News and Analysis

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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Cuban Right-Wing Terrorist Group"F-4 Commandos" Training Venezuelan Paramilitaries in the Miami Area

By Cort Greene

George Bush, who declared a "War against Terrorism", and has needlessly taken the world to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, has conveniently forgotten to look in his brother's own backyard in fighting it. Recently in Jeb Bush's Florida, Cuban paramilitary leader Rodolfo Frometa of the right-wing terrorist group"F-4 Commandos" openly admitted helping and training Venezuela paramilitaries associated with Luis Garcia Morales, a former National Guard captain who fled Venezuela after fomenting a military coup against the government of President Chavez. The Miami area has been a hotbed for terrorist groups for decades - the largest CIA center outside the Washington D.C. area is at the University of Miami. Many members of the Death Squads from the Wars in Central and South America of the 60s,70s, and 80s now reside in Miami. Also, two former members of the Venezuelan National Guard, wanted for terrorist attacks on the Spanish embassy in Caracas are currently being held at the Krome Detention Center - but efforts to extradite them for prosecution in Venezuela and / or Spain are being stalled by the US government. It's clear that for the US imperialists, "terrorists" aren't so bad when they're pro-US.

At last weekend's Anti-Chavez rally in Miami, where less than 200 demonstrators attended, leaflets were handed out with a picture of Frometa and Morales dressed in military clothing and brandishing guns, along with a statement calling on Venezuelans to rise in insurrection and encouraging them to wage a war against President Chavez if the opposition fails to oust him by a recall referendum. Rodolfo Frometa, who is well-known as a terrorist to the United States government, having been imprisoned for 3 years for illegal weapons purchases, said: "Our camps are open to any Venezuelan who understands that there can be no dealings with Communists". In a speech at the rally, fugitive CTV boss Carlos Ortega called for the assassination of Chavez and subversion against the Venezuelan government.

Since both Republican George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry are vying for the Cuban right-wing community support in the upcoming election for President, they are trying to out-do one another to garner their votes. Bush has turned a blind eye to the homegrown terrorism of the "F-4 Commandos" in Miami, and covertly funds groups trying to undermine the Bolivarian Revolutionary process in Venezuela. The Democrats' Jimmy Carter demands that the recall referendum process continue even if fraud has been committed; and John Kerry who also concurred with Carter, has unscrupulously attacked President Chavez; calling him a dictator, ranting about how President Chavez will turn Venezuela into a Cuban-style government and comparing him to Cuba's Fidel Castro. These are nothing but red scare tactics and code words designed to whip up mass support for a counter-revolution both here and abroad.

Need we remind John Kerry and his supporters that at the very least President Chavez has been democratically elected; the Bolivarian Revolution has been affirmed by the people of Venezuela on 7 different occasions; and that he has mass support for himself and his social programs. That's more than can be said of George Bush, whose election is still in question; has less popular support than Chavez; has broken treaty after treaty; fought illegal predatory wars; turned back 70 years of progressive legislation for workers and the poor; and whose economic policies have only been to the benefit of the capitalist class, bringing disaster and misery for everyone else.

Those who say the upcoming US Presidential elections are nothing but a choice between Cancer and the Plague, and that neither party offers a way out of the worldwide economic crisis or a meaningful shift in policy for the masses of Venezuela or anywhere else are indeed right. It's crystal clear that the so-called "war on terror" is really a war on working people at home and abroad. Now more than ever, solidarity action with the Bolivarian Revolution and a strengthening of the process towards socialism is necessary to safeguard it.

  • No to US intervention in Venezuela!

  • Defend the Venezuelan revolution!

  • Forward to Socialism!

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Venezuela: Bolivarian masses anger at referendum decision

By Jorge Martin


On Thursday, June 3, the Venezuelan National Electoral Commission (CNE), basing itself on preliminary data, announced that the opposition had collected enough signatures to force a presidential recall referendum. The opposition needed the support of 2,436,083 voters, in order to trigger a recall referendum, and according to the CNE they have collected 2,451,821 signatures, which is barely 15,738 signatures above the required amount.

The last part of the process by which the opposition was trying to force the recall referendum was the so-called "repair" process in which doubtful signatures were being ratified or denied by the people and this took place over the weekend of May 28 to 30. This process was fraught with irregularities. Large numbers of forged ID cards were found by the police at different locations. A computer, scanner, printer, repair forms, and forged IDs were found at the local headquarters of the opposition party Accion Democratica in El Valle, Caracas, where people who were being pursued by the authorities sought refuge, and 600 ID cards were also found in the Accion Democratica headquarters in the Caracas district of El Paraiso.

In these police raids they also found leaflets inciting violence and calling for a repeat of the riots that took place in February (a full account of irregularities can be found in this excellent article by Gregory Wilpert and Martin Sanchez). There were also instances of workers sacked by their bosses for refusing to re-verify their signatures, as was the case at the Coca-Cola plant in Antimano, where 50 workers were threatened with the closure of the plant. The Venezuelan Coca-Cola subsidiary is owned by media magnate and opposition leader Gustavo Cisneros.

Some 1.2 million signatures had been sent to this "repair" process, and the opposition managed to re-confirm only 614,968. This in itself gives an indication of the scale of the fraud that went on in the whole signature collection process. Also 74,112 people did not acknowledge their signatures, which means that these had been used without their consent.

There is also the issue of some 50,000 people who should have been excluded from the electoral register because they were already dead, but the data had not been updated. According to CNE board member Jorge Rodriguez, this was due to deliberate sabotage.

For all these reasons on Sunday night, Bolivarians were pleased and confident and came out on the streets spontaneously to celebrate the defeat of the opposition, as it seemed clear that with so many irregularities, the CNE could never concede a recall referendum. But even at that time many were not sure of what would happen. In the run up to the repair process there had been extremely harsh pressure on the part of US imperialism and the opposition to say that if the referendum was not called, then this meant Chavez was a dictator and measures would be taken (economic embargo and military intervention included). The local agents of this pressure were the Carter Centre and the Organisation of American States, which were allegedly "observing" the repair process. In reality from Monday on they started interfering directly with the work of the CNE and making public statements that coincided almost word by word with the statements of the main opposition leaders, to the effect that enough signatures had been re-certified and that the government was stalling the process. This was another way of piling more pressure on the CNE and on the government itself.

By Wednesday it was becoming increasingly clear that the CNE would rule that there should be a referendum and there was a lot of pressure on the government to recognise such a result, despite all the irregularities. Joy turned into anger amongst the ranks of the revolutionaries. They could see in front of their eyes how, once again, a victory had been turned into defeat. The National Workers Union (UNT) rejected the calling of a referendum based on fraud, and the National Coordination of the Bolivarian Circles issued a joint statement with the Bolivarian Workers Front on the same lines. The same position was taken up and down the country by many revolutionary organisations. At the Central University a meeting of revolutionary organisations of teachers, students and workers (amongst them the Revolutionary Marxist Current and the Revolutionary Left Organisation) passed a resolution opposing the referendum and calling on all people and revolutionary organisations to mobilise against it. At 5 pm, an improvised rally with 3,000 revolutionaries from about 14 different neighbourhoods in the capital took place in Plaza Caracas, outside the CNE building. There was a lively discussion and many resolutions were passed, amongst them "1) to strongly reject the fraud and declare that it would not be accepted under any circumstances, 2) To reject any possibility to allow the fraud to be validated through political negotiations at the top, 3) expel the Carter Centre and the OAS for meddling with the process and not being impartial observers, 4) not to accept that electoral crimes are left unpunished (as happened with the crimes committed by those who organised the coup on April 13th, 2002)".

Prior to this rally there had been mass meetings of revolutionary activists in many neighbourhoods to discuss the situation. The resolutions that came out of them were extremely angry and strongly worded. "The Bolivarian people of Caricuao" in a meeting on June 1st, passed a resolution which started by saying clearly: "we refuse to accept this repair process which is fraudulent", and then went on to explain that "we will not accept any referendum, they will use all sorts of tricks in order to win: getting dead people, foreigners and under aged children to vote, etc" and correctly pointed out that "if we win the referendum they will invent something else to get rid of you Mr president, that is the only thing these criminals want." The mood of the resolution was very bitter: "how long are we going to allow them to f**k around so that they cannot call us dictators or violent, when they have committed all sorts of crimes against us, from spitting at us to killing us and organising military coups and bosses’ lock outs". And the resolution ended with an appeal to the president: "The people support you, president, we do not want a referendum, send the Ayacucho Command [which coordinates the leaders of all pro-Chavez parties] to hell. We do not believe in anybody else, president, we believe in you, do not be afraid. It does not matter if they call you a dictator, after all the people know that you are not, and that you are more of a democrat than all of them put together through a food processing machine. Do not fail us president, we support you. We are not asking for anything for ourselves, just a little bit of justice and democracy for us, is this too much to ask? Ask the people, president what we want. Meet with the Popular Movement, break the siege around you".

The revolutionary masses, as always, realised very clearly what was going on behind the scenes. Strong pressure was being applied on the president by all the reformists and the moderates within the Bolivarian movement (many of them to be found in key positions in the leadership of the parties of the movement, the Comando Ayacucho, and amongst the presidential advisers). The idea was that a referendum should be allowed to go ahead, regardless of the signatures, since the opposition will be defeated in it and this would give the president and the revolutionary movement more international legitimacy. The clearest expression of this article can be found in the statement of a Bolivarian activist quoted in a Venezuelanalysis.com article: "We would win the recall referendum by a wide margin, and that would be an excellent opportunity to re-legitimize the [revolutionary] process. U.S. imperialism wants the CNE to declare that there were not enough signatures for the recall, so they can say that Chavez prevented the opposition from exercising their democratic rights. It's a trap to label Chavez as a dictator, invoke the OAS Democratic Charter against Venezuela and isolate us," he said (quoted in Venezuela Leader to Face Recall Referendum).

But this kind of argument was strongly rejected by the rank and file activists of the Bolivarian movement. They argue, correctly, that one should not make any more concessions to the opposition which after all is responsible for the April 13th military coup and the failed coup of December 2002. The leaders of the opposition should be in jail paying for their crimes and not collecting fraudulent signatures for the recall of the president. Furthermore, if during the signature collection process hundreds of thousands of fraudulent signatures were used, then these are hundreds of thousands of electoral crimes for which someone must pay. Any concessions made in the past to the opposition have resulted not in the opposition turning towards exclusively democratic means of political action, but rather in them preparing new counter-revolutionary attempts. As for imperialism, they already maintain there is no democracy and an authoritarian populist ruler in Venezuela, and their opinion will not change. They will simply look for any other excuse to "justify" an intervention.

In any case the opposition will not be prepared to recognise the results of the referendum if this does not give them victory. They will immediately start a new campaign of pressure and imperialist meddling, threats, and all sorts of dirty tricks, and then if Chavez is reaffirmed as a president, they will say that the referendum was rigged and this proves Chavez is a dictator. The opposition is lead by the oligarchy, the rich and the bankers, the owners of the means of production and is closely linked to the interests of imperialism. They see their fundamental interests threatened by the revolution which is developing in Venezuela. They will not cease in their attempts to put an end to it by any means necessary. Their use of democratic means (like the recall referendum) is just a small part of their strategy which includes the use of paramilitary forces, riots in the streets, sabotage of the economy and eventually foreign intervention. Making any type of concessions will only strengthen their counter-revolutionary activities and it can cause, at a certain point serious demoralisation amongst the revolutionary masses.

This is exactly what happened in Nicaragua. After years of a low intensity war, with imperialist financed guerrillas constantly attacking the country, with permanent sabotage of the economy, with diplomatic pressure (through the Contadora Group of Countries, represented in Venezuela by the Group of Friends and the Carter Centre and OAS observers), etc, finally the Sandinista leadership accepted the call for an election. The election took place against this background, and with the tiredness and demoralisation of ten years of revolutionary struggle, with all sorts of pressures and dirty tricks on the part of imperialism, and finally it was lost. The insistence of using only purely "democratic" means and staying within the limits of capitalism faced with a counter-revolutionary opposition which was prepared to use all sorts of undemocratic means to overthrow the government and put an end to the revolution, finally led to the defeat of the Sandinista revolution.

The anger of the rank and file of the Bolivarian movement led some of its most radical elements to take to the streets on Thursday 3rd, clash with the opposition controlled Metropolitan Police, burn vans belonging to companies known to have supported the coup, etc. Later on thousands gathered outside the presidential palace in a rally called to show support for the president and the revolution. It was here that Chavez announced that he would respect the decision of the CNE, that had been announced only hours before, and that there would be a recall referendum. For the reasons explained we think that this is a mistake. The reactions of the people present could be divided roughly into three main groups: those who accepted the argument that a referendum would give more democratic legitimacy to the revolution and the president and that this was the right decision; those who were angry and opposed to the decision but accepted it out of loyalty to Chavez; and finally those who are opposed to the decision and still want to fight to try and change it. They are calling for a rally today, Friday 4th, but they will also participate in the mass rally in support of the revolution which has been called on Sunday. That will be a good opportunity to see what the real mood of the masses is regarding this decision.

What is clear is that a lot of the criticism has been centred on the role of the Comando Ayacucho. This was set up a few months ago and is composed of the leaders of all Bolivarian parties (MVR, PPT, PODEMOS, PCV, LS). The revolutionary masses rightly feel that this unelected body is largely useless and out of touch with the workers and the people. They confidently promised that enough signatures had been collected to trigger recall referendums against 20 opposition MPs which had been elected on Bolivarian lists. They could only narrowly trigger 9 of those referendums and only after a "repair" process. They confidently announced that 200,000 people had not acknowledged their signatures to the presidential recall referendum, and in the end only 74,000 had done so. And this is not for lack of popular will or enthusiasm, but mainly because of lack of organisation and incompetence of this body. On top of this the Comando Ayacucho in many towns, cities and states, has imposed candidates for the forthcoming council and regional elections without any consultation with the rank and file and in many cases in complete opposition to them.

This is probably one of the more acute problems facing the Bolivarian revolution at this juncture: that of its leadership. As a leaflet distributed ine these days by the Revolutionary Marxist Current argues, there is the need for a National Revolutionary Assembly of Delegates elected and with the right of recall from all the local revolutionary organisations and assemblies. Only a genuine democratic leadership of the revolutionary process can replace the Comando Ayacucho and set the basis for a genuine revolutionary policy. Such a structure could take over the running of the state and industry in order to replace the capitalist state structure which is still in place in Venezuela (in the ministries, the judiciary, etc).

In order to defend the revolution, some basic self-defence measures need to be taken. All those responsible for crimes committed during the counter-revolutionary attempts in the last few years should be put on trial and sent to jail. The properties, factories and land of known counter-revolutionary conspirators should be expropriated without compensation and put under workers’ control and management. Workers control and management should be implemented in publicly owned companies, in order to prevent corruption and bureaucratisation and use their resources to the benefit of the majority of the people. All know agents of imperialism (including the Carter Centre and the OAS "observers", and the US ambassador) should be expelled from the country. There should be an immediate default on all payments of the foreign debt so that this money can be used to the benefit of the people. As announce by Chavez, workers’ and peoples’ militias should be set up in order to guarantee to defend the revolution from imperialist aggression. All these measures would go a long way to strengthen and defend the revolution and advance it towards socialism.

June 4, 2004

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The “Misiones” and Alternative Media of Barquisimeto Solidarize with the Workers of VENEPAL

By Ricardo Galindez

With the understanding that the revolutionary conceptions of an organization are shown in deeds, and that support for workers in struggle is one of the ways in which said conceptions are best developed in practice, the Revolutionary Marxist Current has been advancing, both nationally and internationally, militant solidarity with the VENEPAL workers for the nationalization of the factory under workers’ control as the best solution to solving the crisis that arose with closure of the company, and to initiate a series of projects which began with the workers and the people themselves that can serve as an example of the new way in which the country should be managed.

For us, support for the VENEPAL workers is part of the great task of reinforcing the social revolutionary process that we are living through. Below is a very brief summary of two activities carried out in the City of Barquisimeto.

Friday 8 - 11 - 2004

On Friday November 8th, in Pavia, a populous neighbourhood in Barquisimeto, at the school “Fe y Alegria”, a solidarity event for the VENEPAL workers took place from 7 p.m. 168 workers from the Rivas “Mision” gathered to listen to Rowan Jimenez, leader of the VENEPAL conflict committee, Alexis Obono, leader of the VENEPAL workers’ union, and Ricardo Galindez, member of the Barquisimeto Committee of Solidarity with the VENEPAL workers. They explained the history that is being written by these workers, who for the second time find themselves forced to fight on the streets to avoid the closure of VENEPAL, an important source of employment in the City of Moron.

The compañeros (comrades) explained all the vicissitudes they have experienced and replied to a series of questions regarding the struggle and the possibilities of success. They also received declarations of support emphasizing the necessity of winning this struggle, which has a democratic, militant and anti-imperialist character.

At the end, 3 compañeros and compañeras volunteered to help in the creation of the Solidarity Committee in their area, and to start implementing “Operation Kilo” (a kilo of food for VENEPAL workers) in order to help reinforce the struggle until the workers attain the following objectives: that the government nationalize the company under workers’ control; and that the endogenous project proposed by the workers be developed.

SATURDAY 9 - 11 - 2004

As a continuation of the above solidarity activity with the workers of VENEPAL, at 10 a.m. at the school “Lucrecia Garcia”, located on 20th Avenue at the corner of 19 Street, 65 citizens gathered. They came from the Rivas “Mision” and other groups belonging to various unions (vigilance, “Rodia Silice”, the Bolivarian Health Union), as well as from the Popular Bolivarian Movement, from the “Conexion Social” collective, from the “Base Magisterial Consecuente”, from various UBEs (electoral battle units), neighbourhood assemblies, the Revolutionary Marxist Current and others.

In the same way as on the previous day, Rowan Jimenez, leader of the VENEPAL conflict committee, Alexis Obono, leader of the VENEPAL workers union, and Ricardo Galindez, member of the Barquisimeto Committee of Solidarity with the VENEPAL workers, spoke about the history of the struggle at VENEPAL and its importance, outlining the importance of extending the solidarity campaign.

At this meeting, 6 compañeros and compañeras agreed to join the Solidarity Committee working in Barquisimeto, which realized one of the main objectives for which this event was held (to set up a local solidarity committee).

Between the two activities, 213,000 Bolivares were raised and 33 copies of El Topo Obrero were sold. In addition, informational flyers detailing the struggle were handed out to the people who attended the meetings.

Both activities were carried out with the help of the alternative media network of the state of Lara.

At both meetings the possibility of holding further events in order to raise awareness of the struggle and to extend the solidarity campaign was raised. These activities are already being planned and will be held in the coming days.

Comment: Comrade Ricardo Galindez is a member of the Committee of Solidarity with the VENEPAL workers and is on the national leadership of the Revolutionary Marxist Current. He also on the editing staff of our official publication, “El Topo Obrero”.

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The recall referendum in Venezuela

A crushing blow to the counterrevolution

By Alan Woods

At 4:03 this morning Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the result of the recall referendum on the government of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frias. A tally count of 94,49 percent of ballots from automatic voting machines revealed that the opposition had failed to obtain more votes than those who wanted Chávez to stay. There were 4,991,483 "no votes ", representing 58.95 percent of those voting, against 3,576,517 "yes" votes, representing 41.74 percent.

Immediately the opposition “categorically refused” to recognise the result. Nevertheless, it is clear that the “no” has won by an overwhelming majority. Early reports suggested an even bigger majority – 63 percent to 36 percent. This may be closer to the truth. Manual count of votes from rural districts and poor urban areas where Chávez has widespread support, and where automatic machines were not used, will probably increase the President's margin of victory.

Masses roused

The referendum has roused the masses. There was unprecedented voter participation because everyone knew what was at stake. As a result Venezuelans were queuing for up to 10 hours to vote. Our correspondent in Caracas wrote last night, giving a taste of the mood on the streets during the voting:

“The euphoria on the faces of the people and the street celebrations in poor areas of Caracas contrast with the angry mood in the areas of the escuálidos. In all areas there have been big queues to vote, but whereas in the poorer districts they are still waiting to vote, in the upper class and middle class areas the queues have already vanished. In some areas people have been waiting six or seven hours to vote.”

The participation was around 90 percent. This historic voter turnout stands in stark contrast to the participation in elections in Britain or the United States. This is what happens when the people feel that they have something to vote for – and against. It is what happens when people feel that politics really matter and that voting can make a difference. What a contrast to the situation in the “western democracies” where in most cases people do not even bother to vote because they feel that, whoever is elected, it will make no real difference to their lives. Yet Bush and Blair think they have the right to lecture the people of Venezuela on democracy!

This outstanding victory in Sunday’s referendum is the eighth electoral victory of Chávez and the Bolivarians in the last six years. Yet the opposition still persists in describing him as a “dictator”. This flies in the face of the facts. Whatever you think about Hugo Chávez he is not a dictator. After almost six years in government, President Chávez has not only maintained his popular support but increased it. He won 56 percent in the 1998 elections and 59 percent in the 2000 re-election. Now his support is near 60 percent.

Defeated in every election, the opposition has tried to remove Chávez from power through a coup d'etat in 2002, followed by a management-led shutdown of the state oil company PDVSA. When these attempts failed the opposition put all their weight behind the recall referendum to oust the democratically elected President before the end of his term.

This is ironical. The constitutional right to a recall referendum only exists thanks to the new Constitution drafted by an elected Constituency Assembly during Hugo Chávez’s first year in office, and approved by popular referendum. The recall of elected officials was an idea proposed by Chávez to the Assembly, and it was supported by the majority and rejected by the opposition, which then hypocritically used that right to attempt to oust the President. By the way, if these “democrats” had won, the first thing they would have done is to abolish the right of recall referendum!

These gentlemen call themselves democrats but in practice show that “democracy” is only acceptable to them as long as their side wins. Right up to the last minute the opposition continued its manoeuvres. Before the official announcement was made by the CNE, a separate announcement was made by CNE board members Sobella Mejias and Ezequiel Zamora, questioning the result. It is an open secret that both Sobella Mejia and Zamora are aligned with the opposition. By such dirty tricks the opposition seeks to discredit the referendum and thus prepare the way for future acts of sabotage.

Once again the working class and poor people of Venezuela displayed an unerring class instinct. It was reported that in the working-class neighbourhood of Petare, people were queuing since 4 am. When it became clear that the opposition had been defeated, the mood of the masses erupted. The streets around the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas were full of pro-Chávez demonstrators celebrating this new victory for the Bolivarian revolution. Venezuelanalysis.com reports: “Chavistas have taken the streets of working class neighbourhoods blowing horns and playing music. Fireworks and firecrackers can also be heard in working class sections of Caracas, resembling a New Year's celebration.”

Blow to the counterrevolution

There is no doubt that this result represents a body blow to the counterrevolutionaries, a section of which was clearly reluctant to accept the result. Intense negotiations were reported to be taking place between the Carter Centre and the Organization of American States (OAS) and the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator to convince them to accept Chávez's victory.

It is quite natural that the masses should celebrate. They had yet again delivered a heavy blow against the counterrevolution and blocked it on the electoral plane. But strangely enough, Chávez opponents were also reported to be on the streets, ordered out by their leaders to celebrate their own “victory”. Rank and file chavista groups have denounced the call as a plan to cause public disruptions and possible roadblocks as was done earlier this year. An opposition leader's call for a "civil rebellion" to protest the delays in the voting process clearly confirm these fears.

The counterrevolutionaries were hoping to use the referendum to engineer new clashes and disorders. Their ever-present hope is to cause sufficient chaos to provoke a coup. This would have been the scenario especially if the result had been close.

Opposition leaders Humberto Calderon Berti and Cesar Perez Vivas from the COPEI party gave a press conference Sunday night to thank international observers present in this “historic election”. The miserable expression on Berti's face told its own story. It was not supposed to be like this! The counterrevolutionaries hoped that their control of the mass media would give them a sufficient advantage to win the referendum. In addition they counted on the scarcely concealed support of Washington and most of the governments of Latin America, in the person of Jimmy Carter and the OAS.

The role of the foreign “observers”

We have still to hear the verdict of international observers, including former US President Jimmy Carter and the Organization of American States. More than 400 international observers, including a mission from the Organization of American States, descended upon Venezuela to “observe” the recall referendum process. This was really an unprecedented level of foreign interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs. This recall referendum was the most closely monitored electoral process in the western hemisphere. There was certainly no such monitoring of the last US Presidential elections, which were rigged to allow George W. Bush to get possession of the White House. But such little contradictions do not bother Venezuela’s foreign critics too much.

The best-known element in the “observer mission” is the Carter Centre, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. This former peanut farmer made a mediocre President, but as a diplomatic manoeuverer he has excellent qualifications. President Chávez told me how Jimmy Carter wept when he learned of the appalling conditions of the Venezuelan poor. His ability to weep at given intervals is part of his inheritance from the US’s Southern Bible Belt. No doubt his ancestors also wept for the plight of the poor at the same time as they enriched themselves on the backs of their black slaves. This special brand of Christian hypocrisy is a most useful weapon in the armoury of international diplomacy, and one that Mr. Carter has mastered to the utmost perfection.

Hypocrisy is, in fact, very much in demand in Venezuela at the present time. The counterrevolution cannot afford to appear publicly in its real guise, but must disguise itself as “true democracy”, even though its real aim is to install a dictatorship in Venezuela. Numerous counterrevolutionary organizations have sprung up posing as “human rights” groups and so on. In order to deceive public opinion, things must be turned into their opposite: an election defeat must be presented as a victory, and a victory as a defeat, dictatorship must be presented as democracy and democracy as dictatorship, and so on.

One of those who specialise in this particular brand of hypocrisy and deceit is Súmate, which is supposed to be an objective non-partisan civil association but in reality it is a pro-opposition group, financed by Washington. The co-director of Súmate, Maria Corina Machado, was a participant in the 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chávez—she signed the decrees of would-be dictator Pedro Carmona. She is currently being investigated for treason, for having received funds from a foreign government (the U.S.) earmarked for ousting the Chávez government.

Súmate used its funds generously supplied by US donors to organize a large team of “volunteers” whose aim was to collect the largest possible number of “yes” votes in exit polls. These “objective results” could then be presented as “proof” that the opposition had won, and used as propaganda for organizing disturbances when a Chávez victory was announced.

Despite its public image of an “impartial body”, the Carter Centre is a tool of Washington. The Carter Centre relies on U.S. government funding. And as the English proverb goes: he who pays the piper calls the tune. It is well known that the entire U.S. political establishment opposes Chávez and supports the opposition.

In testimony before a U.S. subcommittee hearing on March 15, 2000, the Carter Centre's lead observer, University of Georgia political science professor Jennifer McCoy clearly placed the Venezuelan government in the category of "new, subtler forms of authoritarianism through the electoral option…" In her declared quest to "deter new hybrid democracies," McCoy called for continued U.S. government support of the Carter Centre, claiming that such funding represented a "neutral and professional means to improve the electoral process."

Dr. McCoy has called for U.S. pressure on the Chávez government, though there had never been any significant allegations of electoral fraud in either Chávez's 1998 election or in the plebiscites that his government sponsored in following years. She also portrayed the Chávez government in the same light as the Peruvian ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori!

Carter urges caution

The fact that the sympathies of Carter and the OAS were all on the side of the opposition is not seriously in doubt. However, the plans of the opposition to make use of the foreign “observers” were dashed by the mass response to the referendum campaign. The campaign itself was conducted in a scrupulously fair and democratic manner. None of the hoped-for irregularities were found.

Early on Sunday, after visiting several voting centres, Carter was forced to admit that the voting queues in Venezuela were "unprecedentedly long and orderly". Carter, who heads the Carter Center mission to observe Venezuela's historic recall referendum, added that "from the first hours of the day we have visited several voting centres of Caracas and there are thousands of people waiting with plenty of patience and in peace." OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria stated on Sunday that the referendum results would be “trustworthy”.

What else could these ladies and gentlemen say? The original intention of the OAS and the Carter Centre was to put pressure on the Caracas government to reach a “compromise” with the opposition, or, if possible, to rig the referendum in favour of the latter. If the result had been a close one, they might have tried to announce an opposition victory before the official result had been announced. This was probably the reason why the announcement of the result was delayed.

A section of the hardliners must have been demanding that the OAS and Carter should collaborate with such a manoeuvre. Some sectors of the opposition had apparently announced their intention to release the results of their own exit polls five hours before the voting centres were scheduled to close. This seems to have been the position of the opposition leader Enrique Mendoza. This would have been a clear provocation. But both the Carter Centre and the Organization of American States have understood that it is pointless and counterproductive to try to deny the result of the referendum.

At half past one in the morning, officials from the Carter Centre and OAS emerged from a meeting with the National Electoral Council. They were desperately trying to convince the Democratic Coordinator opposition coalition to accept Chávez's victory. There must have been a heated exchange in the small hours of the morning. But Carter could not oblige the hard liners. He is undoubtedly an imperialist scoundrel, but he is not a complete fool. A blatant attempt to hand victory to the opposition through fraud would have immediately provoked an explosion that could not be controlled.

Carter, a relatively astute representative of US imperialism therefore had to put pressure on the opposition to calm down. The Venezuelan newspaper Diario Vea stated that Dr. McCoy, had indirectly criticized the opposition's decision to release early and unofficial results. Dr. McCoy reportedly declared that all political actors should wait for the announcement of results by the accredited governmental body, the National Electoral Council.

Both the Carter Centre and the Organization of American States understood that it was pointless and counterproductive to try to deny the result of the referendum. But that was only a tactical decision. They understood that a coup was out of the question at this moment in time, because the class balance of forces was not favourable. Thus, a Chávez victory will have to be grudgingly accepted by at least one sector of the opposition. The best that they can hope for is to cast some doubt on the process, exaggerating irregularities, shouting fraud etc. This they are already doing. In fact, they were already doing it before the referendum even took place.

What now?

As we predicted in our last article (As August 15 approaches: Why Marxists are fighting for a “No” next Sunday), the imperialists understand that the time is not ripe for a new coup, which would lead to civil war – a civil war that they would certainly lose. Therefore, they have decided to adopt a different tactic. Having failed to take their objective by assault, they will resort to siege warfare. The struggle has not ended – merely passed onto a different plane. The counterrevolutionaries and their imperialist allies will wait until the correlation of class forces is more favourable. They will move again. But for now they must beat a tactical retreat and lick their wounds.

Does this mean that everything is solved and that the opposition has been decisively defeated? No, it means no such thing. What the referendum campaign has shown is that Venezuelan society is extremely polarized between right and left. This polarization will not disappear after the referendum, but steadily increase. In that sense, the referendum has solved nothing. The counterrevolutionaries will regroup their forces and prepare for a new offensive once the conditions are more favourable.

On the international plane they will not cease their noisy campaign against the Venezuelan revolution, or drop their claims that that Chávez has authoritarian tendencies. With the aid of organizations like Súmate, they will publish fake exit polls that directly contradict the official results to show that the result was based on fraud. They will continue to sabotage and obstruct the progress of the revolution, attempting to cause economic and social chaos. They will never be satisfied until Chávez has been overthrown and the gains of the Bolivarian revolution completely liquidated.

The latest victory of the Chávez government places the bourgeois opposition in a difficult position. This is the fourth time that a free election in Venezuela has given a decisive majority to Chávez. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie is getting increasingly desperate. The class war is intensifying all the time. The workers and peasants, encouraged by the result of the referendum, will demand more reforms and a deepening of the revolutionary process. The bourgeoisie and the imperialists will demand a halt and a reversal. The government will find itself ground between two millstones.

The massive voter participation on Sunday is a clear reflection of the extreme political polarization of Venezuelan society to the right and left. The immediate question was the permanence of President Hugo Chávez in office, but far deeper questions are involved, and these questions remain to be solved. It was necessary to win the referendum, but the referendum result will not solve these fundamental problems. It will only pose them in an even sharper way.

Those leaders of the Bolivarian movement who argued that, by holding the referendum, the enemies of the revolution would be silenced, have been shown to be wrong. The internal and external enemies of the Venezuelan revolution cannot be reconciled by elections, referendums and negotiations. They will only be satisfied when the revolution is defeated. Not to recognise this is the height of irresponsibility.

On previous occasions when the masses defeated the counterrevolution there was a golden opportunity to carry through the revolution to the end and finish the power of the oligarchy once and for all. But on each occasion the opportunity was thrown away. The leaders allowed themselves to be seduced by the siren voices that argued for “moderation” and “negotiation”. The inevitable result was a new offensive of the counterrevolution.

It is time to learn the lessons! One cannot make half a revolution. As long as the oligarchy continues to maintain its hold on important sections of the economy, it will continue to act as a Trojan Horse of US imperialism, sabotaging and undermining the Bolivarian revolution. It is time to ask ourselves the key question: can we allow the interests of a handful of rich parasites to decide the destinies of millions of people? Or will we put an end to this situation once and for all, expropriating the property of the counterrevolutionaries and taking the road of socialist democracy?

The 15 August will enter the annals of revolutionary history as a great victory for the working people – on one condition: that we do not waste it, that we do not hand the initiative back to our enemies, but strike blows against them that will destroy the basis of their power. That is the only way we can build upon our victory, and turn it into a decisive revolutionary transformation of society.

London, August 16, 2004.

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The struggle of the Venepal workers – a crucial turning point for the Venezuelan revolution

International solidarity needed

By Jorge Martin

On September 7, 2004, the owners of Venepal, a paper mill in Morón, Carabobo, in Venezuela, decided to cease their operations and not pay their 400 workers their wages. This is not the first time something like this has happened. A year ago the company took the same decision alleging financial difficulties. At that time the workers decided to occupy the premises in a bitter eleven-week struggle. Now they are demanding that the government nationalises the company and puts it under workers’ control and management. This is an extremely important struggle which could be crucial for the future of the labour movement and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

Venepal is one of the main producers of paper and cardboard in Venezuela and its installations are located in Morón, in the industrial state of Carabobo. At one point it employed a total of 1,600 workers, controlled 40% of the national market and was one of the main producers of Latin America in this sector. But the company’s management allowed the paper mill to slowly lose market shares and revenues. In April 2002, at the time of the short lived military coup against Chávez, some of its main shareholders were present at the swearing in ceremony for the new, illegitimate, “president” Pedro Carmona. During the bosses’ lockout against the Chávez government in December-January 2002-03 the workers resisted attempts by the employers to paralyse the installations.

Finally, on July 4, 2003, the company declared bankruptcy and left 600 workers without jobs and owing them large amounts in back wages. The company had accumulated debts of $100million with the banks (60% with international banks, Citybank and Chase Manhattan Bank, and 40% with national banks), and a further $30 million with the Venezuelan state in unpaid taxes, national insurance contributions, gas and electricity bills, etc.

Workers’ control

By that time, the revolutionary process that Venezuela has been living through since 1998 had given the workers enough confidence to take action to save their jobs. On a number of occasions president Chávez had called on workers to take over factories if the bosses shut down operations. After a mass meeting with the participation of the local communities, the workers decided to occupy the installations and run them under workers’ control and management. The conflict lasted for 77 days. At the time of the occupation the workers had the support of Bolivarian MP Iris Varela and even the commander of the local garrison, General Acosta Carles, was present to guarantee the security of the workers since Carabobo is a state run by the reactionary opposition. Rowan Jimenez, a trade union activist and member of the struggle committee, explains how during the occupation, “the workers organised production, broke all productivity records and reduced unproductive waste to a level never seen before” (El Topo Obrero interview, 16/09/04). At that time the workers demanded that the government transfer legal property of the installations to a worker-cooperative and that they should organise production. After three long months of struggle and negotiations finally an agreement was reached. This included a schedule for payment of back wages, the maintenance of between 400 and 600 jobs. The paper mill would reopen under its former owners and the state would invest in it by providing cheap credits.

The workers considered this as a partial victory, particularly taking into account the fate of other factories that were occupied at the same time – but they remained vigilant. Alexis Polanco, leader of the UNT in Morón, was clear in saying that he thought that the “contradictions with the company will continue and we must go towards a model in which the workers and the government run the company which should be state owned” (interview with El Militante, October 2003) Though there was no formal agreement, the workers, through the union, established a form of workers’ control. For instance in December 2003, when the company told them that their wages and Christmas bonuses would be paid in two instalments, one in December and the other in January, the workers replied that they would deliver production in two instalments as well! All decisions taken regarding production, inventory, hiring and firing, etc., were supervised by the workers. This was an uneasy truce that could not last.

Multinational asset stripping take over feared

On September 7th of this year, the company again ceased operations and the workers’ struggle started again. The decision is also linked to an attempt to get rid of a militant workforce, hand over the company’s assets to paper multinational Smurfit and transfer production to Colombia. Smurfit is one of the largest multinationals in the world in the paper and cardboard sector and has been involved in Venepal before. The workers fear that this would be a ruthless asset stripping operation like the one Spanish airline Iberia carried out with Venezuelan national airline Viasa in the 1990s.

The workers have now taken over the installations and are demanding nationalisation under workers’ control as the only way forward. On September 16th a delegation of 100 workers went to Caracas to protest outside the Ministry of Labour. Edgar Peña, general secretary of the Union of Paper Industry Workers (SUTIP), affiliated to the UNT, explained how, “Smurfit has been breaking up the company and taking over certain parts of it with the idea of taking overall control of Venepal” (El Topo Obrero interview, 16/09/04).

Uniting the workers with the revolutionary people

The workers are clear about the need to involve the local community in the struggle to save their livelihood. Morón is a solidly revolutionary town of about 80,000 people where support for Chávez in the presidential recall referendum on August 15th reached 73%. The workers explain how Venepal could be used to benefit the revolution as a whole. On the one hand by producing paper for the “Misiones” (Bolivarian government social projects run by the communities) related to education, the Bolivarian University, etc. But there is more. The company’s installations include 5,000 hectares of land in Carabobo, Falcón and Yaracuy, most of it untilled, which the peasants have tried to cultivate against the wishes of the owners. There are also mills, abandoned houses, a school, grazing land for cattle, a baseball stadium, a hotel with a swimming pool, a power station and even its own airfield. Most of these installations are now standing idle and abandoned and the workers argue that they should be used as part of the revolutionary project to the benefit of the people. Land should be given to the peasant co-ops, the sports and educational facilities used by the communities, etc.

Edgar Peña, General Secretary SUTIP

For this reason, on September 22nd the workers in struggle organised a mass meeting with the local Electoral Battle Units (UBEs), the organisations set up to fight the August 15th presidential recall referendum and that are now becoming the local organising bodies of the revolutionary movement. Ten of the local UBEs were present representing hundreds of organised people. There was a roll call of all the different UBEs present and their representatives explained to the mass meeting how many people they could mobilise and how they were prepared to help the struggle (by providing food, transport, etc). The mood at the rally was electric. A representative from an UBE said: “we are in a revolution and this struggle is our struggle. We are fighting for the workers of Venepal and their families, for the defence of the revolution and for our country”, a Venepal worker added: “Here we see the strength of the working class, which is able to unite and mobilise the whole of the popular forces towards the same aim”.

Alexis Polanco, leader of the UNT in Morón and general secretary of the workers’ union in the Ferrelca metal factory, called on the Carabobo UNT to organise a regional march in support of the Venepal workers. “This struggle must become a rallying banner for the whole of the revolutionary movement. If Venepal falls into the hands of multinational Smurfit, jobs will be lost and an enormous amount of wealth which belongs to the Venezuelan people will be handed over to this multinational. This goes against the revolutionary project we are fighting for. The struggle of Venepal is the struggle of all those who support this revolutionary process, of all the exploited, and we can win this struggle”.

The next step in the struggle was a march through the streets of Morón on September 30th. More than 700 people participated and the mood was one of enthusiasm and confidence. It is clear that the victory of the revolutionary forces on August 15th, the third major defeat of the reactionary oligarchy after the April 2002 coup and the December 2002 bosses’ lock out, has had a major impact on the consciousness of the working class. In Carabobo alone, a state which concentrates a large share of the country’s private industry, dozens of factories are being organised in UNT affiliated unions. The most recent example is that of the workers at the Daimler-Chrysler assembly plant where – after 25 years of mafia type trade unionism of the CTV – 400 workers are setting up an independent class struggle union.

Organising working class solidarity

On October 6th there was a meeting in Valencia called by the Carabobo region of the UNT with more than 50 trade union leaders from the state to discuss organising solidarity with Venepal workers. Present were union leaders and shop stewards from Coca-Cola, Pirelli, Trimeca, Venezolana de Pinturas, Ford, General Motors, Proagro seccional Bejuma, Ferralsa, Owen-Illinois, Tubo Auto C.A., Protinal, Rodhia and Vicson, together with a delegation of Venepal workers. The solidarity from other unions was impressive. Ford shop stewards made a donation of 200,000 Bs, and Owen-Illinois trade union delegates handed over a cheque for 100,000 Bs. Workers at Venezolana de Pinturas decided at a mass meeting on October 9th to make a weekly donation to the hardship fund and oil workers at El Palito refinery agreed to donate 10,000 Bs per worker. Other factories agreed to organise factory gate collections, and a plan was drawn up to visit all factories organised by the UNT in Carabobo.

A manifesto was passed at this meeting which calls for the nationalisation under workers’ control and management of Venepal, appeals to all UNT affiliated to support the struggle of the Venepal workers by participating in the mobilisation and raising the necessary funds to sustain it and it also calls for mass workplace meetings at all factories to explain the issue and raise weekly donations from all workers for the hardship fund. The manifesto also rejects the central government’s negotiations with pro-coup bosses that violate workers’ rights, denounces the complicity of reactionary judges with the machinations of the bosses and calls for a national solidarity rally at Venepal on October 16 to discuss how to advance the struggle. Finally the trade union leaders present called for a national and international solidarity campaign under the slogan “Nationalisation of Venepal under workers’ control”.

This is clearly a struggle which will be extremely significant for the future of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. From the very beginning the parasitical Venezuelan ruling class has been bitterly opposed to this revolution, despite the fact that the movement has not yet touched their private property of the means of production. For decades they have been completely unable and unwilling to develop the country in any progressive way and therefore they are aware that a revolutionary movement to fulfil even the most basic needs of the masses (health, education, jobs, houses, land) would clash head on with their control of the country’s economy. And they are right. The struggle of Venepal workers shows clearly the way forward. In order to defend and advance the living standards of the masses of the Venezuelan people, the workers must take over control of the economy, so that it can be run through a democratic plan to the benefit of the majority of its people.

The workers are appealing for an international campaign demanding the nationalisation under workers control of this important industry.

Solidarity messages can be sent to:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Send messages also to the Venezuelan authorities asking for the
nationalisation of Venepal under workers control. A model resolution in
Spanish can be found at the end of this article:
http://venezuela.elmilitante.org/index.asp?id=muestra&id_art=1301 but you can use your own words. Messages should be sent to:

Presidencia de la República: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Ministerio de Trabajo: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Fax del Ministerio de la Presidencia: + 58 2122638179
Faxes del Ministerio de Trabajo: + 58 2124084250 y + 58 2124084246
again with copies to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Raise donations from trade union organisation for the hardship fund of the workers. The best way to send the money is if this is channeled through the local Hands Off Venezuela campaigns in different countries. In cases where this might not be possible, donations can be sent directly to the Venepal
union (SUTIP) bank account: Cuenta de Ahorro 0108-0125-71-0200359704 del Banco Provincial, SUTIP

October 11, 2004

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