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Solidarity

Around forty people representing twenty organizations attended the most recent Philippines-Venezuela solidarity activity on February 18 and launched the Philippines-Venezuela Solidarity Association. Jose Clavijo, the Charge d' Affaires of the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was a guest speaker and the documentary "Venezuela Bolivariana: People and Struggle" was shown. The event was organised by the socialist labor centre the BMP and co-hosted with the Women and Gender Institute at the Miriam College Campus.

Organisations represented included: Partido ng Manggagawa, Kalayaan, Sanlakas, Freedom from Debt Coalition, RCPD, Philippine-Iraq Solidarity, Philippine-Cuba Solidarity and Friendship Association, Peace Camp, BMP and several of its local unions, members of WAGI, students and teachers from Miriam College. Gigi Francisco of WAGI  and Sonny Melencio, Vice-Chairperson of BMP, opened the meeting.

The film, an inspiring introduction to the Bolivarian revolution led by President Hugo Chavez, was described as "stunning" and "inspiring" by the participants. The discussion included comparisons with the People's Power uprisings in the Philippines and how in the Philippines, unlike in Venezuela, the momentum of these mass upsurges had been contained. There were also comments about the need for the Philippine left to study and learn from the unfolding revolution in Venezuela.

Workers at the meeting were interested in how workers in Venezuela were responding to company closures and lockouts by taking over the factories and placing them under workers control, with the support of the Chavez government. Participants also discussed the recent initiatives to set up workers militias or people's defense units, indicating the deepening of the revolution as people were armed.

There was also a tremendous interest about the health and the education "missions" of the revolution. Attempts by Venezuela and Cuba to set up the Bolivarian Alternatives for the Americas (ALBA), as an alternative economic bloc of Latin American countries opposed to the imperialist backed Free Trade Area for the Americas, was also reported on.

The meeting noted the ongoing threat to the revolution posed by the US, as well as the more recent ratcheting up of the anti-Chavez statements by the US government and the campaign in the US media against Hugo Chavez.

When volunteers were called for to set up a coordinating committee several hands shot up as leaders of mass organizations and networks, solidarity campaigns and activists with already heavy workloads, making a commitment to supporting the solidarity campaign.

The main aims of the Philippine-Venezuela Solidarity Association will be to disseminate information and be on alert to launch protest actions in defense of the Bolivarian revolution.

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The dates for the WFSY have changed. Please take note of the new ones. We are enclosing a part of the text sent by the Venezuelan National Preparatory Committee announcing the new dates for the festival:

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As mentioned in the report on the meeting in Parliament the Venezuelan Ambassador to London, Alfredo Toro Hardy, has given his support to the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. We provide a link here to a video of Mr. Hardy speaking as well as a transcript of his speech in Parliament.

The video can be found here. We reproduce the transcript below.


-- Grand Committee Room, Houses of Parliament, 2nd February 2005

Alfredo Toro Hardy (Ambassador to London of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela): Thank you very much, it's a great pleasure to be here tonight. I would like to express the gratitude of President Chávez for this movement, this network that has been so active, in which you have group of MPs, that under the leadership of Mr John McDonnell have been able to put down several motions in favour of the Venezuelan government. As well we have a group of authorities from British Unions, and of course we have a grassroots movement, Hands Off Venezuela, which has been tremendously active in promoting solidarity towards the Venezuelan government.

President Chávez is well aware of this effort, and as a matter of fact I spoke with him a few days ago and he mentioned that he would like to pass through Britain in a trip he must make to India at the beginning of March, to get in touch with you all and to personally convey his gratitude for this effort. Of course, this hasn't yet been scheduled but we are looking forward to it and we really hope he will be able to make a short stop-over here in London to meet you all.

Mr Galindez just made a very interesting approach to the problems being faced by the government internally. Perhaps I could talk a little bit about the problems being faced externally. And essentially I would like to refer to the problems that the Venezuelan government has vis-à-vis the Bush administration in the United States. Essentially I would say there are three areas in which differences emerge: political differences, economic differences and two different perspectives on foreign policy.

As for the political differences, I would say that President Chávez' government has been making a tremendous effort in order to empower the majority of the population that traditionally have been excluded. In order to do so, he has promoted a participatory model of democracy in which people have to act, in which people have to defend, people have to be vigilant of the political process. And as a result of that, since his election in 1998, he has promoted all of this. In any case there have been eight electoral processes in which people have been involved participatorily. In all those eight elections, in addition to the one that President Chávez won in 1998, President Chávez himself, his policies or his candidates, have won.

Notwithstanding that fact, the United States keeps insisting that we don't have a true democracy in Venezuela. The reason maybe lies in the fact that in the concept of American democracy there is a clear distinction between what they scornfully call "mass democracy" and what they call "liberal democracy". For them, there is an anti-majoritarian view of politics that goes against this kind of participatory democracy that we tend to promote in Venezuela. And in essence, what they clearly fail to understand is that throughout history - and again, I must say that for them the essence of democracy is the protection of minority - what they fail to understand is precisely that Venezuela, throughout its history, has had governments of the minorities, for the minorities, and by the minorities; and with the exclusion of the majority. And that is precisely what we are trying to correct. This difference is a fundamental difference which is very difficult to overcome.

But there is also the economic element. From an economic point of view, the United States tries to impose a market economy like in America, and they tried to impose the Washington Consensus within the region, which of course implies a decalogue of principles like trade liberalisation, privatisation, fiscal reform, and so on and so forth. But the fact is that within the application of these policies the results have been quite clear. Latin America is probably the only region, or certainly the only region in the world, whose economic indicators in the '90s were much worse than they were in the '70s. According to the Latin American Commission of the United Nations, Latin America's GDP decreased by almost 2% between 1997 and 2003. During that same period the number of people living in poverty in the region was essentially increased, as a matter of fact we have twenty million more poor people in 2003 than we had in 1997. So this whole concept of trying to promote this American concept, this market economy concept, of trying to promote economic growth through a market economy with a final end of generating a "trickle-down" that someday, sometime, someplace will generate social justice, is clearly not working in Latin America.

What President Chávez proposes is just the opposite: emphasising the human being, emphasising education, health-care, social and civic consciousness, new political parties, social capital. That is, trying to promote a more human society and a much more productive citizen. At the end of the day, instead of a "trickle-down" it's a sort of a "trickle-up", in which a much more conscious and prepared citizen will be able to produce prosperity.

There is also the main difference from the point of view of foreign policy. The United States promotes unilateralism, unipolarity, prevention of international laws, and of course a tight control of Latin America within the context of the Free Trade Area of the Americas; whereas Venezuela with President Chávez' government proposes co-operative multi-lateralism, multi-polarity, international law, and of course a Latin America as independent as possible, within the context of a Free Trade Area of Latin America.

Of course, this last point is perhaps the most sensitive for the Americans because they would like to see us as a part of their economy. But the example of Mexico speaks for itself. Mexico is a bordering country to the United States, which has a very powerful ethnic lobby within the United States. And notwithstanding that reality, Mexico is in a very difficult position as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexico had to relinquish some fundamental sectors of its economy in order to integrate itself to the United States, among them agriculture. Those sectors have been totally swept off, and notwithstanding that fact, Mexico is cornered because it's incapable of competing with the Chinese products within the American market. If that happens to Mexico, what may happen to the rest of Latin America? Hence, President Chávez' emphasis on creating our own model of Latin American integration. It's not only about jobs, but it's rational.

There are some fundamental differences, but at the end of the day, we need the solidarity of all of you. It is fundamental because we are facing a tremendous campaign which every day is felt, through the mass media, the declarations of Washington authorities, and through many governments which are close allies with Washington. We need your solidarity and we are very grateful for it. Thank you very much.

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 We are very delighted to publish this report on Jorge Martin's speaking tour in Ireland. The author is a young Republican Socialist based in Belfast with a long experience in anti-imperialist solidarity such as the "Boycott Coca-Cola" campaign and the movement against the imperialist war on Iraq.

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"How many people are you expecting to attend this evening?" Jorge enquires of me over a cup of coffee in Belfast’s An Culturlann and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how to answer his question. Despite a flurry of promotional activity during the previous week, it was difficult to predict how many people would break a growing pattern of political apathy in West Belfast and actually bother to turn up to the event.

To compound my concerns, I had just heard that Sinn Fein had organised a protest to highlight what they see as a "Crisis of Democracy" meaning a lot of their activists would miss the film and the debate that I hoped would follow. I cursed the irony of this eventuality.

As the political pressure was heaping upon them, Provisional Sinn Fein planned a protest against an attack on the bourgeois democratic system that the "Venezuela Bolivariana, people & struggle in the fourth World War" film so clearly illustrates as corrupt and undemocratic. Alas, I thought, it was an opportunity missed.ireland2.JPG

At ten to seven, there was only myself, Jorge and another guy who had volunteered to take some photos and I had secretly resigned myself to the event’s failure. Then as luck would have it, a small group of people arrived at the theatre looking a little lost and after some investigating downstairs, I had found a large group of people looking for the room in which the event was taking place. After directing the crowd upstairs, I was bouyed to see more and more people arriving until there was a crowd of around 45 people sitting in the row of the small arena, a handsome number at an event of this kind.

The promotional activity had paid off, it seems. During the week running up to the event, myself and some kind volunteers had spent a couple of days plastering up around 200 posters around the working class areas of West Belfast. A fortune was spent on text messages, emails were sent to thousands of recipients and every newspaper with a wide readership had been hit with a torrent of daily press releases on the event.ireland1.JPG

When Jorge arrived in Belfast, he didn’t really have much time to “enjoy” the cold weather as he was giving an interview on a Belfast community radio show as well as an interview to a journalist who writes for the Andersonstown News (a tabloid sensationalist type local paper but with a wide readership none the less). Now he had settled down to give a good sized and well represented audience an introduction to the film.

The feelings in the arena were tangible during the emotive scenes in the film. The audience were noticebaly moved by the scenes of the Venezuelan people showing the power of collective action in the face of often brutal repression and the applause at the end indicated how well the film’s contents were recieved.

The potential debate however was somewhat unfulfilled. The large numbers attending perhaps intimidated some audience members from enquiring on the subject. Jorge however gave a clear and lengthy summary of some of the more up to date events in the revolution as well as elaboration on some of the important points in the film and as is generally the case in these matters, futher debate carried on in the pub long after the film ended.

Next stop Derry, and after meeting some comrades, Jorge and myself set off for BBC Radio Foyle where Jorge was afforded a brief interview with the afternoon talk show DJ Mark Patterson where the night event was plugged and the revolution was given a brief summary.

The Derry event was held in Sandino’s Bar which is seen as a bar visited by progressive and leftwing people as evidenced by the name. Despite a lower turnout than the Belfast event (some 20-25 people), the film sparked a greater degree of debate. The audience contained a good representation of the city’s left wing, including the SWP, SEA as well as the IRSP and some People’s Democracy members.

The scenes of state violence used to quell the Caracas riots in 1989 mirrored that of the scenes of Derry’s Bloody Sunday and this was picked up by the audience who then drew further parallelles between the Venezuelan Bolivarian process and the Irish class struggle.

The third and last event took place in Strabane, a large border town some 20 miles from Derry, but due to unforeseen difficulties, the venue of the event had to be changed, but the local IRSP comrades gently provided their offices to host the meeting. The audience was made up of young Socialist comrades who despite their young age, took to the film’s message of the collective power of the people. Some debate took place after the event and I was heartened to see some of the young comrades avail themselves of some of the literature provided by Jorge Martin.

The speaker made an important point in his address at the Belfast event. "The Venezuelan Revolution is having a positive effect in Cuba in that it is giving renewed heart and encouragement after forty plus years of isolation." During a time when radical politics is on the decline here in Ireland it has also given me and others like me hope that there is still a place and role for a true democracy of the people.

The Venezuelan Revolution of the people’s conscienceness is today’s reference to all progressive people’s struggles throughout the world and I hope to use it as such when I debate with other brothers and sisters about the future direction of the class struggle in Ireland. I also hope some of the others who watched the film during Jorge’s short visit do the same. Just for that reason, Jorge's visit has been extremely useful and I look forward to working with him and the Hands Off Venezuela comrades in the future.

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The following is a transcript from a talk given by Venezuelan trade unionist Ricardo Galindez at the East Anglia Social Forum during his recent tour of Britain.

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I will start from the very beginnings of 2003 and what happened then. The events that took place at the end of 2002 and 2003 were preceded by the coup that took place at the beginning of 2002. The political factions and the bosses that had been removed from power with the election of Hugo Chavez did not stop their attempts to plot the overthrow of Chavez. Even shortly after the victory of the masses against the coup d'état, the bosses and the oligarchy started plotting against the democratic government and promoted some marches against the government. At the end of 2002 the imperialists and the local oligarchy tried to carry out sabotage in the oil industry in order to block the economy and try to push the people against the Venezuelan government itself.

The ruling class in Venezuela did not understand that the defeat that they suffered on the 11th of April 2002 was just a show of strength of the working classes in Venezuela, because the masses identified themselves with the ongoing revolutionary process. Maybe it’s not what everyone expected, but it is the very beginning of something bigger.

While on the 11th April people came out onto the streets to defend their democratic civil rights, in December of the same year we could see how the people as well as the working class tried to defend the revolution.

We could see how the bosses were paying workers to stay at home in order to carry out sabotage against the Venezuelan economy, we could see the answer of the working class in various cities and towns around Venezuela that continued to carry out their working activity in order to defeat this sabotage that was being carried out by the oligarchy and the imperialists.

We could see how in the countryside on the massive land estates and in some sectors of industry and also in the oil industry the workers were producing under workers’ control. There were no bosses at all. In a wide range of industry, such as the sugar producing industry and also the most important of all, the oil industry, we could see how the workers were producing under their own control. There was the example of the oil refinery in Puerto la Cruz where the workers took it over and were carrying out economic activity themselves. In El Palito there was also workers’ control and in the other refinery the workers maintained production for two months with no bosses and strict discipline in the company.

Once the lock out was defeated in the oil industry, the bosses decided to extend the lockout to education. As soon as the parents and the pupils saw that the schools had been closed, they decided to reopen them, sometimes occupying the schools, asking the government to send teachers to the schools and sometimes when they didn’t have teachers the parents provided lessons to the pupils.

Meanwhile the imperialists and the local oligarchy did not give up their attempt to create chaos. They called demonstrations and marches which were answered by the Bolivarian movement with bigger marches, bigger demonstrations.

Let’s say that if the opposition were taking out on the streets ten thousand, the Bolivarians were taking out one hundred thousand, and if they took out onto the streets one hundred thousand we took out three hundred thousand – always outnumbering them.

Then the local and the mainstream media, all the newspapers, all the TV channels started a campaign to call for a presidential recall referendum. This referendum was defeated. What happened was that, when they saw that by illegal means they could not force the government out, they decided to take the legal road. They decided to start again their campaign for a recall referendum. What happened was that the electoral commission of Venezuela gave up and said okay you can have the referendum.

The point is that it is true that this referendum was not well received among the masses and people were quite angry. When President Chavez said now is the time to unite forces and defeat the referendum, well, we did it and defeated this process.

Even if they were not happy with that, they decided that they had to do it because that was a historical moment for the Venezuelan masses. For the first time in history the Venezuelan people were going to organise an electoral process under their control and through popular organisations like the Electoral Battle Units and other popular organisations

1,200,000 people organised themselves. Students and workers organised in these UBEs, Electoral Battle Units. Well, of course, the workers and students in the neighbourhoods organised themselves. They set up the structures to canvass in order to win this recall referendum.

The victory in this recall referendum for the ‘NO’ option against the recall of Hugo Chavez was the beginning of a new period in the Venezuelan revolution. Let’s say that the oligarchy could not cope with a defeat and they did lose lots of support from the middle classes. They suffered the disbandment of their own forces and suddenly their own leaders no longer appeared on TV and in the newspapers, and did not show up in public life.

After the success of the recall referendum the regional council elections took place and the Opposition, the oligarchy, was limited to holding on to just two states. Now the struggle of the Opposition is based in the state of Zulia, a region on the border with Colombia, an area very rich in oil. Even the governor of this state, once he saw the results, started to shift his position towards President Chavez!

Defeat was terrible for them. The umbrella group, that they had organised all the opposition parties under, has been disbanded. After the defeat, Mendoza, the governor of the state of Carabobo, disappeared from public life after the defeat.

The more astute sections of the bourgeoisie started to approach President Chavez in order to appear more polite towards him. They began to moderate their opposition to Chavez. As the saying goes, if you cannot beat them, join them until you have enough forces to defeat them. This is the policy of imperialism and the local bourgeoisie in Venezuela today.

After the great defeat suffered in the eighties the labour movement had started to recover in the nineties. At the beginning of the nineties the workers decided to set up a new trade union federation outside of the CTV. It was in 2002 that they finally decided to abandon the CTV and set up a new Venezuelan trade union federation. It is true that in the beginning they had many problems to overcome, however they are overcoming these and now they are back at the same level of organisation as before.

Due to the lockout that took place at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, there were many companies that were closed down. What is true is that most of these companies closed down due to imperialist sabotage of the economy, and after the defeat of the lockout these companies remained closed.

At that time many workers decided to reopen the factories, occupy them and run them by themselves and they demanded that the government nationalise these factories under workers’ controls as well as many other factories.

This movement was the beginning of the victory that was to take place at Venepal. With regards to Venepal this company was closed down in 2003, then the government helped the bosses to reopen it. Later on they closed down the factory again, and the second victory of the Venepal workers was when the government decided to nationalise the company under workers’ control.

It is not clear what form of workers’ control this company is going to adopt. Whether it is going to be a co-op, direct control of the workers or a shared control of the company by workers and the state. However, what is true is that the plan the government is going to undertake is the plan elaborated by the workers in the company. The decision of the government to take this company over is a massive victory.

It is true that the government has not expressed a will to nationalise all companies. They say that this is not going to be the main trend, but they also say that the Venepal example is going to be the model for other companies that have closed down and have not reopened yet. The Venepal experience also boosts the confidence of the workers in Venezuela because they can see the possibility of working for a company where the boss is not a coup plotter.

All these measures, the nationalisation, the war against the big landed estates, the latifundia, the process of land reform and also the deepening of the revolution, the “Into the neighbourhoods” social programme, on health care in the poorest neighbourhoods, are all having an effect. For instance, they have announced the building of six hundred hospitals across the country. All of this is a major victory, a step forward for the movement.

These are the questions that concern imperialism, that concern the Venezuelan opposition. We should remember that the US has been suffering from the Cuba syndrome since 1961. At that time, in 1961, the revolution that initially was based on many democratic demands was later forced to go beyond the confines of capitalism. It was forced to take socialist measures.

This is what the imperialists are worried about. And this brings us to the latest Rodrigo Granda [FARC Foreign minister] case. He is a Colombian citizen who came to Venezuela and naturalised himself as Venezuelan. He had both nationalities, Colombian and Venezuelan.

He was not living in underground conditions; he was living with his family under his own name. He was recently kidnapped by Venezuelan police that had been bribed beforehand by the Colombian authorities. The imperialists have thus staged a stunt “against terrorism” and so forth.

The Venezuelan opposition recently tried to gather its forces once again and launched another march that took place on January 23. The aim was to heat things up but they were not successful. The march was a complete failure. As if this were not bad enough for the opposition, the government called another march where hundreds of thousands of people turned out in the streets.

The government gave only four or five days’ notice to call this demonstration. This shows that, as opposed to the forces of reaction, of the opposition, that are completely demoralised and demobilises, the Venezuelan people support the process of strengthening democracy and deepening the revolution. They are very active and have the ability to mobilise themselves.

It’s true that the opposition has been defeated more than once and is demoralise. However, the imperialists have not given up. They are staging more actions against the Venezuelan revolution. The imperialists are active and are looking for the easiest way to create trouble. Yes, the imperialists are active, but we are also active! We are pushing for things like nationalisation, land reform, the deepening of the social programmes and trying to sort out all the problems we have and to carry on.

I believe that from the point of view of all the people who are involved in the trade unions, the only way to achieve victory for the Venezuelan revolution is to go beyond the confines of capitalism and to install socialism in Venezuela.

Questions and answers

Question: “I was just wondering, it was very interesting to hear about the occupied factories. Are the occupied factories in Venezuela in much contact with the occupied factories in Argentina? I didn’t realise it had been happening in other countries as well.”

Answer: Today there is no such communication between factories occupied in Argentina and those occupied in Venezuela. However, two years ago when the process was alive and the workers started to occupy the factories, a delegation of Argentinean workers was invited by the secretary of labour in Venezuela to come over to visit the occupied factories.

At that time, when we had some activities, they exchanged experiences, and at the end of this visit the ministry of labour drafted a plan based on the Argentinean experience and now they are going to use this to carry out all the necessary action for the reopening of Venezuelan factories. Even now that we have achieved the nationalisation of Venepal, we should invite workers from Argentinean factories to go over to Venezuela to share more experiences.

Q: How does the organisation operate at grass roots level, because there are so many people involved? I’m interested in how they communicate. I’m not entirely clear how much the policy such as land reform is driven by the government and how much by the mass movement making the government do it.

A: Right now it is true that the government is leading the process, however we can see that from below there is a force. There is a mass of people that is pushing to have its demands heard, the demands of the community on the government. There are also land committees, grass roots organisations, that try to implement land reform not only in the countryside but also in the cities. There are also community labour groups that have managed to get works approved for new socially useful buildings and things of this kind, that are going to be controlled by the community.

Q: You mentioned workers’ control. I’m interested in this. We read it in the papers that the paper industry is coming under workers’ control. It is clear that this is far deeper than the nationalisation we have seen here in Britain. But it does not involve the whole economy. So how does it actually work? If you work in a factory that is run under workers’ control what would that mean for me in terms of how I influence what goes on?

A: Right now in Venezuela they already have experience of workers’ control in the sugar refineries. The company that the government nationalised was handed over to the workers and also to the cane sugar workers, the ones who carry the cane sugar. The company has been working well. The workers elect their own representatives to the board of administration of the company. But at the same time they also organise their own trade union. Now, this company, in spite of all the problems, is the most productive company in Venezuela. Then, there is the example of the workers in the old state owned oil company in 2002-2003. Those workers through meetings in the factories decided what to produce, how to produce it and when to produce it.

The oil workers had the support of the armed forces and the community was also there offering them support. They had the power to decide on production, distribution, supply and so forth. How could they go back to a so-called ‘normal situation’ where the workers are given orders?

The Venepal workers elaborated a project, in the form of a book with 200 to 300 pages. In this book the workers explain every little detail concerning production, from the machines, to the sheets, everything is in there, even the tea machine. And that was when the company was first closed, when the government pumped some money into the company the first time in 2001.

At that time they won a right, it was a kind of shared control of the company. There was a machine that was needed to produce power, to produce electricity. This machine broke down, so they called a technician from Germany where the machine had been originally produced. Well the workers decided to fix the machine without asking the management and now this machine is still there producing more power than before. It shows the enormous potential of the workers.

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