Venezuela: US-backed right wing murders unionists, attacks revolutionary gains
A statement from the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network
November 28, 2008 -- In the aftermath of the November 23 regional elections, Venezuela’s right-wing opposition has launched, in the states it won, an all-out assault on grassroots community organisations.
President Hugo Chavez and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won a clear mandate in the elections for the project to build socialism of the 21st century: the PSUV won 17 states with 5,730,774 votes nationwide, compared to the opposition’s 3,948,912 votes. The opposition’s vote was concentrated in key strategic areas, giving them the governorships of five states and the mayor of Greater Caracas.
In the days following the elections, grassroots activists in Caracas, Miranda and Tachira have reported that the public community health clinics (part of Barrio Adentro, the free universal healthcare program), communal councils and other centres where social programs operate are being shut down or attacked by opposition party, despite the public assurances of at least one right-wing govenor-elect that the legal frameworks would be respected.
Venezuelan radio station YKVE Mundial reported on November 25 that “people sent by the new authorities of the governorship of Miranda arrived in the early hours of the morning in Baruta, to an Integral Diagnostic Centre [public health clinics], where they shut down a House of Popular Power” where the local grassroots communal councils operate. Cleira Ruiz, local coordinator of Mission Ribas in Mariche, reported that people from the far-right Justice First party harassed the centre, and tried to remove the people inside and take the keys.
Gerson Rivas, a representative of Fundacommunal (communal bank) in the municipality of Guaicaipuro in the state of Miranda, reported that Cuban doctors were being intimidated by Justice First supporters, who were threatening to kick them out of the Barrio Adentro modules.
William Castillo, vice-president of Venezolana de Televisión, reported that groups have also tried to attack the Caracas office of alternative television channel Avila TV.
More disturbingly, three activists in Venezuela's national trade union peak body, the UNT, were brutally murdered two days after the elections.
From the state of Tachira, won by the right wing, Ana Rivero reported to YVKE Mundial that, although the new governor, Cesar Perez, had not yet assumed his position, “functionaries” had ordered coordinators of the missions to leave the state schools where the missions operate, and that this order is being applied across the whole state. She said that classes in Mission Ribas in the school Timoteo Chacón de Santa Ana, in the municipality of Cordoba, where she studies, have been suspended until they can find another location.
María Malpica, the PSUV mayor-elect in Colon municipality in Zulia, reported that riots were being promoted by the opposition with the aim of preventing her from taking office, and that eight people were injured in the clashes.
YKVE Mundial reported that street battles broke out in Los Teques, the capital of Miranda, on November 26. Carmen Bermúdez, who witnessed the incident, told YKVE Mundial that the violence erupted when right-wing governor-elect Capriles Radonski arrived in Plaza Bolivar in Los Teques accompanied by men on motorbikes and police from the municipalities of Rosales and Carrizal. The police and Capriles’ private thugs violently attacked people congregated in the plaza for the inauguration of the new PSUV mayor of Los Teques, Alirio Mendoza.
As well, workers in the Integral Diagnostic Centre in Los Dos Caminos in Sucre municipality reported on November 27 that members of Justice First have threatened to burn down the building and are circulating a petition to remove the Cuban doctors. Similar incidents have been reported in Carabobo. In the state of Barinas, which was won by the PSUV, opposition groups have launched violent attacks, refusing to accept the outcome of the vote.
In 2002 the Venezuelan opposition, backed by the United States, launched a military coup against the democratically elected Chavez government. However, the coup was defeated within 48 hours by a mass uprising of workers and the poor, together with rank-and-file soldiers.
In Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, major social gains for the poor and working people have been won by the grassroots movements together with the pro-people polices promoted by Chavez. Extensive education programs have eradicated illiteracy and the introduction of universal healthcare has meant that many poor Venezuelans have been able to visit a doctor for the first time. Under wealth redistribution policies factories have been nationalised and put under workers’ control, and unused land has been distributed to peasants.
The US government has given millions of dollars to Venezuela’s opposition groups in an effort to roll back the democratic revolution in Venezuela. These latest attacks are part of a broader strategy to get rid of Chavez and reassert imperialist control of the nation.
Responding to the opposition attacks, Jesse Chacon, the PSUV candidate for Sucre, told VTV on November 25 that, “Any attempt to roll back what the people have conquered is going to generate conflict, because the people are organised … The people will not allow it!" In a televised speech on November 27, Chavez also responded, stating that the national government and the armed forces, together with the people, would act to defend the missions and social services.
The minister for justice has also made public statements to clarify the obligations and role within the state of the governors-elect, including that they must not abuse the power invested in them. El Aissami specifically reminded the newest governors-elect of the importance of not abusing police powers.
The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network stands in solidarity with President Chavez and the grassroots Bolivarian movement against the right wing’s latest attacks. We call for the democratic process in Venezuela to be respected by the new oppostion governors, and for an end to all United States interference in Venezuela’s sovereign affairs.
Stop the opposition attacks in Venezuela!
Stop US intervention in Venezuela!
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The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network AVSN has brought together a range of existing organisations and supportive individuals now campaigning to demand US hands off Venezuela and to break down the mass media's silence and lies in regard to the Bolivarian Revolution. The Network was formed at the Second National Australian Conference in Solidarity with Latin America in 2004.
The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network is an organisation of volunteers. The success of our activities in support of the Venezuelan people depends on the energy and commitment of people around Australia.
If you have some time, skills and/or enthusiasm to offer the AVSN, please get in touch with us. Help with everything from fundraising, to letter-writing, phone calls and computer work, to Spanish-English translations – and lots of other things - is always greatly appreciated.
AVSN has three main aims:
1. Support communities and organisations participating in the
fundamental social transformation now underway in the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela.
2. Campaign against the US led aggression against the Chavez government and people's of Venezuela.
3. Demand that the Australian government condemn the U.S intervention in Venezuela's sovereign affairs.
The Network coordinates activities in four main areas:
1. INFORMATION CAMPAIGNS to inform trade unions, student and
community organisations and the Australian public in general of the
struggles of Venezuela's people.
2. AID PROJECTS that assist local communities in Venezuela.
3. BRIGADES, EXCHANGES & TOURS to promote the interchange of experiences between Australian and Venezuelan communities in struggle.
4. ACTIONS & PROTESTS in support of Venezuela's people and against foreign aggression.
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Venezuelan trade union leaders shot dead, workers call for armed self-defence
The union leaders were gunned down by an armed assassin on a motorbike as they made their way home after participating that day in a labour dispute with the Colombian-owned Alpina food processing company.
There is speculation that the attack was carried out by paramilitaries hired by the Colombian company, which is reported to have utilised paramilitaries in similar disputes in its home country. Patricia Rivas writing for YKVE Mundial on November 28 pointed out that the attacks resembled a method of assassination commonly used against unionists and social movement activists in Colombia, known as sicariato, whereby hired gunmen on motorbikes carry out drive-by shootings.
However, the day before, the unionists had also been attacked by the Aragua state police aligned with outgoing opposition governor Didalco Bolivar. Bolivar, who was previously an ally of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez but defected to the right-wing opposition in the lead up to the constitutional reform referendum in Venezuela in 2007, has previously deployed the state police against workers in labour disputes.
In a press conference on November 27 Hernández had denounced that 400 Alpina workers had been brutally repressed by the police, "The workers were inside the factory demanding from the company that they pay, in full and quickly, the money owing, when the police unexpectedly entered the premises and in a brutal manner began to kick out the workers."
We immediately contacted workers in the rest of the area and "in a matter of minutes the company was surrounded by workers affiliated to the National Union of Workers (UNT). Thanks to this act of solidarity we managed to regain control of the factory and the workers have occupied it again," Hernandez had told the media.
Hernández, Gallardo and Requena were known as "implacable fighters" for workers' rights who "never bowed down in the face of constant threats by bosses, union bureaucrats and elements of the public force that are enemies of the workers," a statement by the United Socialist Left said.
"We render tribute to our murdered comrades who showed us, by their example and behaviour, that the rights of workers must be respected. The comrades offered their life for the principle of the defence of the interests of the working class and of socialism."
"In their name and with their example we will continue the battle for the socialist revolution, expropriating from the bosses, breaking definitively with imperialism and building a government of the workers and the people," the statement continued.
The workers are calling for the incoming governor of Aragua Mario Isea, a member of Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and the national government to immediately carry out a full investigation.
The attorney general's office responded that it has launched an investigation and assigned national public prosecutor Orlando Villamizar and Aragua state prosecutor Elas Pérez, to head up investigations.
The incident highlights the growing class conflict that has erupted across Venezuela in the aftermath of the November 23 regional elections. Numerous reports have surfaced of Venezuela's elite, US-backed opposition launching a campaign of violence and intimidation against trade unionists, grass roots community organisations and pro-revolution social movements, particularly in the areas where they won.
In a statement in solidarity with the workers in Aragua, the Carabobo section of the UNT said the incidents are not isolated and that many cases of sicariato have occurred across the country, particularly in the construction sector, against unions in the private sector and against peasant leaders fighting for land reform in the countryside.
The statement argued that there had been no serious investigations into the many cases of sicariato and that the governmental bodies such as the police and the attorney general's office had been incapable of responding to such incidents.
Stalin Perez Borges, a national coordinator of the UNT, argued "President Chavez and the national government must carry out an investigation to the ultimate consequences and with mobilisation we must defeat impunity."
Perez Borges added that workers could not simply rely on the "ordinary justice" system because it often sided with the right-wing opposition and bosses against workers and instead called for the formation of a special commission comprised of workers organisations whose investigations "have the force of the law."
"For this reason, at the same time, we convoke the immediate organisation of popular workers self-defence. The government must grant all the resources for the training and armed defence of the workers and their leaders. It will not be the corrupt police, in many cases the direct assassins, who will prevent these crimes. It will be us, the workers. We propose…our own self-defence against fascism," he said.
Similarly, in a speech on Thursday highlighting a number of opposition attacks against Cuban doctors, education and health missions and community organisations Chavez, who described himself as a "subversive" in Miraflores presidential palace called for the "permanent mobilisation" of the Venezuelan people to defend the Bolivarian Revolution.
By Jorge Martin
December 2, 2008 -- Speaking during the swearing in of the newly elected PSUV governor of Aragua, Rafael Isea, Venezuelan president Chávez ordered a full investigation into the killing of three trade union leaders in the state and threatened to nationalise any companies which violate workers' rights.
He insisted that "no crime should be left unpunished, neither this one nor any other one" and explained that the killings of trade union leaders Richard Gallardo, Carlos Requena and Luis Hernandez were an action of sicariato, a political assassination.
Referring to the Colombian owned dairy plant Alpina, he said "a certain company needs to be investigated. It is a foreign-owned company where they were fighting against the attacks of the company. I have ordered an investigation into the actions of this company." He added, "because there are companies in other parts of the world which have even used contract killings against workers' and peasant leaders, and now they want to bring these practices here. We cannot allow this in Venezuela! And we must fight strongly against it."
In a reference to the use of the Aragua police force against the workers by the former opposition governor Didalco Bolivar he said: "Isea, you have all my support to radically transform the police and the security forces of the Aragua state"
Later on in the same speech, Chavez mentioned the social and economic conflicts in Aragua and asked to be updated about the struggle of the Sanitarios Maracay workers. "All those companies where there are problems with the workers, where workers are not paid their wages, where the employers exploit the workers, or where a company closes down and does not pay its workers, or where it has become indebted and cannot pay its workers, well, they have to be recovered, nationalised, taken over". Adding "this is what socialism is, the social ownership of the means of production".
President Chávez also stressed that in this (the take over and nationalisation of companies), "the working class has a key role to play" and made an appeal to the "workers of Aragua, the working class".
This is not the first time that Chavez makes a clear appeal to the working class to take over factories to be nationalised. However in the past, the leaders of the UNT trade unions (either because they oppose workers' control or because of a sectarian approach towards the government) had not used this opportunity to launch a serious campaign of factory occupations and a nation-wide struggle for workers' control.
Only one organisation in Venezuela, the Revolutionary Front of Occupied Factories (Freteco) has made an effort to put these appeals into practice, but with limited forces. In some cases, like the struggle of Sanitarios Maracay, in Aragua, the workers did occupy the factory and actually started producing under workers' control. But the then Minister of Labour Ramon Rivero publicly refused to nationalise the company and sabotaged the struggle of the workers. The different wings in the leadership of the UNT also played a dreadful role in this struggle, some openly supporting the strike breaking role of the Minister of Labour, others (like Orlando Chirino) opposing the idea of nationalisation under workers' control and even proposing that the workers should negotiate with a different set of capitalist owners.
The struggle of the workers' at Sanitarios Maracay encapsulates the main problems of the Venezuelan revolution: the sabotage of the right wing bureaucracy in the leadership of the Bolivarian movement, the fact that the old capitalist state apparatus is still in place and was used against the workers, and the lack of a serious alternative at the head of the workers' movement.
All this is in contrast with the revolutionary spirit of struggle of the Venezuelan workers, which in the early hours of Tuesday, December 2nd, organised mass workplace meetings, rallies, road blockades and work stoppages in Aragua, as part of the regional day of protest against the killing of the three trade union leaders. The first reports of the protests talk about workers in the following companies being involved: Produvisa, Cervecería Regional, Vasos Selva, Cativen, Remavenca, HV Envases, Industrias Iberia, Alconca, Plumrose, Titán, Diablitos Underwood, Pepsio-Cola, Toronocas, Venezolana de Riego, Serviquim, Sindicato de la Alcaldía del municipio Zamora, Nestlé, Vasos Dixie, Tupaca, Manpa Higiénico, Sanitarios Maracay, Mom, Aluminios Reynolds, Galletera Puig, Central El Palmar, Cebra, Inica. Rallies and road blockades were organised in Villa de Cura, Cagua and Maracay, paralysing the whole of the state.
The only way to put an end to the reactionary provocations and killings is by taking away economic and political power from the bosses, the bankers and the landlords. This is the task of the working class of Venezuela and the only way to guarantee the victory of the Bolivarian revolution.