workers' rights.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

We in Venezuela have been part of the effort by the working class to create a trade union federation that is built from the bottom up by the rank and file and that is rooted in the principles of class independence, trade union democracy and full autonomy in relation to the State and all political parties. This effort – which in April 2003 brought unionists from different sectors and trade union currents together to create the UNT – is part and parcel of the struggle of our people in defense of their national sovereignty.

Today, the UNT represents the majority of the organized workforce in Venezuela. Its creation in 2003 has given a huge impetus to the drive to organize trade unions across our country. The rate of trade union affiliation has increased from 11% in 2001 to 23% in 2004. The UNT also has been present in the last two International Labor Conferences of the ILO in June 2003 and June 2004.

But these recent years also have seen FEDECAMARAS, the employers' association of Venezuela, join forces with the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) to present a Complaint to the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association alleging that the Venezuelan government has violated Trade Union Freedoms and the Right to Strike.

The joint Complaint by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV is highly unusual, as trade unions are generally the ones filing ILO Complaints against the employers and seeking support from the ILO Workers' Group against all violations of trade union rights, including the right to strike. It is unprecedented, as well, on account of the convergence of interests between FEDECAMARAS and the CTV.

Such a Complaint can be understood only in the context of the unfolding political situation in Venezuela, in which FEDECAMARAS and the top leadership of the CTV participated directly in the attempted military coup of April 2002, together with the opposition political parties and with the encouragement of the U.S. Embassy. The coup – which established a government" headed by Pedro Carmona, then president of FEDECAMARAS – was foiled after just two days by the mass mobilizations of the Venezuelan workers and people.

Later, in December 2002 and January 2003, FEDECAMARAS – together with the same leaders of the CTV – organized an employer lockout/work stoppage that was political in nature and that sought to bring down the government through the sabotage of the country's main source of income: the oil industry. In both the attempted coup and the bosses' lockout/work stoppage, the CTV leadership took actions that were repudiated by the overwhelming majority of the workers of Venezuela.

At no time, in fact, were the workers consulted by the CTV leadership about the work stoppage in the oil industry. Quite the contrary, upon learning of this action by the CTV leadership, the workers mobilized massively to occupy the oil rigs and refineries to ensure the resumption of oil production.

These undeniable facts were reported in detail by 35 leaders of the UNT to the Contact Mission of the ILO that traveled to Venezuela in October 2004.

It is not new, nor is it unexpected, that employers should resort to lockouts against the workers to promote their interests. Many of you undoubtedly have witnessed such bosses' lockouts in your countries. It is less frequent for the employers to resort to military coups, but, alas, such actions are not unprecedented. But isn't it an insult to our intelligence to try to have us believe that employer lockouts and military coups can somehow be aimed at defending democracy and trade union rights? Do they think we're fools who cannot see through their hypocrisy?

In June 2004, FEDECAMARAS – with the full support of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and representatives from bosses' organizations in 22 countries, including the United States, all of them notorious for their anti-union activities – invoked Article 26 of the ILO Constitution and proposed that a Commission of Inquiry be established in relation to alleged violations of Trade Union Freedoms in Venezuela.

The March 8-24, 2005 meeting of the Governing Body of the ILO is scheduled to take a vote on this request by FEDECAMARAS. It is worth noting that while this baseless Complaint against the Venezuelan government moves through the ILO system, the government of Colombia has not been subjected to any sanctions or pressures by the ILO – even when the ILO itself registered at the beginning of 2004 that 186 trade unionists had been assassinated for their union activity in that country, a number that now surpasses the 200 mark.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

The Venezuelan government today has wide popular support to advance its Agrarian Reform program and, with the aim of guaranteeing jobs and wages, to take over factories abandoned or bankrupted by their employers. Yet at this very moment, incidents are being staged to create a diplomatic conflict between Venezuela and Colombia. More ominous still, U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have issued public warnings against the alleged "negative" and "destabilizing" role of Venezuela in the region.

Anyone familiar with the international policies implemented by the Bush administration in the recent period can understand full well that these are not simply words; they are a direct threat to Venezuela. Bush and Rice invoke the concept of "democracy" – but if one looks at what is going on in Iraq today, one can see what they mean by "democracy."

Is it possible not to see a link between these political developments and the stance taken by FEDECAMARAS at the ILO?

Regardless of what one's opinions may be about the Venezuelan government and its policies, it's a fact that it's a government that received the support of more than 60% of the people in the August 15, 2004 recall referendum, thereby dealing a blow to the effort by FEDECAMARAS and the top officials of the CTV to oust the Chávez government. The election results were ratified, in fact, by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center, two bodies that cannot be accused of harboring any sympathies for the Venezuelan government.

It is also an undeniable fact that the partisans of the current Venezuelan government obtained the overwhelming support of the people in the state and regional elections held in October 2004.

From our vantage point as the UNT, genuine democracy means respecting the sovereign will of people to determine their own fate. And we wish to reiterate this point: Venezuela's right to self-determination must be respected and upheld independent of whatever one may think about the current government of Venezuela. It is not up to the U.S. government to decide in the place of the Venezuelan people what is "positive" or "negative" for Venezuela.

It is totally understandable that the representatives of the employers in the ILO should form a common front with FEDECAMARAS in support of this Complaint. Likewise, it is not surprising that governments, particularly that of Bush in the United States, should follow suit. But in no way can the representatives of the workers' organizations in the ILO support this attack upon our sovereignty and our independent trade union organizations.

Is it not obvious that allowing the Commission of Inquiry to be approved – as FEDECAMARAS demands – would, in fact, be tantamount to trampling upon our trade union freedoms and the very sovereignty of our country? Only we, the workers of Venezuela, can and must decide what kind of trade union organizations we should build, in the framework of the principles of Trade Union Freedom.

We issue this urgent appeal to all trade union organizations the world over. We call upon one and all to reject the proposal by FEDECAMARAS and its cohorts to sanction Venezuela and to conduct an ILO Commission of Inquiry. Such an action is not called for, nor does it correspond to the real situation of trade union freedoms in Venezuela, which is a country that has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

For our part, as trade union officers who are committed to the rank and file,we have nothing to hide. That is why we are appending to this Open Letter a Memorandum that responds to the specific charges contained in the Complaint filed by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV.

We invite trade unions from all around the world to come to Venezuela to see for yourselves the reality of our country, where even the CTV – which participated directly in the attempted coup of April 2002 and the lockout/work stoppage of December 2002-January 2003, enjoys full trade union freedoms.

We also invite representatives of the international trade union movement to attend the upcoming National Congress of the UNT. This will permit you to learn firsthand from the workers about the real situation of the trade unions in Venezuela.

To conclude, we call upon all trade union organizations and officers to reject the provocation by FEDECAMARAS and its allies to establish an ILO Commission of Inquiry for Venezuela. We call upon you to add your names in support of this Open Letter to the ILO Workers' Group.

- In defense of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people!

- In defense of true Trade Union Freedoms!


In solidarity,

signed by following National Coordinators of the UNT:

Orlando Chirino, Marcela Máspero, Stalin Pérez Borges and Rubén Linares

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The Bolivarian Movement is a mass movement that originated as a movement for the national-democratic revolution – that is, a revolution that stood for a programme of advanced democracy, but which stopped short of challenging the foundations of capitalism. However, the progress of the Revolution has inevitably brought it into conflict with the vested interests of the oligarchy. At every step the demands of the masses in both town and village clash with the so-called sacred right of property. Upon the resolution of this contradiction the future of the Revolution depends.

The Marxists naturally supported the national democratic revolution and applauded Hugo Chavez’s courageous fight against the Venezuelan oligarchy and imperialism. Even on a capitalist basis, this was tremendously progressive, and it was, and remains our duty to defend it. Not to do so would be a betrayal. But we have always pointed out the elementary truth that in order to succeed, the Revolution sooner or later would have to go beyond the boundaries of capitalism and expropriate the Venezuelan landlords and capitalists.

Experience has proved we were correct. At every stage the Bolivarian Revolution has come up against the most ferocious resistance of the landlords and capitalists, backed by imperialism. In order to overcome this resistance, it has had to base itself on the only genuinely revolutionary classes: the workers and urban poor in the towns and cities and the poor peasants in the countryside. A decisive stage in this conflict is now commencing in the countryside.

Land distribution is an age-old aspiration of the poor of the Venezuelan countryside. The peasants desire to work the land and improve their standard of living. But this justified aspiration comes up against the fierce resistance of the big landowners, who, together with the bankers and big capitalists, constitute the cornerstone of the Venezuelan oligarchy. No real advance is possible in Venezuela unless and until the power of this oligarchy is broken. That is the real importance of the agrarian revolution.

Modest reforms

The attempt to move towards an agrarian reform has posed the central dilemma of the Bolivarian Revolution point-blank. It is not merely a question of modifying the existing set up. It must be swept away: the agrarian economic and social structure must be utterly transformed. As the Spanish Socialist Largo Caballero once put it: you cannot cure cancer with an aspirin. For this reason the Venezuelan peasants, like their brothers and sisters in the towns and cities, are drawing the most revolutionary conclusions.

In early January, President Chavez announced new measures to deepen and extend the agrarian reform, an essential component in the Bolivarian Revolution. The reforms themselves are quite modest in their scope, concentrating on the issue of under-exploited estates. Under a 2001 land law, the government can tax or seize unused farm sites. The Venezuelan authorities have identified more than 500 farms, including 56 large estates, as idle. A further 40,000 farms are yet to be inspected.

These measures are very modest and fall well short of what is required in order to fulfil the most elementary requirement of the national democratic revolution. Yet they were met with howls of rage from the enemies of the Revolution. The opposition has accused the state of “invading private property” and introducing “communistic measures”.

The protests of the Venezuelan opposition are mild, however, in comparison to the howls of rage in the international media. On 13 January the London-based Economist magazine carried an article attacking Chavez’s land reform. The occasion for its ire was the measures taken by the government to investigate the cattle ranch of El Charcote in Cojedes, a state in Venezuela’s northern plains, which is run by Agroflora, a subsidiary of a big UK food monopoly.

The Vestey Group is the owner of this huge ranch comprising no less than 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of pastures and woodlands, as well as a dozen other ranches elsewhere in the country. It has investments in beef and sugar in Argentina and Brazil as well as in Venezuela. It is a typical example of the way in which big foreign companies have taken over the key sectors of the productive forces in the continent and drained them for profit.

The Economist admits that the family that owns the company are famous (or rather infamous) in Britain for its long history of tax avoidance as well as for meat. Nevertheless it defends their absolute right to hold onto their land, since their title to El Charcote “goes back a century and has been upheld by the courts.” The article describes in colourful detail the spectacular way in which the inspection was carried out:

“On January 8th, the clatter of helicopters over the ranch heralded the arrival of Johnny [sic] Yánez, the chavista governor of Cojedes, bearing the country’s first “intervention order” against rural property. He was accompanied by some 200 troops and heavily armed police commandos. Mr Yánez, a former army captain, announced that private property was ‘a right, but not an absolute right’”.

A state commission now has three months to decide whether the ranch is unproductive or not legally held and thus can be turned over to peasant co-operatives under the terms of the land-reform decree of 2001. Two days later, President Chávez set up a similar commission at national level. Its task is to speed up and bring order to the land-reform drive.

The case for land reform in Latin America is unanswerable. In Venezuela, over 75 percent of farmland is controlled by fewer than 5 percent of landowners. Rural poverty is a cancer that blights millions of lives. Even the right-wing Economist agrees that “Unequal land distribution is one of the historical causes of the wider inequality that scars Latin American societies.” As President Chávez says, this is an injustice that must end. There can be no future for the Bolivarian Revolution without this. But an all-out assault on the property of the landlords will inevitably pose the question of the expropriation of the banks and industries as well. That is why the imperialists have raised such a hue-and-cry about the proposed measures.

Will agrarian reform damage production?

The bourgeois critics of land reform say that Chavez’s policies will have a negative effect on agricultural production:

“By harrying the private sector,” The Economist says, “the government has merely intensified Venezuela’s dependence on oil – and all the economic distortions that go with that. The government says Venezuela imports 70% of what it eats. The opposition retorts that food imports have risen by a fifth since Mr Chávez came to power, while agricultural production has fallen.”

The enemies of the Revolution are running around screaming about the threat to investment and productivity, when in reality what worries them is something else. What really frightens The Economist is the fact that the president’s promises have encouraged peasants to invade farms. It is arousing the rural masses from their slumber and bringing them into the revolutionary struggle. It is calling into question the “sacred principle of private property” and thereby is taking a big step in the direction of the socialist revolution. This is a prospect that fills the oligarchy and its imperialist masters with panic.

The Economist quotes with horror the words of Johnny Yánez: “Social justice cannot be sacrificed to legal technicalities,” adding darkly: “This assault on property rights is likely to scare off investment.” The article continues its tale of woe:

“Back at El Charcote, herds of Brahma cattle still graze. The Vestey company normally supplies 4% of the beef consumed by Venezuelans. It has been a pioneer in genetic improvements to the national herd. But Diana dos Santos, the firm’s local boss, says that at El Charcote all but one small pasture has been invaded; beef output has slumped. More than a thousand interlopers have put up rickety shacks and planted crops on the estate. They support the president—but despise Mr Yánez. So they may be evicted in favour of other, more reliable, political clients. And in a few years’ time these in turn will probably end up back in urban slums, while Venezuela will have lost a source of wealth.”

So there we have it! The big-hearted imperialists like the Vestey family have been so kind as to come to Venezuela with the best intentions in the world. Their only aim in life is to serve the people of Venezuela, feeding them with delicious beef, constantly improving the national herd with all manner of “genetic improvements” (we recall the kind of genetic improvements introduced by the British capitalist farmers in the United Kingdom, which gave us the blessings of mad cow disease). If incidentally they have earned a few bolivars by honest means, this was of course a secondary matter, in which neither the Bolivarian government nor the British taxman should take any interest.

Attitude of the petty bourgeois “democrats”

So crystal clear is the case for agrarian reform in Venezuela that even petty bourgeois groups, not noted for their love of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, have had to grudgingly accept it. The Venezuelan human rights group PROVEA has welcomed the Venezuelan government’s war on big landownership, calling the political will shown by government and opposition State Governors as “positive.”

However, the revolutionaries should beware of praise coming from such quarters. The bourgeois “democrats” of PROVEA are no friends of the Bolivarian Revolution and their praise is a poisoned chalice that they offer to the Revolution, not to help it but to paralyse it and render it ineffective.

The government is being urged to be “inclusive” in its agrarian policy and to avoid rural violence. That is to say, it is being invited to represent the interests of all classes – the landlords as well as the peasants. It is being invited to make the lamb lie down next to the wolf. It is being invited to square the circle. In short, it is being invited to do what cannot be done. And those who advocate such nonsense actually consider themselves to be great “realists”! If the consequences were not so serious, it would be very funny.

When one is given a bill of support from such people, it is highly advisable to read the small print! And in the small print we read the following:

The process should be undertaken within the rule of law and rejects the possibility that bodies other than those established in the Land & Agrarian Development Law (ITDA) start processes of expropriating agrarian land.”

These are priceless pearls of wisdom! The hypocrites of PROVEA read us pious lectures on “the rule of law” but conveniently forget that for years the Venezuelan landlords have been beating, torturing and murdering peasants who dare to question their authority and demand their rights. The landowners do not feel bound by the “rule of law” and will fight by any means at their disposal to prevent a meaningful agrarian programme to be carried out. Whoever denies this is either a fool or a rogue.

The peasants are not fools and will not allow themselves to be cheated by smart lawyers and “democratic” demagogues. They know that the land will never be theirs unless they fight for it, unless the ruthless resistance and sabotage of the landowners is defeated. They also know from bitter experience that their interests cannot be guaranteed by bureaucratic measures and nice sounding speeches by men in smart suits in Caracas. They know that unless the agrarian reform is backed by energetic movement from below, it will remain a dead letter – like all such laws in the past.

Therefore the peasants are organizing themselves. They are taking initiatives to seize the land of the big landowners. Genuine democrats will not oppose such initiatives but support them enthusiastically. Only a corrupt bureaucrat and an agent of the counterrevolution fears the revolutionary initiatives of the workers and peasants! It is only these initiatives that have saved the Bolivarian Revolution time and time again. Those who seek to stifle the initiatives of the masses are consciously or unconsciously striving to weaken the Revolution, to deprive it of its main strength and motor force. The day these people succeed, the Revolution will be doomed.

Legalistic sophistry

These unlikely “Friends of the People” continue: “State Governors can promote and facilitate processes that correspond to the National Institute of Lands (INTI) and provide technical support but they cannot hand over land titles or touch land by expropriating.

Land owner’s rights of property must be respected along with legal processes, just and transparent administrative measures, opportune payment and just compensation.

“In the case of idle lands, owners must be guaranteed expedition of improvable farm certificates, as established in ITDA Art. 52.” (my emphasis)

These “clever” lawyers know the law back to front, inside out and upside down. Yes, they have studied their legal textbooks for many years, passed all their exams and made a lot of money out of using and abusing the law. They have turned the law into their private property – something that represents a very expensive cow that yields a lot of delicious milk for a privileged few. But the hungry masses, the poor peasant, the worker, the unemployed, have got very little out of it.

The Bolivarian Revolution has done a lot to rectify this position. It has torn up the old Constitution of the oligarchy and replaced it with a new and more democratic constitution. That is very welcome, but in and of itself it is by no means sufficient to change the position of the masses and to eliminate the injustices of the past, as so many Bolivarians so passionately desire.

The Bolivarian Constitution is only a weapon in the hands of the people. But a weapon is no use if it is not used to fight with. In the hands of the lawyers and bureaucrats the Bolivarian Constitution can be easily reduced to a scrap of paper – something that can be twisted and “interpreted” and turned into a dead letter. After all, even the most democratic constitution in the world has limited powers. It establishes certain limits within which the class struggle can be carried out. That is important because it can give a greater or lesser scope to the workers and peasants with which to carry out their struggle. What it can never do is to act as a substitute for the class struggle.

In order for the democratic Constitution to mean anything, it must be backed by mass action from below. Without that, it must remain only a dry husk, an empty shell devoid of all real content, the lifeless bones of a skeleton. Only the revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants can put flesh on these dry bones and fill democracy with a real content. To argue therefore that the Venezuelan peasants must confine themselves to what is acceptable to the lawyers, to accept “restraint”, to moderate their demands to what the bureaucrats consider “reasonable” – in short to sit back and wait for the land to be handed to them on a plate – would be to give up any possibility of a genuine agrarian reform ever being carried out in Venezuela.

The line of argument of these legalistic ladies and gentlemen is the height of arrogance and insolence towards the masses. As mentioned above, they inform us that “state Governors can promote and facilitate processes that correspond to the National Institute of Lands (INTI) and provide technical support but they cannot hand over land titles or touch land by expropriating.”

The first part of the sentence is surely redundant. It is to be supposed that all democratic state Governors are legally obligated to carry out the decisions of the legally elected government. Why need this be stated? Unless of course, there are Governors who are working in collaboration with the big landowners and the Counterrevolution to sabotage the decisions of the Caracas government.

Do such governors exist? Of course they do, and that is precisely why the peasants do not trust them to carry through a proper agrarian reform. That is precisely why the peasants have decided – quite rightly – to organize and to take their own initiatives. That is just what provokes the indignation of the “democrats” of PROVEA and other counterrevolutionaries, open and disguised.

The “sacred right of property”

Above all, the “Friends of the People” protest, the big estates must not be expropriated. Why not? Because that would be a violation of the sacred right to private property! But in a country where 75 percent of the productive land is in the hands of only about five percent of landowners, how is it possible to have a real agrarian reform without violating the so-called sacred right to private property? To renounce this would be to renounce the whole idea of agrarian reform in Venezuela. And that is just what our “democratic” men in suits would like, although politeness (and fear of the masses) prevents them from saying so openly.

These ladies and gentlemen prattle on about “just compensation”. But if anyone is entitled to just compensation it is the millions of peasants who have been exploited, cheated and oppressed for centuries by the landlords who have enriched themselves at the cost of the people. Their ranches and mansions have been built out of the blood, sweat and tears squeezed out of generations of poor men, women and children. And where did they get their property from in the first place? The land was not theirs to start with. It was seized from the native population by violence and trickery. Where was the “just compensation” then?

These “clever” sophists try to blind us with legal niceties. But the whole history of Latin America shows that the parasitic class of landlords has never shown the slightest regard for such legal niceties when it was a question of their own selfish interests. They obtained the land through violence and have held it ever since by violence. What was stolen from the people must be restored to the people. The question of compensation does not enter into it. The landlords have made their fortunes on the back of the people. They do not deserve a single cent more.

PROVEA states that the government cannot deliver titles on private lands, if it has not undertaken expropriation procedures beforehand and followed Constitution Art. 115 regarding the expropriation of lands considered of social interest or public utility. The talk about legal niceties is only a smoke screen designed to confuse the issue, as in phrases like:

“In the case of idle lands, owners must be guaranteed expedition of improvable farm certificates, as established in ITDA Art. 52.”

Our friends in PROVEA inform us that the Revolution must do this and must do that, and that it cannot do this and cannot do that. Really? But the essence of a Revolution is that it expresses the will of the people; that it stands for the interests of the majority over those of the minority. The laws that were made in the past were made by the rich minority to defend their own power and privileges. A Revolution that allowed itself to be paralysed by such laws would not deserve the name of a Revolution at all. It would be only a bureaucratic game, a fraud and an illusion.

When the masses voted by an overwhelming majority last August to endorse the Bolivarian Revolution, they did not intend their clearly declared intentions to be frustrated by their enemies who, having been ejected by the front door, are now seeking to re-enter by the back door. Having been defeated in open battle, they are resorting to manoeuvres and intrigues, hiding behind the law and using delaying tactics. If we accept this, it would mean subordinating the will of the majority to the machinations of a wealthy and privileged minority. Democracy would be reduced to a hollow phrase. The tail would wag the dog.

Fortunately, the masses have no intention of allowing this to happen.

The peasants mobilize for action

We recently received an interesting report of The Venezuelan Peasant Congress from El Nuevo Topo, signed by E. Gilman. This brief report clearly shows the real attitude that is developing at the base, not only among the workers but also among their natural allies, the poor peasants. In it we read the following:

“Caracas: On February 5th and 6th took place in Tucari the ‘Peasant Conference in Defense of National Sovereignty and for the Agrarian Revolution,’ sponsored by the Frente Nacional Campesino Ezequiel Zamora.

“Nearly 100 delegates met at the Berbere Cooperative, which is a collective farm run by largely Black farmers.

“Though there was universal support for President Hugo Chavez, the Agrarian Reform Law was severely attacked as it allows only lands over 5000 hectares to be expropriated and these lands need to be uncultivated to be covered by the law. The peasants criticized the Agrarian Reform Institute, which they claimed was so slow and bureaucratic that owners of latifundios would cut down whole forests off the land while the Agrarian Reform Institute made up its mind. Also many had received defective seed from the Institute. Many peasants who have taken lands directly have complained local judges are on the side of the landowners and have had local police drive them off the land [...]

“The conference discussed the need for armed self-defence as well as the possibility of guerrilla warfare if there is a U.S. invasion. They defended the need to build collective farms rather than dividing up the land. There was discussion on the need for accounting and discipline with those who refuse to work. The Conference agreed to set up a school on the Berbere farm to teach collective agriculture.

“The peasants discussed blocking the Panamerican Highway to get their demands. The only discordant note was from the local Mayor who told the peasants to have more patience and that the law was like a ‘father who makes rules for his child’. Her proposal for patience for solidly rejected. Many peasants stated they felt a ‘revolution within the revolution’ was necessary to have genuine People’s Power (Poder Popular.)”

These few lines speak louder than all the books and articles that have appeared on the Bolivarian Revolution. Here we see the dialectical relationship between the masses and the leadership of Hugo Chavez at work. Reflecting the pressure of the masses, the government approves an agrarian reform. The peasants take heart from this measure and press their demands. They express “universal support for President Hugo Chavez”, but at the same time they point out the limitations of the new law. It is welcome, but it does not go far enough. They therefore decide to help the government to go further by stepping up their actions from below.

The announcement of the new measures has prompted hundreds of land invasions and these have been met by the killing of dozens of peasant activists by the landlords and their agents. But as yet very little land has actually been awarded. This is admitted honestly by some officials. “That’s a self-criticism the revolution has to make,” says Rafael Alemán, the official in charge of the review at El Charcote. “We have not pushed this process forward.”

This need not surprise us. The machinery of government is slow and cumbersome. The bureaucracy cannot be an adequate instrument for revolutionary change. It drags its feet, fulfilling its obligations without enthusiasm, or even sabotaging the laws passed by the Bolivarian government. In its ranks there are many escualidos and disguised counterrevolutionaries. The peasants do not trust it, and they are right not to trust it. They criticize the Agrarian Reform Institute for its slowness and bureaucratic methods that help the owners of lantifundios to sabotage the reforms. They know – and the whole people know – that only the mass revolutionary movement can carry through the revolution!

Displaying an unerring revolutionary instinct, they answer the critics of the agrarian reform in a way that shows a very high level of political maturity. The enemies of the agrarian reform say: the break-up of the big landed estate into individual peasant plots will damage productivity and cause chaos and hunger. The peasants reply: we are for the expropriation of the big estates – but we do not insist on their division into a multitude of small peasant holdings. We advocate the establishment of collective farms on which the land can be cultivated in common, using all the advantages of modern machinery and technology and economies of scale. To do this it is not necessary that the land should be owned by a handful of rich parasites!

The revolutionary peasants are not fools. They fully understand the need for accounting and discipline on the collective farms. They will be run democratically by the producers themselves. Those who refuse to work will be disciplined by the rest of the collective, which is interested in establishing a high level of productivity, and to this end proposes the establishment of schools on the farms to teach the science of agriculture. What has this highly responsible attitude got to do with the grotesque caricature of “ignorant peasants” sabotaging scientific agricultural production that the western apologists of the landlords like to present us with?

Reformism or revolution?

Some sections of the leadership have tried to soothe the nerves of the opposition, reassuring them that the present measures do not threaten private property. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel has said farmers and ranchers with their titles in order and their lands productive have “nothing to fear.” But such assurances will do nothing to calm the fears of the property-owning classes or reduce their implacable hostility to the Bolivarian Revolution.

In a recent report on Vheadline.com we read the following:

“Carabobo State Governor Luis Felipe Acosta Carlez is gearing up to face an embarrassing spate of land grabs and squatters that has divided the pro-government Movimiento Quinta Republica (MVR).

“Sporting red T-shirts and using revolutionary lingo, people have been invading private property and allegedly idle lands throughout Carabobo.

“The State Public Security Secretary has been entrusted with organizing preventive controls in all zones and to establish dialogue with illegal squatters.

“The Governor has been accused of vacillating in tackling the problem and has reacted preparing a decree of emergency to establish points of control to prevent people from other States invading lands and properties.

“The National Guard (GN) and State Police will join the plan and the aim is to secure a pacific eviction of lands ... part of the operation is to root out professional or political squatters and to prosecute them.”

Of course, it is necessary to distinguish between land occupations carried out by landless peasants and fraudulent activities carried out by so-called “professional squatters”, who in some places have invaded plots in order to sell them later. Such activities are the work of parasites and counterrevolutionaries and must be condemned. But in the first place it is wrong to use such incidents to try to condemn land occupations in general, and in the second place, the only way to prevent cases of fraudulent land occupations is to develop and extend genuinely revolutionary land occupations organized by democratically elected peasants committees.

Every genuine revolutionary democrat is duty bound to support the agrarian revolution. But in order to succeed, the most energetic revolutionary measures will be necessary. The peasants cannot depend upon the bureaucracy to give them the land. They know that they can depend only on their own strength. That is why they are getting organized, preparing to take direct action to get possession of the land.

The revolutionary mobilization of the peasants is the only guarantee that the agrarian reform of the Bolivarian Revolution will be carried into practice – that it will not remain a dead letter, a meaningless piece of paper lying in the drawer of some bureaucrat in Caracas. The peasants are realistic people. They understand that, whatever laws are passed in Caracas, the landowners will not give up their power, land and privileges without a fight. If they want the land they will have to fight for it!

PROVEA says more than it intends when it calls on the Public Ministry to speed up investigations into the assassination of numerous social activists in the countryside. What does this mean? Only this: that a bloody civil was is already raging in the countryside; that the landlords and their hired pistoleros are killing peasant leaders every day with complete impunity; that for the poor peasants the “rule of law” is just an empty phrase. And what solution do our learned friends propose for this problem? To ask the Ministry to “speed up its investigations”. That is a praiseworthy suggestion, and we have nothing against it in principle. But the peasants know that the wheels of justice move slowly and the armed agents of the counterrevolution move swiftly. It is their lives that are at stake and they must do something to defend themselves.

Everybody knows that in the last few years many peasants have been killed by the landlords and their armed gangs. In the report of the peasant congress we read: “At the end of October 2003, in Barinas, 120 policemen helped the large landowners destroy a school on the occupied land as well as giving the landowner 240,000 pounds of corn produced by peasants.” This is not an isolated case. The reactionary landlords are mobilizing to defeat the peasants and defend their power and privileges. They have no hesitation in resorting to violence. They have money, arms and influence. And, as this report shows, they are being aided by parts of the state apparatus.

Those who preach moderation and restraint to the peasants in order to avoid civil war in the countryside are missing the point. The point is that there is already a civil war in the countryside. This can only be cut short by the most determined revolutionary action by the peasants themselves, backed by their natural allies, their brothers and sisters in the towns and cities – the working class. The peasant will not remain with his arms folded while the reactionary gangs paid and armed by the landlords beat, intimidate and kill them.

“The conference discussed the need for armed self-defence as well as the possibility of guerrilla warfare if there is a U.S. invasion.” Yes! But the enemy of the Venezuelan peasants is not only U.S. imperialism. The enemy is at home! The Venezuelan oligarchy is nothing more than the local agency of U.S. imperialism. As long as it holds onto the land, the banks and key points of industry, the gains of the Revolution will never be safe, and the agrarian revolution will remain a mirage.

The peasantry must arm itself! That message has been given more than once by President Chavez. It is time to put it into practice. What is needed is not a guerrilla war, but organized self-defence, the establishment of democratically elected peasants committees in every village, armed with whatever weapons they can obtain to defend the people against the armed gangs of the counterrevolution. The committees should link up on a local, district and national basis, and in turn must link up with the committees of the workers in the urban centres.

This is the only way to bring about a peaceful and orderly transfer of power to the people in the countryside. The peasant committees can play a dual role: first, to mobilize and organize the peasant masses for the swift carrying out of an agrarian revolution, and then to establish democratic control over the management and administration of the collectivised estates. No other way is possible.

The agrarian revolution, if it is to succeed, must challenge the power of the oligarchy, and not only in the countryside. In order that agricultural production should not suffer irremediable damage, the expropriated farms must be run on collective lines. That can only succeed if they are guaranteed the necessary finance, cheap credits, cheap fertilizers, tractors and combine harvesters, lorries for transportation, and guaranteed markets for their products. That can only be achieved if they are integrated in an overall plan of production.

The first step in achieving this is the nationalization of the banks. Without control over finance and credit, it is impossible to control and plan the economy. It would be like trying to drive a car with no brakes, accelerator or gear-stick. The nationalization of the land and banks is an absolutely necessary measure – even as part of the national democratic revolution. But then the question would immediately be posed: why stop there? Why not expropriate the big firms that still remain in private hands? (We are not interested in the small ones.)

The reason why the oligarchy and the imperialists are panicking over the agrarian reform is precisely because they understand its underlying logic, which is to place a question mark over the so-called divine right to private property. That is absolutely correct! Instead of apologising and assuring the landlords and capitalists that they have nothing to fear, the Bolivarian Revolution should place at the top of its agenda the expropriation of the property of the corrupt and degenerate Venezuelan oligarchy.

President Chavez has stated correctly that capitalism is slavery. He has said that the future of the Bolivarian Revolution must be socialism. We agree with him one hundred and one percent. He has also publicly supported Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. What does this say? It says that under modern conditions the tasks of the national democratic (“bourgeois democratic”) revolution cannot be carried out by the bourgeoisie, and that the national democratic revolution can only succeed if it transforms itself into a socialist revolution.

The history of Venezuela – and the whole of Latin America – for the past 200 years is a graphic confirmation of this assertion. On the basis of capitalist slavery, no way forward is possible. It is necessary to break with landlordism and capitalism once and for all. That is the real meaning of the slogan: Revolution within the Revolution. It is the only way forward!

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Everyday I become more convinced, there is no doubt in my mind, and as many intellectuals have said, that it is necessary to transcend capitalism. But capitalism can’t be transcended from within capitalism itself, but through socialism, true socialism, with equality and justice. But I’m also convinced that it is possible to do it under democracy, but not in the type of democracy being imposed from Washington,”
Hugo Chavez.


Chavez addressing the meeting
Picture: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias
Two days ago, Venezuelan President Chavez gave a speech at the Gigantinho Stadium at the closing session of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. In this speech, President Chavez gave further indications of the direction in which the Bolivarian Revolution is moving. This speech, reported in Venezuelanalysis.com (Caracas, Jan 30, 2005), deserves to be studied by every conscious worker and revolutionary youth.

The Bolivarian Revolution started out as a national democratic revolution, aimed at freeing the people of Venezuela from the rule of a corrupt and degenerate oligarchy that acted as the local agency of imperialism. The Marxist tendency always stood firmly for the defence of the Bolivarian Revolution against its twin enemies, the oligarchy and imperialism, but also pointed out consistently that the only way in which the Revolution could save itself and advance to a final victory was by overthrowing landlordism and capitalism.

The recent nationalisation of Venepal and decree on agrarian reform marked a clear turn of the Revolution in the direction of a decisive confrontation with its enemies. These revolutionary measures will have been greeted enthusiastically by workers and peasants everywhere. However, they have aroused the fury of reactionaries from Washington to London. The enemies of the Revolution are preparing a new counteroffensive against it. The only way to defeat them is by striking new and decisive blows against them.

But here a problem arises. It is well known that some in the leadership of the Bolivarian Movement do not share the President’s enthusiasm for the Revolution and that some of his advisers are upset by his constant and outspoken criticisms of US imperialism. The President is clearly not impressed by this advice. In reference to the recommendations of some of his close advisors, he said that “some people say that we cannot say nor do anything that can irritate those in Washington.” He repeated the words of Argentine independence hero José de San Martin “let’s be free without caring about what anyone else says.”

These words are absolutely characteristic of the man. Hugo Chavez is a man of great courage and integrity. He has shown himself to be implacable in his attitude to U.S. imperialism. Chavez blamed the bad political relations between the U.S.A and Venezuela on the “permanent aggressions from there”. He criticized U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who recently asserted that Chavez was “a negative force in the region.” He said those relations will stay unhealthy as long as the U.S. continues its policies of aggression. “The most negative force in the world today is the government of the United States,” he said.

The President criticized the U.S. government for asking other countries to put pressure on Venezuela in the crisis with Colombia over the kidnapping of a Colombian guerrilla activist in Caracas last December. “Nobody answered their call... they are more lonely every day.” Chavez added that U.S. imperialism is not invincible. “Look at Vietnam, look at Iraq and Cuba resisting, and now look at Venezuela.”

The Bolivarian leader pointed out that Venezuela was prepared to defend itself arms in hand against any aggression, and added that his country’s military forces are undergoing a period of modernisation of its weapon systems and resources, but asserted that it is aimed at defending the country’s sovereignty. “Venezuela will not attack anybody, but don’t attack Venezuela, because you will find us ready to defend our sovereignty, and the project we are carrying forward,” he declared.

Like Simon Bolivar, that other great leader of the national democratic revolution in Latin America, Hugo Chavez has understood that the Revolution cannot triumph if it is isolated in a single country. He has stated publicly that Trotsky was right against Stalin when he argued that the Revolution cannot ultimately succeed in an isolated state. He has publicly stated that the aim of the Bolivarian Revolution is to spread to every country in Latin America – and beyond.

In his speech Chavez highlighted the recent creation of Latin American satellite TV network TeleSur, “which will allow us to tell our people’s reality in our own words.” He added that TeleSur will be at the disposal of the people, not of governments. The Venezuelan President visited the Lagoa do Junco agrarian settlement in Tapes set up by Brazil’s Landless Movement (MST), and later held a press conference with more than 120 media organizations, where he criticized the U.S. government for claiming to lead a fight against terrorism while undermining democracy in Venezuela. These actions are not likely to earn him the plaudits of Washington!

Internationalist appeal

Despite the repeated provocations and aggressive conduct of US imperialism, the Venezuelan President always distinguishes carefully between the people of the USA and their rulers. Pointing out that all empires come to an end, he said. “One day the decay inside U.S. imperialism will end up toppling it, and the great people of Martin Luther King will be set free. The great people of the United States are our brothers, my salute to them.”

The President continued:

“We must start talking again about equality. The U.S. government talks about freedom and liberty, but never about equality. They are not interested in equality. This is a distorted concept of liberty. The U.S. people, with whom we share dreams and ideals, must free themselves... A country of heroes, dreamers, and fighters, the people of Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez.”

He also said: “We can’t wait for a sustained economic growth of 10 years in order to start reducing poverty through the trickledown effect, as the neoliberal economic theories propose.” The President lambasted the US-sponsored Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA). He told the closing meeting: “The FTAA is death, what they go was mini-FTAA’s because U.S. imperialism did not have the strength to impose the neocolonial model of the FTAA.”

He paid tribute to the cooperation with Cuba, which, along with several Central American countries, receives Venezuelan oil at below market prices, in exchange for assistance in healthcare, education, agriculture and other areas. He explained that about 20,000 Cuban doctors work in Venezuela at free medical clinics in poor neighbourhoods, and that Venezuela has used a Cuban literacy method approved by UNESCO that has allowed more than 1.3 million Venezuelans learn how to read and write. He said Venezuela is using Cuban vaccines, which now allow poor children to be vaccinated against diseases such as hepatitis.

The President poured scorn on the stories spread by the western media about alleged plans by Fidel Castro and him to spread Communism in the Americas, overthrow governments and set up guerrillas, “after 10 years it seems like we haven’t been very successful.”

He said:

“Cuba has its own profile and Venezuela has its own, but we have respect for each other, but we celebrate accords and advance together for the interest of our peoples.” He said that any aggression against either country will have to confront the other, “because we are united in spirit from Mexico down to the Patagonia.”

“When imperialism feels weak, it resorts to brute force. The attacks on Venezuela are a sign of weakness, ideological weakness. Nowadays almost nobody defends neoliberalism. Up until three years ago, just Fidel [Castro] and I raised those criticisms at Presidential meetings. We felt lonely, as if we infiltrated those meetings.”

He continued:

“Just look at the internal repression inside the United States, the Patriot Act, which is a repressive law against U.S. citizens. They have put in jail a group of journalists for not revealing their sources. They won’t allow them to take pictures of the bodies of the dead soldiers, many of them Latinos, coming from Iraq. Those are signs of Goliath’s weaknesses.”

“The south also exists... the future of the north depends on the south. If we don’t make that better world possible, if we fail, and through the rifles of the U.S. Marines, and through Mr. Bush’s murderous bombs, if there is no coincidence and organisation necessary in the south to resist the offensive of neo-imperialism, and the Bush doctrine is imposed upon the world, the world will be destroyed,” he said.

Chavez warned that global warming would bring catastrophic events if no action is taken soon, in reference to uncontrolled or little regulated industrial activity. Chavez added that perhaps before those drastic changes take place, there will be rebellions everywhere “because the peoples are not going to accept in peace impositions such as neoliberalism or such as colonialism.”

“Capitalism must be transcended”

The most interesting part of his speech, however, was when he posed the need to pass from the national democratic tasks to the socialist transformation of society:

Everyday I become more convinced, there is no doubt in my mind, and as many intellectuals have said, that it is necessary to transcend capitalism. But capitalism can’t be transcended from within capitalism itself, but through socialism, true socialism, with equality and justice. But I’m also convinced that it is possible to do it under democracy, but not in the type of democracy being imposed from Washington,” Chavez said.

These words mark the first clear indication of a decisive shift in the Bolivarian Revolution. Until now, Chavez never suggested going beyond the bounds of capitalism. But the real march of events has posed the question with ever greater clarity: it is impossible for the national democratic revolution to succeed unless it makes deep inroads on private property, unless it takes the decisive step of expropriating the landlords, bankers and capitalists.

The only hope for the Venezuelan Revolution is to transform itself into a socialist revolution. But the model of so-called “real socialism” that collapsed in the Soviet Union holds no appeal to the masses in Venezuela, imbued in the spirit of democracy. What is required is to return to the democratic traditions of the October Revolution, to the programme of Lenin and Trotsky. Only this can guarantee success! In this respect, Hugo Chavez said: “We have to re-invent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition,” he added.

The President stated that Venezuela is trying to implement a “social economy”. He said,“It is impossible, within the framework of the capitalist system to solve the grave problems of poverty of the majority of the world’s population. We must transcend capitalism. But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union. We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything. That’s the debate we must promote around the world, and the WSF is a good place to do it.”

Socialism is democratic or it is nothing. From the very beginning, the control and administration of industry, society and the state must be in the hands of the working class itself. That is the only way to prevent the formation of a bureaucracy – that abominable cancer on the body of the workers’ state – and to ensure that the masses are actively identified with the Revolution from the start. The active participation of the masses is the first rule of socialism.

The President added that in spite of his admiration for Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, he said Che’s methods are not applicable. “That thesis of one, two, or three Vietnams, did not work, especially in Venezuela.” That is quite correct. Che’s aim of spreading the Revolution to Latin America was correct and necessary. But unfortunately the tactic he adopted was mistaken. This led to his tragic death which deprived the Revolution of an outstanding leader.

It is necessary to draw a balance sheet and speak clearly: over a period of decades, the tactic of guerrilla war has led to one defeat after another in Latin America. The Cuban Revolution took the US imperialists by surprise. But they learned the lessons and applied them. As a result, every time a “foco” appeared, they immediately crushed it before it could develop further – as we saw with the tragic fate of Che Guevara in Bolivia.

Guerrilla war is a necessary auxiliary to the proletarian revolution in countries like tsarist Russia or China where there was a big peasantry. But it makes little sense in Latin America where the big majority of the population lives in towns and cities. So-called urban guerrillaism is only individual terrorism under another name. That tactic was always rejected by Marxists – particularly the Russian Marxists. It is a recipe for defeat, as the people of Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia know through bitter experience.

The great advantage of the Venezuelan Revolution is that it is a mainly urban revolution (though with important support in the peasantry) based on the active movement of the masses, in particular the working class and its natural allies, the urban poor, the unemployed, the revolutionary youth, the women and the progressive intelligentsia.

Parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle

Hopeless sectarians think that parliamentary struggle can play no role in the Revolution. This shows they have no understanding of Revolution – or anything else. The Russian Bolsheviks paid careful attention to the parliamentary struggle. They skilfully combined democratic slogans with the economic and social demands of the proletariat, linking them to the idea of taking power. That is the only way to build a mass base, to mobilise the masses and thus to create the objective conditions for a revolutionary overturn. There is no other way.

The Bolivarian Revolution began on the electoral plane and has dealt one blow after another against the counterrevolutionaries, culminating in the magnificent victory in the August 2004 recall referendum. By this means it has rallied the masses behind it. But the struggle is by no means over. It is a dialectical law that the struggle in parliament must eventually be resolved outside parliament. Reformists and parliamentary cretins do not understand this. That is why they always lead the movement to defeat – as in Chile. If the pro-bourgeois reformist wing of the Bolivarian Movement wins, the same fate awaits the people of Venezuela.

However, the pro-bourgeois and reformist elements have not yet won. The masses are pressing from below. They want the Revolution to advance, to strike blows against its enemies, to take power. The workers demand nationalisation of the factories, the peasants want to put an end to landlordism. This is a decisive fact! The Revolution has not ended, as the reformists claim. It has scarcely begun!

Whatever the limitations of the Bolivarian Movement, its vacillations and inconsistencies, its ambiguity and lack of a clear programme, it undoubtedly has the merit of having roused the masses to struggle, mobilising, inspiring and organising millions of oppressed people who were never organised before. That is a tremendous achievement! And the man who inspired this magnificent movement and provided it with a leadership and a banner is Hugo Chavez.

Those who try to denigrate Chavez, to belittle his role and also to attack the genuine Marxists for supporting him (while maintaining our organisational and political independence) show their complete inability to understand Revolution or the role of Marxists in a Revolution. What is necessary is not to criticize and grumble from the sidelines but to participate actively, shoulder to shoulder with the most advanced workers and revolutionary youth, explaining patiently what is needed, while at the same time pushing the movement forward. Anything else is just the sterile impotence of sectarianism.

Marx pointed out that for the masses one step forward of the real movement was worth a hundred correct programmes (and Marx knew very well the importance of a correct programme). Lenin said that for the masses an ounce of practice was worth a ton of theory (and Lenin never underestimated the importance of theory!). The masses in Venezuela have learned a lot from their experiences in the last few years. Their confidence has grown by leaps and bounds. Above all, they have developed a very keen sense of democracy. They will not tolerate bureaucracy and autocratic methods. This is the greatest guarantee against the danger of a future totalitarian state. It will be impossible (or at least very difficult) to impose a Stalinist dictatorship under such conditions. What is on the order of the day is a healthy, democratic workers’ state – like the original Soviet state established by Lenin and Trotsky in October 1917.

For a Socialist Federation of Latin America!

In his speech, President Chavez cited Marx’s phrase, quoted by the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, that “each revolution needs the whip of the counterrevolution to advance.” He listed actions by the opposition and the U.S. government to drive him out of power. “But we resisted, and now have gone onto the offensive. For instance, we recovered our oil industry... In 2004, from the oil industry budget we utilized $4 billion in social investments, education, health, micro-credits, scholarships, and housing, aimed at the poorest of the poor, what neoliberals call waste of money. But that is not a waste of money because it is aimed at empowering the poor so that they can defeat poverty.” He added that “that money before stayed out of Venezuela or just benefited the rich.”

He criticized privatizations by saying that “privatisation is a neoliberal and imperialist plan. Health can’t be privatised because it is a fundamental human right, nor can education, water, electricity and other public services. They can’t be surrendered to private capital that denies the people from their rights.” All this is very true. It is necessary to fight against privatisation. But the real solution is to establish a genuine socialist plan of production under the democratic control and administration of the working class.

There were, of course, some elements in Chavez’s speech which Marxists would disagree with. He defended Brazilian President Luis “Lula” Da Silva, who has been sharply criticized by the Latin American left, and who was booed during his speech at the World Social Forum. Apart from the natural reluctance of a guest to criticize his host, Chavez naturally sees leaders like Lula in Brazil or Kirchner in Argentina, or the new leaders of Uruguay as potential allies in the fight against US imperialism. This also explains his favourable reference to President Putin of Russia.

There is nothing wrong in attempting to make use of every opening, no matter how small, on the diplomatic front that may help to break the wall of diplomatic isolation that Washington is attempting to construct around Venezuela. On the contrary, the Bolivarian Revolution is obliged to do so. It is compelled to seek diplomatic and trade relations with friendly states as long as the Revolution remains isolated. But no firm reliance can be placed on these diplomatic points of support. To imagine (as some people do) that the Bolivarian Revolution can depend on this is to lean upon a broken reed. These supposed points of support can collapse – or even turn into their opposite – in 24 hours.

The only really reliable point of support for the Bolivarian Revolution is the millions of oppressed workers and peasants of Latin America and the Labour Movement of the whole world. The Bolivarian Revolution already counts on the sympathy of millions of people. If it shows that it is capable of taking the decisive step of breaking the stranglehold of Capital and ending capitalist slavery once and for all, that passive sympathy will be immediately transformed into militant action. US imperialism would be paralysed and unable to intervene because it would be faced with uprisings everywhere – and a mass movement inside its own borders.

The revolutionary idea of Simon Bolivar has been betrayed for 200 years by the Latin American bourgeoisie. It will become a reality only when the workers of Venezuela and the whole of Latin America take the power into their hands. What is needed is a bold lead. Armed with the correct policies and programme, Venezuela can give it.

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UNT organiser Ricardo Galindez spoke to Ramon Samblas about the progress of this new trade union organisation in Venezuela and the latest events that have taken place in this Latin American country. An edited version of this interview also appeared in today's left-wing daily The Morning Star.
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The article in The Morning Star


When the bosses’ lockout was defeated by the spontaneous and determined action of the Venezuelan masses, Ricardo Galindez did not hesitate to join others in walking out from the hopelessly corrupt CTV (Venezuelan Labour Confederation) and its Executive Committee in the State of Lara and join with other genuine activists and rank and file members of the trade union movement in Venezuela to form the UNT (National Workers Union) – now the legitimate voice of Venezuelan labour. Ricardo Galindez, a trade union organiser with more than 20 years experience in the movement has been engaged during the last two years in the titanic task of building a trade union force which backs the movement of the majority of the Venezuelan working people – the movement popularly known as the Bolivarian revolution headed by Hugo Chavez.

His activity has earned him the hatred of the Venezuelan oligarchy and physical attacks on himself by the bosses’ thugs, who, on one occasion, shot him in the chest. Nevertheless, this is not enough to defeat the beliefs or the energy of a man who sees, in the measures taken by the Chavez government, “a chance for the people to enjoy democratic rights like free education and healthcare”. To this he adds that “these gains have revolutionary features because they are against the interests of the capitalists of the world”.

One of the issues that pops up in our conversation is Venepal. This paper mill was occupied and run by the workers after being abandoned by the owners. The decision of Hugo Chavez to nationalise the company under workers’ control is more than welcomed by Ricardo who states “we support President Chavez in his decision. A government that rules in favour of the bosses’ would have never done something like that. The decision is painful for the imperialists and the bosses who deny the ability of the workers to create a new model of production where the aim is to serve the majority of society, not just the wallets of few people”. He then adds: “what the Venepal workers want is to create an endogenous plan where the company will provide cheap paper for the “misiones” (social programs) and the estate of land which belongs to the company will be used by landless peasants”.

We also have time to comment on the state takeover of the massive “El Charcote” ranch, which belonged to the British company Vestey. While he shows his support for the measure he also expresses his concerns about how the issue has been handled by the imperialist paid press and their US masters. In his opinion it is clear that “the imperialists are seeking to create a diplomatic impasse with the UK”. This is not the only tactic the US administration and its allies are undertaking. He says “the kidnap by Columbian agents inside Venezuela of human rights activist Rodrigo Granda is such a provocation. The Venezuelan government has always handed over to the Colombian government all those alleged to be members of the guerrillas or the “narcos”. There was no necessity to come over to Caracas, bribe corrupt policemen and kidnap Granda, who was not even being ‘officially’ sought by the Colombian authorities. This is a provocation of the Bush administration and the Columbian leader Uribe is a mere puppet here”

UNT vs CTV

There is no doubt that the issue of the trade union question in Venezuela is one of the most misleading ones. For almost two years now the labour movement has been striving to get international support from other sister organisations all over the planet. On top of all the problems the new genuine trade union is facing, they also face the lack of official recognition. But Ricardo views the process with considerable optimism and points out how through the UNT the working class is playing its full role in the Venezuelan Revolution.

“Working people have increased their active role in the process. They participated in the mass movements which followed April 11 (the date of the coup d’etat) to rescue our president. Later on we created the UNT which was born weak but has gained strength over the last two years,” he says.

Ricardo warns us not to use membership figures as the only measure of strength of both trade union confederations. “They (the CTV) always inflate the figures,” Ricardo says. The key is rather to analyse the level of collective bargaining. In the last period the UNT has been involved in the organising of companies like Ford, Goodyear, Firestone, the Caracas Underground and “the glorious oil workers”. In the public sector the UNT is dealing with collective bargaining in the health service and the Department of Social Security. Another good measure of the organisation is the size of the May Day marches. In 2003 both union bodies had marches with a similar size but in 2004 the UNT march was much larger than the CTV one. Ricardo is confident that for next May Day the UNT march will outnumber the CTV once again.

The fate of the Bolivarian Revolution

From Ricardo’s point of view the best thing about the Bolivarian Revolution is that the reforms and concessions given to the masses are based on the ability of the masses to mobilise and create new forms of society. As a socialist he sees the revolutionary process in his country as a dynamic and living process. He usually likes to link the Cuban experience to the Bolivarian Revolution in his remarks.

He says that “revolutions are always dynamic and sometimes the social dynamics go beyond the original aims of the movement. The best example is the Cuban Revolution. It was a movement started by democrats and due to the attacks of imperialism on the democratic regime they took up socialist measures against imperialist aggressions”.

To sum up the interview we asked him whether he has a message for the British labour movement. He does not hesitate to appeal to all trade unionists to “discontinue to recognise the CTV, which is the executive arm of the policies of imperialism, and support the UNT. For this purpose we also need campaigns like Hands Off Venezuela, so please support the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign.”

Ricardo Galindez has been brought to Britain by the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. Hands Off Venezuela has organised a meeting in the Houses of Parliament (Grand Committee room) on February 2 at 19.30. Ricardo will share the platform with John McDonnell, Mick Rix and Jeremy Dear.

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