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Colombian army and paramilitaries intensify offensive against trade unionists and left-wing activists

By Ramon Sanchez


During the last month the Colombian army and the paramilitaries have increased their campaign of threats and assassinations against trade union leaders. On October 30 death threats were issued against various members of SINTRAUNICOL-University Workers’ Union. Jose Joaquin Cubides, General Secretary of the agricultural workers’ union in Arauca, was killed on November 7 in Fortul, Arauca.

Also from Arauca reports have come out denouncing the use of the local civilian population as human shields in skirmishes with guerrilla groups. In Arauca the victims of the army and paramilitary operations are counted in their thousands. It is also in Arauca where we find the largest contingent of US troops. It is believed that 328 people were killed and 5,714 people were displaced by military operations in Arauca in 2003 alone.

All this violence is not an accident. Arauca is a department that shares a border with Venezuela. The Colombian oligarchy, with the advice of the US administration, has not hesitated to use Colombian bases to attack and terrorise the population on the other side of the border to undermine the revolutionary process that is taking place in Venezuela. Arauca is one of the main bases from which they wage all these reactionary provocations.

On November 8, students, teachers and parents held a protest against the privatisation of state education in Cauca. Police attacked the protest with tear gas and rubber bullets. Various people were hospitalised. Others, like the parents of one student, were dragged away by the police and it is not clear what has happened to them.

All this is nothing new. The Colombian Police, Army and the AUC (the main paramilitary group) have been engaged in these kinds of activities for decades. However, with Uribe in office the situation has become even worse. After the failure of the “carrot and stick” approach exercised by Pastrana (former Colombian president) US imperialism has supporetd Uribe, a far right leaning politician.

Uribe Velez, who studied at Harvard and Oxford, started his political career as the Mayor of Medellin (the second biggest city in the country). He was removed after three months by the central government to avoid a scandal regarding his ties with the drugs mafia.

It is not an accident that Colombia is considered the most dangerous country for trade unionists. The Colombian ruling class and their masters in the US administration do not want any kind of resistance to their plans for widespread privatisation and their militarisation of the area, known as Plan Colombia.

As different analysts have pointed out, the Plan Colombia (recently renamed Plan Patriota) is the military side of a plan which involves the removal of any obstacle to the operations of mainly US companies. One of the latest companies to make big profits from this increasing militarisation of the country is Harken Energy. On November 12 the Colombia Journal Online pointed out the following:

“On November 4, the Texas-based company announced the signing of a new oil exploration and production contract in Colombia. The company is closely linked to President George W. Bush who served on its board of directors from 1986 until 1990.”

The other side of the plan is the financial one. Alongside these repressive measures we also have the IMF counter-reforms in return for loans. But the causes of the problem are not only economic. In the last five years Latin America has become a very unstable area. Almost every single country has been shaken by revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situations. Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela are amongst them. This is a very dangerous situation for US imperialism. US imperialism has been looking for a country that can play the same role that Israel plays in the Middle East. They need a loyal policeman in the area and they will not hesitate to spend all kinds of resources to achieve this goal.

That is why the Colombian oligarchy is pursuing a policy of complete annihilation of the labour movement in Colombia, together with any other protest movement. If anyone had any doubts about the real nature of US imperialism, all you need to do is look at what it is doing in Colombia.

They go around the world lecturing others on democracy, declaring different governments as “rogue regimes”, and in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan they have not hesitated to militarily overthrow these regimes. But what they bring is not democracy. Far from it. They bring more death and destruction, and terrible suffering for the local people.

In Colombia they are doing the same in a more or less covert manner, but it is fundamentally part of the same operation. Latin America is too important for them. It is the duty of all fighting workers and youth around the world to protest and raise the issue of the plight of the trade unionists in Colombia.

November 25, 2004

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Fidel and Chávez together and in red... this November 7

By Celia Hart


On November 7, I like to visit Lenin Hill in Regla. Regla is a little sea town in Havana that is reached crossing the bay. The Virgen de Regla is the patron of the city. Consequently, when we arrive she receives us flirtatiously, with her blue dress, announcing the certain victory of the Industriales, her baseball team in the coming championships.

Lenin is higher up. In 1924, a communist mayor decided to build the monument as a beautiful Cuban tribute to the leader of the workers. I think that it is the first one dedicated to Lenin outside the USSR. I insist that Cuban nationality is adorned by brush strokes of love that fosters a new internationalism. Blessed be my compatriots of Regla! These days, mostly after November 2, Lenin and the Black Virgin must have chatted quite a bit. She, fearful for the fate of the Cubans and the poor of the world. He, concerned to see if we communists are capable of overcoming the last blows of the enemy.

The flowers for November 7 are bought in front of the church. The beautiful Virgin always offers the freshest ones to her comrade up on the Hill. Let no one be confused that the interests of this compañera lie in the pitiful phrases from Rome nor those of a Pole holding up a cross. That certainly has nothing to do with the spirit of that Palestine who died by the hands of the Zionists for defending the poor of the Land. No, the Caribbean Virgin, undoubtedly, blesses these hundreds of children who should be able to live every year in their country and those elderly people who should not die of hunger.

The port can be seen from the Hill. For more than ten years, those who called themselves heirs of the man of the Hill, decided, with a brush stroke, not to help Cuba or the Virgen de Regla, or the children, or the elderly. In the name of freedom, they decided to put us in the hands of imperialism. They failed in their purpose. My country not only saved itself of all and with its virgins, but Cuba saved the honor of the October revolution. During those hard years, the words “Socialism or Death” found those Europeans who sought refuge in this little island.

That is why, today, the best festivity of the communist was evident. No! It was not the words of His Excellency, the Russian Ambassador to Cuba. This man cannot know how to talk of the October Revolution. Rather he could talk of the history of the Czars and the Orthodox Church, never of the Bolshevik revolution, nor of the flag of the proletariat. They lowered the red flag in that embassy. I think there is no celebration without that color. If there is a flag that lowered the flag of the communists from many places on a November 7, it is the flag of the Russian Republic. To tell the truth, in all parts except Coyoacán where Leon Trotsky guards it.

The anniversary of the October Revolution was celebrated in Havana in the Council of State and Ministers: On the 6th, in the evening, Comandante Chávez decided to visit his injured colleague. During those eight hours of visit, in a warm embrace, the world revolution fused for a second. At that moment, under the silent notes of the International, Lenin again raised his voice to the workers and the red army again shook the world. Its legendary head was also included in that embrace, although he was 126 years old. The red flag of Coayacán unfurled its wings seeing the two best revolutionaries of the world. In that embrace, there was the first little piece of hope. That hope that seemed to disappear this past November 2.

This is what happened: Hugo Chávez appeared at the door of the office, fresh as the sea, with a light colored shirt and sneakers. This color highlighted the intense bronze of the skin in complicity with his wide smile and eyes that revealed an original beauty. He greeted with the right hand in a frank military salute. He walked slowly over, smilingly and moving his head from side to side, in a familiar gesture. The open smile that turned into open laughter. Fidel was there. Fidel was seated. He had seriously injured his knee and right arm on October 20. Fidel greeted his comrade with the left hand, with his favorite hand! Chavez approached, bent down and with both hands on the shoulder of the legendary guerrilla repeated a familiar phrase “You’re all right Fidel, all right” And yes he was! Even with his leg stretched out and his right arm in a sling, he was overwhelmingly happy. But, how strange was Fidel? For a moment, I didn’t understand. Fidel wasn’t dressed in his military greens. Fidel was in red. A deep red that projects optimism to the very stars seeing their young comrade. In red. Why was he in red?

It is the color of the Bolivarian revolution that had won a popular victory on October 31. Coincidentally it is the color of the world revolution, the color of the October Revolution. Fidel was expressing to Chavez, with that color that he, together with all of us, had participated in the elections of October 31 where we were victorious.

These elections were, undoubtedly, a deepening of the ones of August 15. Chávez made no shady deals, he deceived no one, did not have to resort to personal gossip about his adversaries, he did not have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars. His campaign, colored in red and sincerity appealed to the truth. That truth that endows the best revolutionary of Venezuela to be the legitimate president. He resorted to his allies of the past. Che who he considers an “infinite and immortal revolutionary”. The revolution in Venezuela is willing to “be real”, as Che said in his farewell letter to Fidel. Therefore, in the Bolivarian revolution “we conquer or we die”. In his victory campaign Chávez did not talk of what Venezuela had achieved, he spoke of what had to be done. “The deep problem of Venezuela is the exclusion and poverty and even more, the dire poverty”. He unleashed a battle with no quarter given to bureaucracy and against the large land holdings. He asked each Chavista governor elected “to become ... the head of the struggle against the large land holdings”.

“Now Venezuela is entering a new stage, the Bolivarian revolution must be deepened, it must be more a revolution every day, more authentic, truer, the structural transformation of the economy, society is the grand challenge we face now”, Chavez says. “Poverty, misery, exclusion will not be solved with lukewarm cloths. Simon Bolivar said clearly “The political gangrenes are not cured with palliatives; I could add: the social gangrenes are not cured with palliatives. The only way, the true way, we must accept it thus, understand it thus: each day more of us could lead our country in the full social and economic revolution that is through a full revolution, an integral revolution, a revolution that must assume the economic; in other words a revolution should be, in addition to political, social, economic in depth. I will say it now, we must leave behind the capitalist model that ruled in Venezuela for so long; within a framework of the capitalist model, the economic capitalist model is not the solution to the serious problems of society, of poverty, of misery, of exclusion”.

Che would have said it with fewer words: “Socialist revolutions or caricatures of revolution”.

Perhaps this revolutionary does not know that José Martí said in his radical speech Insufficient politics: “Remedies are important when the relationship of the diseases are not analyzed with strength and urgency ... Politics is a guilty occupation when they hide from it ... the deep poverty and dire misfortune, the dire poverty and misfortune of the people”. The policies of Chavez are more than enough. “Homeland or death” is the slogan of the Venezuelan commandant. But José Martí said, “Homeland is Humanity”. In Cuba, another necessary word was added to make it true: Socialism. This slogan that, taken to its utmost consequences, is the slogan of the world.

I’ve been wondering how two peoples with barely two days difference can choose such opposites. The US people subscribed to war; the Venezuelan to revolution.

Nothing much can be gathered from television and, however, two men were observed who, in spite of a cool November, it was very clear on camera. Chavez bowed to greet him and ratify his commitment. Fidel proudly pointed to the two small flags of the two countries embroidered in his pocket.

They spent eight hours together. I don’t know what they talked about but as you and I can imagine they talked of: The great victory of October 31; the victory of the Frente Amplio whose true victory must now be observed with concrete actions; the recent Rio Summit; where, in fact, President Chávez announced a “strange” observation for those planning to fight poverty and hunger in the south of my continent. His words were, more or less: “I don’t know how it can be done through a capitalist economy”. And, above all else, they must have talked of the triumph of reaction in the United States. A good agenda for a November 7.

At the end, in front of the TV cameras, Chavez dons a beautiful shirt... a red one his comrade had given him, after receiving a painting of Bolivar by Valdés, an artist of the westernmost province of the Island.

It is now November 7 and Chávez will have to leave but not forgetting with that small acute look that Fidel and he were “sharing the soul” as a journalist commented.

I looked at Fidel again. I thought of those years of infinite struggle swimming against the current. It still goes on and his wounds are from combat. It wasn’t an accident in the home working in the garden, like many men of his age, but winning more battles of ideas.

José Martí said: “When there are many men without honor, there are always men who have the honor of many men. Those are the ones who rebel with a terrible force against those who steal freedom from the people that is to steal honor from men. In these men there are thousands of men, an entire people, human dignity.”

And in this point in time, on November 7 of this year, human dignity multiplied in this meeting of love.

Then I did not suffer much for not having visited Lenin in Regla. These two men in red gave me the perfect celebration and my November 7 renewed my desire to fight. The first battle we will wage will be to morally teach the US people that they are being bewitched by an evil of so many years.

We will fight with all our strength, happy, knowing that the red flag now flutters over a new peoples of South American in a permanent revolution. And that color will extend throughout the continent and leap across the Atlantic and reach the beautiful Europe where we have so many comrades who are red inside and go down to Africa and reach the poles. And the Land will again turn in the right direction in relation to the sun.

I recalled with warmth and relevance Trotsky’s slogan: dum spiro spero (while there is a murmur of life there is hope).

And still, I am asked in many places: what will happen when Fidel goes. Fidel will not go for me. I believe that Chávez is only about 50.

Translated by Ana Portela for CubaNews

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The Cuban “Miami Five”

Jailed in the US for fighting terrorism

By Jorge Martin

On June 16 and 17, 1998, the Cuban authorities, in an exchange with the FBI handed over a huge amount of material related to anti-Cuban terrorist activities conducted from US territory, including 230 pages of documents, five videos of material broadcast on US TV about terrorist activities against Cuba and eight audio cassettes containing 2 hours and 40 minutes of conversations between jailed central American terrorists and their contacts outside.

Less than two months later, on September 12, the FBI, in early morning raids arrested five Cubans in Miami. Were they related to terrorist activities against Cuba? Quite the opposite, they were Cuban agents working to infiltrate the anti-Cuban terrorist groups based in Miami and they had also participated in the gathering of the information passed on to the FBI.

This was the beginning of a protracted legal case against these five people now known as the “Miami Five”. The case is one of injustice, political manipulation of the justice system and one that exposes the hypocrisy of Bush’s so-called “war on terrorism”. And this is probably the reason why you have not heard anything about it in the mainstream media.

The Miami Five, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar, René González Sehwerert, Fernando González Llort and Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, have all been given the longest possible sentences for the “crimes” they are accused of. Gerardo Hernández has been sentenced to two life sentences and 15 years of jail. Another two, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino have also been give life sentences. And René González and Fernándo González have been condemned to 19 and 15 years imprisonment.

From the moment they were arrested, the Miami Five were subjected to extremely harsh treatment. After 15 days in the Miami Federal Detention Centre, they were transferred to the Special House Unit, better known as “the hole”, in isolation cells 15 feet by 7. These cells are used for very dangerous criminals, generally those accused of murder, and according to the rules, prisoners can only be kept there for a maximum of 60 days. Two of the Miami Five, Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino were to remain there for 17 months.

What are the Miami Five accused of? There are a number of minor charges, including acting as agents of a foreign government without being registered with the US authorities (which the Five admit to), but the two main charges which three of them have been condemned to life sentences for are related to spying and murder.

From the very beginning, the local media started to talk of a dangerous group of Cuban spies that had endangered US national security. But in the seven long months of the trial (which makes this one of the longest judicial cases in the history of the US), the prosecution could not present one single piece of evidence to back up this case. Defence lawyers called to the stand US Navy officers, both active and retired, high ranking US intelligence officers and others and they all testified that after looking at all the evidence found on the Five, they had not seen any classified material.

Even the prosecutor of the case had to make clear in his opening remarks to the jury that, “we arrested these five men and we seized 20,000 pages of documents from their computers, but ladies and gentlemen from these 20,000 pages we cannot present one single page of classified information”. Since they could present no proof of the charge of spying, the prosecution decided to charge them with “conspiracy to spy”. Conspiracy is a very vague term and very difficult to prove. It means that the Five got together and decided they were going to spy. How can anyone prove that? And even if there was evidence (which was not the case), it is not normal that three of them should get the highest possible sentence you can get for spying (life imprisonment) but only for “conspiring” to spy!

The second charge for which Gerardo Hernández got his second life sentence is conspiracy to commit murder. He was accused of having been involved in the downing of two Cessna planes just off the coast of Havana by Cuban MIGs in February 1996. The story started in 1995 when an agreement was reached between Cuban and US authorities in order to regulate migration policies between the two countries. It was at that time when the anti-Cuban Miami organisation “Hermanos al Rescate” (Brothers to the Rescue) started carrying out terrorist activities against Cuba. In the 20 months leading to the downing of the two planes, they carried out 25 unauthorised flights over Cuban airspace. What did the Cuban government do? In each case they filed a formal diplomatic complaint for this violation of its country’s airspace. They received no reply.

In January 1996, the Cuban authorities invited admiral Carroll from the US Navy to Cuba and told him in no uncertain terms that their patience had run out and they would tolerate no more violations of their national sovereignty, particularly since they had information (provided by the Miami Five) that Hermanos al Rescate was about to arm these planes. Carroll went back to the US and reported to the Pentagon and the State Department that the Cubans were serious about their threats. Richard Nuccio, at that time an advisor to president Clinton, testified in the trial and said that he was very worried about the public boasting (in TV broadcasts) of Hermanos al Rescate leader José Basulto, about their illegal flights over Cuba.

On February 24th, three Cessna planes, one piloted by José Basulto himself, left a base in Florida and went to Cuba. They had been warned by the personnel at the airbase that it would be very dangerous to fly over Cuban airspace. The Cuban authorities were also forewarned. Was it Gerardo Hernández who warned them? No, it was the US Federal Aviation Agency who warned the Cubans that the planes were on their way. The planes were warned by radio that they were about to enter a restricted military area. They ignored the warnings. The Cuban air force sent two MIG fighters and after further ignored warnings downed two of the planes. José Basulto managed to escape. The Cuban government claims that the planes were illegally inside their airspace when downed, while the US government charges that they were 4 miles outside the limit.

So one might ask, what is the relationship between Gerardo Hernández and this case? He has been found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. The “proof” presented is a telegram to Gerardo, who had infiltrated Hermanos al Rescate, telling him not to fly on that date. This evidence is very flimsy, particularly for such a serious charge as this. It does not prove that Gerardo knew the planes were going to be attacked, and it does not prove he had anything to do with the attack itself. All he did was to report about the activities of a terrorist organisation operating from the US. Furthermore the information about flights leaving and arriving in South Florida is publicly available.

Finally, the bottom line is whether a sovereign nation like Cuba has the right to defend its airspace or not. For a government like that of the US which insists in immunity for its armed personnel operation abroad, it is a blatant case of double standards to bring an accusation of murder against a government defending its own territory against terrorists coming from the US. The case against Gerardo for conspiracy to murder is so weak that in an unprecedented move, right at the end of the trial, they tried to get the charge changed from murder to homicide. But both the Tribunal and the Appeal Court rejected the petition, since the whole trial had been based on the original charge.

A fair trial in Miami?

Clearly the evidence against the Five was at most flimsy, but the jury after very short deliberation, found them guilty. That can only be explained by the fact that the trial took place in Miami. From the beginning the defence attorneys asked for the trial to be transferred out of Miami. It is well known that the mafia type networks of the rabidly reactionary Cuban exiles dominate the city. It was very difficult to have a fair trial and a jury that would not be intimidated in such a city.

Furthermore the trial took place on the same dates as the polemic over Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy kept in Miami by some relatives against the wishes of his father. The Cuban exiles organised violent demonstrations and riots on those days, and the whole city was immersed in an atmosphere of anti-Cuban hysteria. How can the trial of five “dangerous Communist agents”, one of them accused of having participated in the murder of Cuban exiles, take place in such a climate and be a fair trial?

Even the US government recognised in a different case a year later, that a case connected to Cuba could not be tried fairly in Miami. The US government was being accused of unfair discrimination by a Mexican employee of the Immigration Service who claimed he had been dismissed because of his support for the anti-Cuban mafia in the Elian Gonzalez case. In this case, which has only an indirect relation to Cuba, the government argued that it could not be tried fairly in Miami and asked for the trial to be transferred. The request was granted. But in the case of the Miami Five, which is directly linked to Cuba and to the reactionary Cuban exiles who dominate the city, the request was rejected.

The government of the US also used a number of other legal tricks to get the Five condemned. For instance it used the Confidential Information Protection Act, in order not to release the 20,000 pages of documents seized from the Five. For months, neither the accused nor their lawyers had access to these documents, none of which contained US national defence sensitive information, or any classified information as stated by the prosecution itself. The defence was also not allowed to use the “state of need” argument against the accusation of acting as unregistered agents. This means that you can break the law in order to serve a greater good. In this case, the defence argued that they did so in order to save lives and property by infiltrating these terrorist groups.

Finally there is also the issue of the harsh treatment the Five received and are receiving in jail, particularly in relation to the visits from their family. Olga Salanueva, René’s wife, and Adriana Pérez, Gerardo’s wife, have never been allowed to see their husbands since they have been in jail! How is that possible? Simply by not giving them a visa to enter the US. The US immigration service said that they cannot even argue humanitarian reasons for the granting of the visas, since they are a “threat to US national security”. This vindictive ruling goes against the US’s own penitentiary rules and Constitution. Their young children have been growing up for years without being allowed to see their fathers. Visitation rights apply to even the more callous convicted murderers, so why should they not be allowed to the Miami Five who are clearly innocent victims of political imprisonment?

The long arm of the anti-Cuban Mafia in Miami

But the implications of this case go much further if one takes the time to trace the background of some of the people involved. Take for instance Hector Pesquera, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami regional office of the FBI and responsible for the arrest of the Five. What is his background? He became prominent when he was involved in the investigation that led to the arrest of four Miami Cubans in 1997. The US Coast Guard arrested them in October of that year when it seized a yacht in Puerto Rican waters. They found seven boxes of ammunition, military uniforms, two assault rifles and other military equipment. One of the arrested, Angel Alfonso Alemán, quickly declared that he was in charge and that their mission was to assassinate Castro during his visit to Margarita Island in Venezuela.

Hector Pesquera, the FBI agent in charge of the case, promised to carry out the investigation but added that “there might be foreign policy implications” in which case he does not “rule anything out”.

The investigation soon led to the National Cuban American Foundation (FNCA), the most important organisation of Cuban reactionary exiles, with close links with the US Republican and Democratic parties. The owner of one of the rifles was Francisco Hernández, the FNCA president and Miami’s most important counter-revolutionary leader. A member of the FNCA Executive Committee was the owner of the yacht. The member of the group in charge of communications was also a known FNCA activist. While on parole, one of the accused was arrested again by the DEA accused of bringing more than 350 kg of cocaine into the country.

All of the accused denied their guilt, with the exception of Alfonso who tried to get out by pointing out that he is well connected and showed pictures of himself with president Clinton, senator Torricelli (Democrat and the second largest recipient of Cuban American money in election campaigns in the US), the now deceased leader of the Cuban exiles Jorge Mas Canosa, etc. His lawyer, who is also FBI investigating agent Hector Pesquera’s cousin, went as far as to argue that if the CIA has tried so many times to assassinate Castro, how come it is a crime for him to attempt to do the same!

The Cuban mafia threw all her weight into the case and finally the accused were released. The judges, the accused and even special agent Pesquera himself, all celebrated the outcome with a mass (these types they are always very “pious”) and a party.

As if it were a reward for having failed to produce enough evidence against the accused, special agent Pesquera was sent to Miami and appointed as Special Agent in Charge for South Florida!

Barely 12 days later, the Miami Five were arrested. It was the first time that a “network of Cuban spies” had been broken up on US territory since the Cuban Revolution. Pesquera was quick to claim credit for the operation, despite the fact that he had only been in charge there for less than two weeks! The case of the Miami Five was clearly designed to appease the FNCA, with which Pesquera has such good relations, despite the fact that some of its most prominent members had been (sort of) “investigated” by himself in relation to terrorist activities.

Remember what George W Bush said about “aiding and harbouring terrorists” being on the same level as committing terrorist acts. But then this rule only seems to apply to the “bad” terrorists, not to the ones that are on Washington’s side and that sometimes even do some of the White House’s dirty work. Not to mention the enormous political clout the FNCA has in Florida, the state ruled by Bush’s brother Jeb, and in which Bush’s presidency was “won”.

The actions of the anti-Cuban terrorists (with a little help from the CIA)

Another story worth telling is that of Orlando Bosch, the person whose actions Fernando González, one of the Miami Five, was in charge of monitoring. Bosch left Cuba in 1960 and went to the US. His first terrorist activity was in 1968 when he was involved in the sending of a parcel bomb to Havana. In that year he was responsible for more than 40 terrorist attacks. At the end of the year he was arrested in Miami, tried and found guilty of an attack on a Polish ship and sentenced to 10 years in jail. In 1974, while on parole, he fled the US and carried on with his terrorist activities. He has confessed to carrying out bomb attacks in Miami, New York, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Argentina.

In October 1976 he was arrested in Venezuela in connection with the terrorist attack on a Cuban civilian airplane that resulted in 73 dead, men, women and children. This was the first ever bomb attack on a civilian airplane in the world. After spending 11 years in jail in Venezuela, having been proved that he had been an associate of two other men accused of homicide in the same case, he was finally released. In 1987 he returned to Miami and was arrested by the immigration service. The proceedings for his deportation began.

But then enormous political pressure was exerted by the Cuban mafia and its associates to get him released. Prominent in the campaign was senator Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican and the largest recipient of Cuban American money in election campaigns in the US). Amongst those involved was Jeb Bush, George W’s brother, who was then Ileana’s election campaign manager. Finally George Bush senior granted the release of this known and convicted terrorist and even gave him permanent residence in the US.

Another of those involved with Bosch in the bomb attack on the Cuban airliner in 1976 was Luis Posada Carriles. He had fled Cuba in 1959 after having been a police agent under dictator Fulgencio Batista. Most of his later life was dedicated to one goal: the assassination of Castro, working for the CIA and, according to his own confession in an interview to the New York Times in 1998, for Jorge Mas Canosa, the former head of the FNCA.

When Bosch and Posada were arrested by the Venezuela authorities, the Cuban mafia in Miami raised the $50,000 dollars to bribe the jail authorities and got him free. He then joined Lt Col Oliver North who got him a nice job with the CIA organising Contras, the gang of counter-revolutionary cut throats sabotaging the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution in the 1980s. After that “campaign” was over, he concentrated his attention on a bombing campaign against tourist installations in Cuba in the mid 1990s that resulted in the death of an innocent Italian tourist.

On November 17, 2000, Posada and another 3 prominent members of the Cuban mafia, with close links to the NFCA leaders, were arrested in Panama and accused of plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro during his visit to Panama to attend a regional summit. In April 2004 they were tried for and found guilty of being a threat to public security and falsifying documents. There was no mention in the verdict of the accusation of plotting to kill Castro. But on August 26, 2004, the four received a pardon from Panama’s outgoing president Mireya Moscoso, just six days before she was to hand over to President-elect Martin Torrijos.

The decision came shortly after a visit by Colin Powell to Panama. Posada went to Honduras, and the other three, all of them convicted terrorists, went back to Miami to a warm welcome by the anti-Cuban mafia, and not surprisingly were allowed in by the US immigration authorities. The three have carried out terrorist acts on US territory. One of them, Guillermo Novo, was convicted of participating in the car bombing that killed former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier, in Washington in 1978. Incidentally, the other two people convicted of the car bombing of Letelier were released by president Bush against the advice of both the FBI and the INS.

It is quite clear why the Cuban government had to undertake measures to prevent terrorist attacks from these groups, since the US authorities not only do not do anything to prevent them, but even turn a blind eye or collaborate with them. Such terrorist attacks on Cuba (mostly against civilian targets, like the bombing campaign against hotels and tourist resorts) have caused 3,478 deaths and 2,099 permanently disabled since 1959.

Free the Miami Five!

The case of the Miami Five is clearly about the right of a sovereign country to defend itself against the terrorist actions conducted from a neighbouring country that harbours them and does not lift a finger to stop their actions. The case exposes the hypocrisy of the US ruling class when it claims it is conducting a war on terrorism. It also uncovers the important role that the reactionary anti-Cuban mafia in Miami play in US politics, both Republican and Democrat. It is therefore an overtly political case that the US ruling class and its media are not interested in publicising because the details are highly damaging.

Socialists all over the world must demand first of all that the basic human rights of the Miami Five are respected (starting with full rights to visits), that the trial, which is now subject to a legal appeal, is reviewed and takes places in fair conditions with full legal rights, and finally that the Miami Five, whose only crime is to fight the reactionary terrorist anti-Cuban mafia in Miami, be released. But this cannot be seen merely from a legal point of view. A political case must be fought by political means. US labour and progressive movement organisations must be made aware of the case and should take a clear position.

The scandalous case of the Miami Five has exposed completely the cynical hypocrisy of the Bush government in the so-called war against terrorism. Like the even more barbarous scandal of the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, it has revealed the hollowness of its appeals to democracy and civilized behaviour and the rule of law. It stands condemned before the tribunal of world public opinion.

A labour movement enquiry should be conducted on the links between the Miami anti-Cuban terrorists and the US state apparatus, its security services, the legal system, etc. This is a crucial issue that the US labour and progressive movement should consider as one of high priority. The same dirty methods that the US ruling class uses against progressive governments and movements around the world are – and will be – also used against US workers and their organisations at home.

The real “crime” of Cuba from the point of view of the US ruling class is that it provides an example of how, by expropriating the capitalist class, one can provide for free for such things as high quality education and health care. And this is a very dangerous example for the workers and peasants in the rest of Latin America, but even for the workers in the US, millions of whom have no health care at all and are excluded from higher education. Socialists and labour activists all over the world must condemn the actions of US imperialism, which constitute a serious threat to the democratic rights of workers everywhere.

Free the Miami Five!

Fight to defend democratic rights!

Down with imperialism!

October 15, 2004

For more information on the Miami Five see also:
The US Committee to Free the Five
Miami 5
http://www.antiterroristas.cu/

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ESF meeting on the trade union situation in Venezuela and Colombia



On October 16 the ESF delegates had the chance to get a first hand report on the current situation in Colombia and Venezuela. The Colombia Solidarity Campaign and Hands Off Venezuela, supported by Marxist.com organised a workshop at the European Social Forum to explain the situation of the trade unions in these two Latin American countries. Around 65 campaigners, trade unionists and youth filled an already tiny room. The room was so full that some members of the audience had to sit on the floor!

Jeremy Dear speaking at the meeting

The meeting started with a contribution from Jeremy Dear. The NUJ General Secretary gave an account of the situation for trade unionists based on his own experience as a member of a TUC delegation to Colombia. The audience was terrified when they listened to all the security measures that trade union activists are forced to observe. He pointed out that the trade union and peasant leaders are currently slaughtered and tortured by the army and the paramilitaries because they are in the forefront of the struggle against privatisation. Jeremy Dear compared the Colombian conditions with the Venezuelan situation for trade unionists and he highlighted the freedom that trade unions enjoy in Venezuela. He closed his contribution appealing to the audience to campaign for the defence of the Venezuelan revolution and in defence of the Colombian trade union activity against US imperialism.

After the NUJ General Secretary spoke, Jorge Martin (Hands Off Venezuela International Secretary) explained the origins of the Venezuelan UNT in relation to the defeat of the bosses lock-out at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003. He also said that in spite of the fact that the labour movement in Venezuela has not led the revolution, the workers played a very important role in the defeat of the lock-out and they even installed workers’ control in some PDVSA (state oil company) plants and occupied factories as a measure to protect production against the bosses’ sabotage. On the links between the Chavez government and the UNT he pointed out that there is a healthy and friendly relation between trade union and government. However, the UNT is completely autonomous from the government. In fact the UNT has openly expressed disagreement with some measures taken by the government.

Dave Raby, recently arrived from Caracas after finishing a seminar at the Venezuelan Bolivarian University, also contributed to the discussion. Dave Raby analysed the origins of the Venezuelan Revolution. He explained how the conscious action of the Venezuelan masses has changed the whole country. Mr Raby stated: “What is happening in Venezuela is the beginning of a revolutionary breakthrough”. He gave a full account of the “Misiones” (social programmes on healthcare, housing, etc.) and how the actual implementation is due to the autonomous organisations in the communities. He also talked about how the economic treaties sponsored by the Venezuelan government seek to oppose the US backed treaties like the FTAA.


Gonzalo Gomez from Aporrea.org (the main left-wing political website in Venezuela) began his contribution by talking about the “reciprocal solidarity” between Venezuela and the peoples of Europe and other advanced countries. He expressed the Venezuelan people’s rejection of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He linked the attacks launched by the US on Iraq with the active intervention of the US administration in Venezuela to plot against the revolution. In his contribution he also stressed the need to push for the alternative media. He stated, “We cannot rely on the bosses media”. He said that the media should be linked to the community and the labour movement. Gonzalo Gomez also hailed the process whereby the CTV (the tool of the oligarchy within the trade union movement) is being replaced by the UNT, the new and anti-capitalist trade union. One of the main concerns of the Aporrea.org editor was the bureaucratisation of the movement and the state apparatus in Venezuela. In order to stop this bureaucratisation the process which has been called “revolution within the revolution” was badly needed. He also said that the Venezuelan government was a popular government but not a government of the workers and the people yet because the bosses were still sacking workers. However, he denied that the Chavez government was a bosses’ government and he enthusiastically supported all the progressive measures implemented by the government and the favourable conditions for the class struggle in Venezuela.

Andy Higginbottom introduced the Killer-Cola campaign. This campaign is the actual implementation of an international appeal launched by SINALTRAINAL (food and beverages processing workers’ union in Venezuela) to raise awareness of the awful situation of the Colombian activists and to expose the Coca-Cola corporation for its involvement in the assassination of a long list of their workers and shop stewards actively involved in the union. He also linked the struggle against imperialism in Colombia with the Bolivarian Revolution. A victory for the Venezuelan Revolution will be a step forward in the struggle against imperialism and its puppets in Colombia. After his speech a very interesting question and answer session took place.

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ESF meeting on Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution

“We have to learn the lessons of past solidarity campaigns”


Yesterday, October 17, In Defence of Marxism and the Hands Off Venezuela campaign organised a meeting on Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution at the European Social Forum in London. Despite the fact that this important workshop had been relegated to an early Sunday morning, nearly 70 people turned up to hear Alan Woods, editor of Marxist.com, and Jorge Martin, on behalf of the Hands off Venezuela Campaign, speak on the events in Venezuela. The room was packed with young people and trade unionists from all over the world.

Before dealing with the actual subject, Jorge Martin started his speech with a reference to the organisation of this year’s European Social Forum. Not enough attention had been paid to the subject of Venezuela, which is now one of the most important developments in the whole world. It is a real pity that no seminar could be organised as this meant that no simultaneous translation was available.

Having said that, Jorge turned to the reason behind the setting up of the Hands off Venezuela Campaign. The campaign had been started mainly to counter the vicious media blockade on the subject of Venezuela. On really significant events like the Bolivarian Revolution there is a wall of silence on the part of the Western media. Even worse, when they do refer to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, he is nearly always portrayed as an authoritarian former army general, not as a democratically elected president who has won in seven different electoral processes. Jorge Martin recalled a striking anecdote on the media lies. He was on his way to Caracas in an Air France airplane. Reading the Spanish daily El Pais, he read about Caracas being paralysed by a massive strike involving all important sectors of the economy, including the cancellation of all international flights. However, Jorge was flying precisely to Caracas and everything was perfectly normal there!

Then he posed the question of the Bolivarian Revolution. Since there has been no fundamental economic transformation, why do we say that the events in Venezuela are of a revolutionary character? The main reason is the massive political awareness in the country. Contrary to most Western “democracies”, there is no apathy at all among the Venezuelan people. Everybody has an opinion on the political situation, either from the right or from the left. But above all, in the last years there has been massive participation of ordinary people and the poorer sections in society in politics. The recent recall referendum is proof of this. In other countries the participation level is always quite low, with only 40 or 50 percent of the people bothering to vote. Why would they vote if all politicians tell them the same things? In Venezuela, on the other hand, more than 90 percent of the people turn up to vote. This is because people can see that it does make a difference who is in power. After the election of Hugo Chavez huge literacy campaigns have been conducted. For the first time poor people have access to basic medical health care, and there has been significant land reform, etc. In short, after the 1998 election there has been a mass politicization. For the first time ordinary working people have a sense of dignity and now feel as real human beings. This is one of the most striking features when you travel to Venezuela and talk to people, Jorge said. They can see something has changed for the better and they want to maintain and extend these achievements. Precisely because of all the progressive reforms, Chavez has been able to maintain his support among a majority of the Venezuelan people. Not only one time, but in seven electoral contests! Compare that to the West, where one government after another is voted out of office.

That is, of course, not to the liking of the so-called “Democratic Opposition”. They could not even stand his initially moderate reforms, and obviously could stand even less the subsequent more radical reforms. Hence their various attempts at overthrowing Chavez’s government by terrorist means, lock-outs and a coup. One criticism you can make of Chavez, Jorge told the audience, is not that he is authoritarian, but rather too lenient with the coup organisers. Those who pulled down a statue of Colombus on Columbus Day (October 12) were put in jail, but most of the organisers of the coup are still free and have been able to flee the country. Some are on trial now, two years after the coup, but Pedro Carmona has only been put under house arrest. As a result, he fled to Miami and is now organising the opposition. Carlos Andres Pérez, now living in the Dominican Republic, said that the only way to remove Chavez is by violent means. These kinds of scoundrels are still free and have been able to organise the terrorist campaign of last year.

Jorge Martin then spoke on the trade union situation in Venezuela. The old CTV union has more than ever been discredited since its open support for the coup. Most of the workers have joined the new UNT, and what is more, they have done this on a radical program. The UNT is now the real trade union in Venezuela and its program includes workers’ control over the economy. This led Jorge to elaborate on this point. During last year’s lock-out there have been experiences of workers’ control. This was not in a small textile company, but in the oil industry, one of the biggest industries in the world! The oil company in Venezuela is indeed highly technological (with most processes being run by computer and satellite systems). The workers refused to take part in the lock-out of the bosses and were able to run the whole industry without the bosses. This proves that if workers can run such a complex industry then they can run anything. On that point, Jorge also mentioned the case of the Venepal workers and the need for solidarity.

There is also the issue of the struggle between Venezuela and the United States. The US was interfering directly in Venezuela during the 2002 coup. They cannot tolerate a government that is an example to workers all over the world, especially the masses in their backyard, Mexico and Latin America. But Venezuela has some good trump cards, one of which is oil. Chavez has already threatened to cut off the oil supplies to the US if they interfere in their internal affairs. That would be an enormous blow, since Venezuela is the third biggest oil supplier to the US.

“So what is the next step then?” Jorge asked. The oligarchy is demoralised and demobilised after they lost the referendum. The balance of forces is extremely favourable to the revolution. In the Bolivarian movements there have been numerous debates about the need for a revolution in the revolution, about the fight against bureaucracy. However, the state is still the same old state, with the same bureaucracy at the head of it. Jorge said you cannot take over a capitalist state and make it serve the interests of the people. Besides, some sections of the economy are still in private hands, most importantly the bank sector. Today two Spanish banks control the banking sector in Venezuela. The distribution of food and beverages is done privately, which enabled the opposition to paralyse the country during the lock-out by disrupting the supplies.

Jorge continued by saying that some important battles have been won, but that this is a war over control of the economy. There are opposing class interests involved, and these have not been solved yet. Jorge used the analogy used by 19th century peasant war leader Ezequiel Zamora. In the course of the Federal War against the landed oligarchy, Zamora correctly said that “we must confiscate the property of the rich, since with it they make war against the people, we must leave them just with their shirts”.

By way of conclusion, Jorge said we are living in very exciting times. To his knowledge there is no precedent of a successful military coup being defeated by the mass movement of working people once it has already been installed. This gives hope for the future – something can be done. Also, it is foolish to moderate your viewpoints for fear of provoking the enemy. The opposition and US imperialism have already been provoked, as the coup proves. The excuse often used by workers’ leaders that you can’t have a radical program that “scares away” the voters has been proved utterly wrong. In Venezuela there have been seven elections, and each of then have been won by the left-wing government.

Alan Woods speaks

After Jorge Martin’s speech, the floor was given to Alan Woods. He started with the same observation that we live in very exciting times. Fifteen years ago the capitalists were euphoric because, so they claimed, “Socialism has been proven not to work”. They were talking about the end of socialism and communism, and some even dared to talk about the end of history. No change was possible in the best of possible worlds. But they merely proved to be utopians. Now there is instability in the whole of Latin America, Africa is in a horrible state, etc.

But Venezuela shows that change is possible. Contrary to all the lies of the media, Hugo Chavez is not a dictator but an extremely popular president. The recall referendum once again proved that the majority of the Venezuelan people are standing behind their president. A recall referendum is in fact a very democratic mechanism, and Alan could think of several other leaders who would greatly benefit from the application of this mechanism! That is, George Bush, but also Tony Blair. The latter defied public opinion by lying over the motives for going to war in Iraq. The British people clearly said they didn’t want this war, and yet there is no way of removing Tony Blair from power.

Alan Woods then went on to explain why the Bolivarian Revolution is indeed a revolution, contrary to what some left groups claim. Paraphrasing Leon Trotsky, he said: “The essence of a revolution is the direct intervention of the masses in the political life of the nation.” Millions of ordinary Venezuelan people began to move and started to take matters into their own hands. The indignation of the masses, who had suffered under 40 years of oppression and misery, was expressed in a peculiar way after the left-wing 1992 coup in the figure of Hugo Chavez. In 1998 he won the elections with an absolute majority. Eight years later, Chavez received 60 percent of the votes. How many governments in the world can claim this?

After vividly describing the anger and mood of the masses, he firmly warned that the revolution has not been completed. The basic position of Marxists towards the Venezuelan revolution is to support it completely against foreign intervention. That is what Hands Off Venezuela is trying to do. But there is more to it. It is not possible to make half a revolution. What the referendum campaign has shown is that Venezuelan society is extremely polarised between right and left. The counterrevolutionaries are regrouping their forces and are preparing for a new offensive once the conditions are more favourable (most likely the 2006 elections). As long as the oligarchy continues to maintain its hold on important sections of the economy, it will continue to act as an agent of US imperialism, sabotaging and undermining the Bolivarian revolution. That is why the property of the counterrevolutionaries should be expropriated and the power of the landowners should be broken. Alan made an analogy with the American revolution, which took drastic measures against the landowners. Just as the American revolutionaries, the Venezuelan revolution should deal blows to the big landowners.

The speech ended with an appeal. Not everything is fine and the revolution has not finished. Battles have been won, but not the war. The important point to stress is that everybody is able to do something. Alan appealed to the public saying that they can make a difference. Trade unionists can discuss the situation in their branches and pass resolutions recognising the new UNT trade union, other people can counter the numerous media lies. Above all, it is important to coordinate the different initiatives and set up Hands off Venezuela committees.

Ramon Samblas then opened the meeting for questions and contributions from the audience. Somebody from the audience made the point that the solidarity campaign for Chile started after the 1973 coup and that it is better to start organising while the revolution is going on. “We have to learn the lessons of past solidarity campaigns. All of them have failed because they started too late.” He also said it was a real shame that Venezuela had not been discussed at a big session at the European Social Forum. Other contributions came among others from a young Norwegian trade unionist and Henry Suarez, professor of History at Caracas Central University.

The general conclusion of the meeting was that we must defend the Bolivarian Revolution unconditionally. However, it is also necessary to deepen the political analysis of the Venezuelan revolution and the way forward. Only by learning the lessons of past defeats can we guarantee victory this time.

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Venezuela between revolution and counterrevolution

By Alan Woods

The reports from Venezuela indicate a sharpening of the struggle between the contending forces.

On Friday a gunman killed three people and wounded 21 others at an anti-government rally in a plaza where rebel officers have held daily protests. This bloody incident bears all the hallmarks of a premeditated provocation. According to reports in Clarin, snipers mounted on motorbikes fired at a group which included dissident army officers. Police have arrested seven suspects, one of whom is Joao de Gouveira, a Portuguese national and a taxi driver by profession, who is said to have confessed to the shooting in Altamira Square.

We have no information about this Gouveira. It is impossible to say whether he is a professional provocateur or a deranged ultra-left or a terrorist manipulated by the CIA or some other state agency. This, however, is a secondary matter. The objective content of this action is that it is a provocation that is designed to discredit the revolution and provide support for the anti-government forces. In particular, it is intended to create an atmosphere of fear and panic that is conducive to the formation of a "Party of Order" among the army officers.

The revolutionary camp must be on its guard against provocateurs who have undoubtedly infiltrated themselves into the mass movement, with a view to causing disorder and panic. Their aim is to drag the mass movement into futile armed conflicts that can end with a large number of casualties. This is the main aim of the counterrevolutionaries. That is why the ideas of "foquism" and individual terrorism are so harmful to the movement. The groups that advocate such tactics are very easily infiltrated by the police and secret services and manipulated for sinister purposes. It is necessary to firmly oppose all adventurist tactics that put the whole movement at risk.

The way to defeat the counterrevolution is not through individual shoot-outs but through the actions of the masses themselves. And the masses are responding to the challenge magnificently! On Saturday about 100,000 Chavez followers poured onto the streets of Caracas in a human flood. This is the way to answer the enemy! By contrast, the number of counterrevolutionaries on the streets was much less. This is an indication that the willpower of the middle class is waning. That is quite typical of the petty bourgeois, which looks for quick successes and is easily discouraged when it meets resistance.

However, the struggle is by no means over yet. Troops ordered to seize the Pilin Leon, anchored off the coast, failed yesterday to retake the oil tanker which was seized by counterrevolutionaries because the crew said they would break maritime law to surrender control to unqualified officers. The aim of the reactionaries is perfectly clear: to cause the maximum chaos and disorder, to wreck the economy, to take the bread from the mouths of the people and thus create the conditions for a coup.

Having initially failed to bring things to a head by demonstrations, the attention of the reaction has shifted from the street to the state oil monopoly, PDVSA. Since the beginning of the present campaign of sabotage oil production has fallen 40% and key refineries are on the verge of closing. Since oil exports account for half of the government's revenue, this is a calamity for the country.

Hugo Chavez has ordered the army to increase its protection of oil sites and has warned that he may declare a state of emergency if the disruption continues to grow. He has also threatened to remove staff at refineries.

But the counterrevolutionaries are implacable. They understand that if this movement - the fourth this year - fails, they will find themselves in great difficulties. Behind the scenes the US embassy is urging them on. There is no shortage of dollars to finance these murky operations. Both sides understand that the outcome of the present test of strength will be decisive.

The counterrevolutionary forces do not feel strong enough to take power by themselves. The intention of the street demonstrations is not to stage a national uprising, but only to create panic and disorder in the hope that the reactionary elements in the tops of the army will be encouraged to carry out a pronunciamiento.

To the degree that the present situation is permitted to last, the possibilities of such a development will increase. The idea will gather force that "this cannot continue", "order must be restored". The risk of Bonapartist tendencies in the armed forces is very real.

Hugo Chavez has accused his enemies of sabotage and urged his people to "keep mobilised on the streets and in the countryside to defend the revolution once again". This is in fact the only way to save the revolution from imminent disaster. However, the mobilisation of the masses, by itself, is not enough. The movement requires not only courage and fighting spirit - it needs a clear goal, a programme and a strategy.

To do justice to the counterrevolutionaries, they have such a goal, and have consistently pursued it with skilful tactics, worked out by intelligent people who have no concern for constitutions, laws or any other scruples when it comes to defending their class interest. We should learn from our enemies, and show exactly the same qualities in fighting for the interests of our class.

The masses are responding with their customary energy and determination. There have been reports of factory occupations, including in the oil industry. This is the way forward!

From all over the country messages and resolutions are pouring in from rank and file organisations of the Bolivarian Movement demanding that the President take decisive action. In particular the people are enraged at the vile conduct of the press, the radio and the television. These powerful instruments in the hands of the capitalists are always used against the labour movement. At this moment they are being used by the counterrevolutionary forces in Venezuela to agitate against the legally elected government and in favour of a coup. The question is posed of occupation of the TV, radio and press offices in order to put an end to the manipulation of the news by the reactionaries.

In 1968 in France, the print workers obliged the millionaire press to submit to scrutiny by a workers' committee to ensure that the content of the newspapers was reasonably balanced. The papers had to publish the workers' point of view on the main questions of the day. This is probably the only time that the people of France could read the truth about the workers' struggle. The working people of Venezuela could do more than just follow this example.

Under the capitalist system the freedom of the press is an empty phrase. In all countries the media is owned and controlled by a handful of super rich tycoons who appoint and sack the editors according to their tastes. It is they who ultimately decide the political line of the media. A tiny group of powerful men, elected by nobody and responsible to nobody, is able to shape and mould public opinion, to make and break governments. And this is what they call "democracy"!

A workers' state would nationalise the mass media and provide free access to them to all political and social tendencies in proportion to their support in the population. In this way, the revolutionary committees would have television stations and daily papers, and could permit themselves the luxury of giving the wealthy press tycoons the democratic right to produce a small duplicated monthly which they could sell at the bus stops and market places.

When Chavez was elected four years ago, he promised a fundamental change in Venezuelan society. The people believed him. There is no doubt whatsoever of his personal honesty and his sincere desire to act in the interests of the mass of poor people, the workers and peasants. Important gains have been made, and these must be defended. But in the end, the real problem remained unsolved. The country's economy remained in the hands of a tiny oligarchy that has robbed and ruined the country. These wealthy and powerful men will never be reconciled to a free, just and equal Venezuela. As long as the land, the banks and the industries remain in their hands, no real lasting solution is possible.

What is required in Venezuela is a social revolution. The question is: who shall prevail? A handful of wealthy magnates backed by US imperialism, or the overwhelming majority of the people whose only crime is to seek a better life for themselves and their children? Those who talk grandiloquently about democracy conveniently overlook the fact that what they are advocating is that a tiny handful of wealthy parasites should control the lives and destinies of the vast majority of the people. That is not democracy. It is the dictatorship of Capital.

The economic sabotage has had a certain effect, provoking shortages in the shops and a wave of panic buying across Venezuela. As the conflict entered its second week, the National Guard has had to commandeer delivery trucks and force petrol stations to open. The shutdown has crippled the oil industry of the world's fifth-largest producer as wells, refineries, tanker ships, delivery centres and gas stations have stopped operating. The situation thus remains serious.

Outside Caracas, the National Guard seized at least three gasoline distribution centres that had closed in the strike. The government hired civilians to drive tanker trucks - commandeered from their private owners - to gas stations. The Energy Ministry said the private property would be returned to its owners "as soon as activities are normalised."

But here is the problem. There is no question of things ever being "normalised" in Venezuela until the fundamental contradiction is removed. What is necessary is to destroy the economic power of the capitalist class by expropriating the commanding heights of the economy. This would make it impossible for the enemies of the revolution to conduct the kind of sabotage we are now witnessing.

More importantly, it would enable the people of Venezuela to mobilise the full productive potential of Venezuelan industry, agriculture and manpower to solve the burning problems of the masses.

For the present, the situation of unstable equilibrium continues. Egged on by Washington the reactionaries are even hardening their demands. Talks between the opposition and government were resumed Saturday night but appeared to make little progress. The opposition initially was seeking a referendum on Chavez's 4-year-old government, but now it is demanding his immediate resignation.

The most serious aspect of the situation is the beginnings of what are clearly armed provocations, like the one that was staged last Friday. There is no doubt that this was intended to lead to even more serious clashes. Fortunately, so far this has not occurred. However, the need for some kind of defence force or militia is clearly posed.

The need for defence should be discussed in every committee and where possible arrangements should be made to set up defence groups to patrol the local areas and maintain order. The workers' districts must be protected against criminal elements and provocateurs that seek to disturb the peace and provoke conflicts. Specialised people with a knowledge of military affairs can be put in charge of these units. The purpose is not to cause violence, as some have suggested, but to minimise it and to deter aggressors.

The question of the army remains the central issue. The majority of the soldiers are on the side of the people. The closest contacts must be maintained between the barracks and the committees, and together they should keep a close watch on the movements and conduct of army officers whose loyalty is doubtful.

It is absolutely correct to place demands on the President and to press the leadership to act in a decisive manner. In the last analysis, Chavez himself is a personification of the aspirations of the masses, or, to be more correct, of the first confused aspirations of the masses that have been recently awoken to political life. In appealing to these aspirations and the striving for a better life for the poor and oppressed, Hugo Chavez undoubtedly played a progressive role.

But life moves on. The situation now is posed in darker colours. Venezuelan society is fractured and polarised to the left and right. The old vague slogans no longer have any value or use in this situation. What is needed is clarity and firmness. An ever increasing number of people are beginning to see this and are loudly demanding a firmer hand and more decisive action in dealing with the enemies of the people. It is entirely correct and necessary to put pressure on the leadership to act. If they do so, the struggle can be won far more quickly and with fewer sacrifices.

But what is absolutely necessary is for the masses to continue to act from below, immediately to carry their demands into practice, without waiting for any lead from the top. This was how they won in April and this is how they can win now.

Unfortunately, Hugo Chavez has often displayed indecision in the face of events. Lacking a clear perspective, he finds himself under extreme pressures from left and right. He is being urged by so-called friends to behave with moderation, for fear of making things worse. With "friends" like these one really needs no enemies! It is necessary to counteract these pressures by stepping up the pressure from below.

Undoubtedly, a great weight of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the President. As an old army man, all his instincts are against splitting the army. He does not want a civil war. But the fact is that the only way to prevent a civil war is by taking decisive action against the counterrevolution and arming the people. The Romans of old had a saying: "Si pacem vis, para bellum" - If you desire peace, prepare for war! It is the eternal dialectic of reformism and pacifism that they achieve precisely the opposite results to the ones intended. By arming and mobilising the masses against the danger of reaction, that danger becomes less, not more. By compromising and trying to avoid a fight, that is, by showing weakness in the face of reaction, the latter becomes more confident and more aggressive.

As for the army, it is already divided between the majority that is on the side of the people, and a minority of elements who have been bought by the counterrevolution. The only question is which of the two factions will emerge triumphant. Hugo Chavez should base himself on the masses and the soldiers who are with the masses in order to disarm and arrest the counterrevolutionary elements in the barracks. Do not trust those who pose as loyalists but who advocate a policy of conciliation with the enemy and complain about the masses "going too far"! Remember the fate of Salvador Allende, who trusted the "democratic" general Pinochet and refused to distribute arms to the masses who were willing to fight for the government.

Here and in other articles, we have advocated a definite line of action to save the Venezuelan revolution and carry it forward. One may be in favour of these proposals or against them. But what happens at the end of the day will be decided by the masses themselves in the course of struggle. Their own experience will teach them which ideas are correct. The presence of a revolutionary Marxist party with a far-sighted leadership would enable them to find the right way in a shorter space of time. The marvellous resolutions from the local committees show that they are in the process of finding this way, and that in the committees there already exist elements that are fighting for a Marxist policy. Once the masses are convinced that this is the way in which to move, no force on earth can stop them.

Buenos Aires,
December 10, 2002.

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The revolution in Venezuela is in danger!

By Fred Weston

This article is based on material published in Venezuela, which is available in Spanish (see links at the end of this article). We will provide more material in the coming days. We ask all our readers and supporters to step up the campaign we launched last week in defence of the Venezuelan revolution. Keep collecting the solidarity signatures, organise meetings, raise money, spread the word about what is happening in Venezuela.

Events in Venezuela are moving fast. Twice the "opposition" – which gathers around it all that is reactionary in Venezuela – has tried to overthrow Chavez. First they tried the coup in April 2002, then the so-called oil workers' strike. On both occasions mass opposition from the workers and poor of Venezuela stopped the reactionaries in their tracks. But in the last few days they have adopted a new tactic, to sow terror on the streets. Workers, students, Chavez supporters, left activists have come under physical attack. This is part of a grand plan to destabilise the country and create conditions more favourable for the opposition, including the possibility of another coup.

Speaking at a mass rally in Caracas on Sunday Chavez made the harshest speech he has ever made yet against Bush. He said that if US imperialism dares to interfere in Venezuelan politics and tries to remove the democratically elected government of the country, not one drop of Venezuelan petroleum would go to the United States. This is a serious threat because Venezuela exports about 1.5 million barrels of oil daily to the U.S. He also raised the possibility that the U.S. may be tempted to carry out a military intervention. In such a case there would be enough mountain, enough jungle, enough savannah, enough dignity and also enough guts to confront such an attack.


Chavez speaks at Sunday's demonstration

The campaign to destabilise the country is being orchestrated nationally within Venezuela and internationally. In different towns and districts around Venezuela small but very determined and fanatical groups have been carrying out attacks on supporters of the revolutionary process. Faced with the counter-attacks of the workers and youth, these gangs have fired on ordinary civilians.

These activities have already provoked mass reaction. On Sunday, February 29th, Caracas saw millions of ordinary working Venezuelans, the downtrodden, the poor, the workers and youth, march through the streets for six hours. The masses could sense the danger that was looming. Two days earlier the opposition had mobilised a much smaller force on the streets of Caracas. Sunday's mass rally represented the whole people mobilising in defence of their basic democratic rights and in defence of the revolutionary process unfolding in Venezuela.

At the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) a small gang of "oppositionists" tried to raise barricades but they were swept away by the spontaneous mobilisation of students and workers. Similar provocations have taken place elsewhere. In the area of El Valle a group of about 100 provocateurs backed by an armed group attempted to take control of the streets, but were later dispersed by the mobilisation of the local people. The students at the UCV were holding a mass meeting today to discuss how to proceed.

These events are all part of a grand plan to present Venezuela as a country falling into chaos, with the clear aim of justifying moves against Chavez and the Bolivarian movement that stands behind. They want to confuse the workers and youth of the world about what is really going on in Venezuela and thus justify their attempts to overthrow the democratically electe3d government and President of Venezuela.

But why is all this happening now? After the failure of the April 2002 coup and the "oil workers' strike" the reactionary opposition was in difficulty. It had lost its momentum. Its supporters were demoralised. They were no longer capable of mobilising the already weak forces they had. Recent opinion polls actually show that they are weaker electorally. The same polls show that Chavez has more than 60% support among the population. There is even greater support for some of his basic reforms, such as in education and healthcare. These have 75-80% support. Ordinary workers and poor know where their interests lie!

Faced with this, the opposition shifted all their efforts to getting a recall referendum, which the Venezuelan constitution allows for. For this they need to get a minimum of 2,400,000 signatures. They have failed abysmally to achieve this figure. They claim they have the signatures, but it has been clearly demonstrated that many of these are false. There have been many cases of people declaring that their signatures had been falsified. In some cases it has been proven that the signatures were of dead people! Even children were signing for the opposition! And many signatures were duplicates. The opposition could sense that the National Electoral Council (NEC) was not going to come down on their side.

Without the referendum the "opposition" faced a further weakening and demoralisation of its forces. However, even if the NEC were to declare that this time round a sufficient number of signatures has been collected it seems very unlikely that in the given conditions, the opposition could win such a referendum.

The opposition leaders are fully aware that they would most likely lose, but they need something to keep their forces mobilised. Part of their plans are clearly to try to go ahead with the referendum, and if the result turns out be a defeat for them they would then declare it a fraud and mobilise on that basis. This seems to be how they were planning to do things, but now that the referendum may not even take place they have been forced to anticipate events. Time was playing against them. Opinion polls show that they could even lose control of some local councils. This, again, would put them in a very unfavourable situation. They could not claim to represent the "people" of Venezuela as they have been trying to do, once the masses had passed their verdict.

The opposition has thus found itself in extreme difficulty. It is their very weakness which has placed them with their backs to the wall. They must move, they must do something if they are to get their supporters mobilised behind them. But it is their very weakness which is leading them to act in the desperate way they are doing at the moment.

They may even be contemplating an attempted assassination of Chavez himself. If this were to happen, Venezuela would be thrown into even greater turmoil. A civil war could be on the agenda. The masses would not remain passive. They would come out in their millions. We would be facing a new "Caracazo", but this time on a much higher level. The masses are much more organised. They have a greater experience. They have gained much and will not be willing to give all this up to the reactionary, pro-imperialist gangsters that want to turn the clock back.

The opposition is clearly thinking of what their next step should be. Some must be playing with the idea of another coup. They are looking for support among the higher levels of the military. For now, the balance of forces, even at this level of the armed forces, is still weighed against them. Most of the officers have stated their loyalty to Chavez. In fact, last time there was a coup, under the pressure of the masses, a wing of the army moved to save Chavez and overthrow the coup leaders. However. There is no guarantee that this "loyalty" will remain for ever. It depends on several factors.

If they see the country falling into "chaos" some of them may decide to switch their allegiances. We have seen this many times before. At the crucial moment, the top officers side with their own class, the bosses. But it seems we have not yet reached that stage. But this stage clearly remains within the plans of the opposition. What they are doing is trying to create a more favourable situation for such a scenario.

One short term option is a possible embargo to be imposed on Venezuela from outside, led by the United States and backed by their allies in the rest of Latin America. This however, also has its risks. Instead of weakening Chavez it could push the movement onto a higher level, with the masses lurching evermore leftwards, thus increasing the pressures on Chavez to take even firmer measures against imperialism.

Another rumour circulating in Venezuela is that the governor of Zulia, an oil-rich region on the border with Colombia, may be tempted to declare independence. This would be a provocation aimed at getting Chavez to intervene militarily and thus justify some external intervention to "save" Zulia. The fact that it is on the Colombian border would facilitate this.

All these are clearly possibilities that the opposition is considering. The problem is that at this stage the balance of forces is still massively weighted against them. If they don't move then they clearly demonstrate their weakness and thus boost the confidence of the masses. If they do move they are escalating events and pushing the masses to counter-attack.


Mass demonstration

So it seems that their actions over the last few days are dictated by their desperate need to keep up the morale of their supporters. They are doing this by mobilising the dregs of society in these cowardly attacks of armed gangs against unarmed workers and youth. This is part of a more ling-term strategy aimed at destabilising the country and preparing more favourable conditions for reaction.

Their slogan is "the worse the better". More chaos and disorder they succeed in sowing, the more likely they feel they can start to change the balance of forces within the institutions of the state, in particular within the army tops. If they can convince some key elements at this level that the country faces "collapse" or some kind of "communist take-over" then they would be preparing the conditions for a new coup at some point in the future.

However, it is not ruled out, that faced with a desperate situation, they could be pushed into a premature action and try and base themselves on those officers who are already with them. We cannot be complacent about the situation. The Venezuelan revolution is staring reaction in the face. Any sign of weakness on the part of Chavez, or of the Venezuelan masses, would invite further aggression.


Mass demonstration

This threat will not go away. At best, it will be delayed for a further period. But the opposition will not stop until it has achieved its aim – to crush the Venezuelan masses, to give them a lesson they will not forget for a long time. We must make sure that it is the opposition that receives a lesson it won't easily forget. That will not be achieved by maintaining the status quo.

Last Sunday' massive mobilisation in Caracas shows clearly the immense power of the Venezuelan masses. They could crush the opposition a thousand times over. But this will not be done with pious appeals from the government. It is time to move into action. It is not enough to defend the revolutionary process. It must be deepened. The power of the opposition is based on its property. It owns the bulk of the media, the TV, the newspapers, the radio stations, it controls large parts of the economy. It still has substantial power. It has reserves of support within the state apparatus. Even the National Electoral Council is divided 3 to 2 in favour of Chavez. For now the NEC has taken the correct decision to challenge the signatures. However, there is no guarantee that they will stick to this. Under pressure, it would take just one of its members to shift their opinion, for it to fall into the hands of the opposition.

To defend itself the revolution must move forward. The property of these oligarchs should be expropriated. It should be nationalised under workers' control. However, this also is not enough. The opposition is armed and backed by the rich capitalists, behind whom stands imperialism. These forces are not going to stand idly by while the masses remove all their instruments of power from their hands. That is why it is an urgent task to organise the masses.

The first steps should be:

- call mass meetings in every working class neighbourhood and workplace; these should elect defence committees, elected by all and with the right of recall;

- workers' defence squads should be created to defend each area and each workplace;

- the Chavez government should distribute arms to these squads and provide the workers with the necessary training to use them; that is the only way the workers can seriously defend themselves against the criminal gangs that the opposition is unleashing;

- special defensive measures should be taken to protect those activists of the movement, shop stewards etc., against physical attacks; not to do all this with the excuse that this would merely provoke a reaction on the part of the opposition would be a serious dereliction of duty; the opposition is already mobilising, it needs no excuse;

- these committees and defence squads should be linked to the loyal sections of the army and measures should be taken to make sure the sons of the workers in the army stay with their class;

If such measures are taken quickly and the masses are mobilised then no force on the planet could stop the Venezuelan workers. The fascist scum would flee in the face of such a mighty movement. Not to take the above measures would be playing into the hands of the opposition. It would facilitate their manoeuvres. They may be weak now but they are preparing for the future.

The workers of the world must be vigilant. A defeat for the Venezuelan workers would represent a defeat for all workers, especially for the workers of Latin America. We repeat: the only way of stopping reaction in Venezuela today is to take the revolution forward, complete it!

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President Chavez thanks In Defence of Marxism
for our Hands Off Venezuela! solidarity campaign

Brothers, fraternal greetings,

The President of the Republic has asked me to pass on his gratitude to you for your solidarity actions in favour of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Luis Bonilla-Molina,

Caracas, March 5, 2004

Spanish original:

Hermanos un fraterno saludo,

El Señor Presidente de la Republica agradece por mi intermedio, las iniciativas de solidaridad desarrolladas por ustedes en favor de la Revoluciòn Bolivariana

Luis Bonilla-Molina,

Caracas, 5 de marzo del 2004

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Labour MP publicises Hands off Venezuela appeal

By John McDonnell MP


This article was first published in the British daily, the Morning Star (March 26, 2004) in its Features section: True Labour - The voice of the majority, under the title Hands off Venezuela. We are publishing it to make it available to a wider international readership. It is important to highlight that the article is written by John McDonnell, chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. (March 30, 2004)

While the world's attention has been focused on the occupation of Iraq and the Israeli assault on Palestinians, there has been little reportage of the renewed and systematic programme by the Bush regime to extend US hegemony over south American states.


Morning Star 26/3/2004

The central target of the Bush regime is the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world and yet, as a result of its history of US economic exploitation, up to 80 per cent of its population lives in poverty.

The operation of US neocolonialism in Venezuela has traditionally maintained a rich ruling elite who, in return, ensure the cheap flow of oil to northern America at the expense of the dire poverty of the majority of the population.

President Chavez was elected by a popular majority on a clear programme to tackle poverty and to empower the people by using the great oil wealth of his country in the interests of the people as a whole.

His government's programme of reforms has included an additional 1.5 million children in school getting three free meals a day, over one million adults obtaining literacy, 1.5 million more people gaining access to drinking water, the establishment of indigenous people's rights to land and bilingual education, the distribution of two million hectares of land to small farmers, the introduction of food subsidies and vouchers for pregnant women and after birth as well as a massive expansion of health care to working-class families.

The response of the US has been to support a reactionary right-wing opposition in a series of attempts to destabilise and remove the Chavez government from office.

First, in April 2002, they tried a straightforward coup in the style of the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. This involved the kidnapping of the president and seizure of power by an US-backed puppet regime.

Within days, the mass popular street protests of the people ensured the return of Chavez and the toppling of the US-led junta.

Then came a so-called oil strike engineered by Chavez's right-wing opponents and aided by US agencies. This attempt to destabilise the country failed miserably in the face of the determination of the Chavez administration, actively supported by an overwhelming majority of the population.

More recently, the opposition has launched a petition under the Venezuelan constitution to force a recall referendum on the government.

Alongside this manoeuvre, the opposition has sought to push the country into chaos by mounting a series of orchestrated physical attacks, demonstrations and disturbances.

These provocations are aimed at portraying Venezuela as unstable and, therefore, in need of a right-wing regime or even military intervention by the US to restore order. Haiti was just one recent example of the implementation of this US strategy.

The referendum strategy of the opposition is descending into near farce as many of the 2.4 million signatures that it requires to trigger a recall referendum are being found to be forgeries.

The question now is what, when this latest tactic has failed, will the right-wing opposition and the Bush regime contemplate next? The various scenarios range from US-led covert economic sanctions and embargoes, another attempt at a coup and even the assassination of Chavez.

President Chavez's response to these threats has been robust. He has made it clear that, if US imperialism attempts to interfere in Venezuelan politics and seeks to remove a democratically elected government, not one drop of Venezuelan oil will flow into the US.

At present, 1.5 million barrels of oil are exported from Venezuela to the US every day. Chavez has signalled forcefully that any military intervention would be met with solid resistance.

The plight of Venezuela has been barely reported in the British and European media. While the British labour and trade union movement has had a long association with the struggles of the peoples of south America in Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador and Colombia, there has been little solidarity action as yet with the progressive forces within Venezuela.

The organisation Global Women's Strike has worked closely with Venezuelan women's organisations and co-operated in organised consciousness-raising tours in the US.

In addition, this week, it organised a meeting at the House of Commons to launch an Early Day Motion condemning the US government's interference in Venezuela.

The solidarity group Hands off Venezuela Campaign has been founded and has launched an appeal against the increasing interference of US imperialism in the country in the run-up to the decision on whether a recall referendum will be convened.

The appeal statement says: "The United States government has no moral standing to give the Venezuelan government and people lessons in democracy" and goes on to demand that the US halts its interference in Venezuela.

This appeal statement has been signed by numerous progressive politicians and trade unionists from around the world including Tony Benn and NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear.

It is time for all socialists, trade unionists, progressives and democrats to stand up for the right of the people of Venezuela to elect their own government and determine their own future.

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