Venezuela: Anemic Strike Needs a Blood Transfusion

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Sat Dec 21 04:53:11 MST 2002

(From Radio Progreso
One of the most frustrating things for
the rightist opposition in Venezuela is
that the government has scrupulously
AVOIDED the use of violence while doing
what it must to maintain law and order
in the country. Each of these important
experiences are part of the educational
processes being build up among the mass
base of the Bolivarian movement: the
workers, women and indiginous oppressed.

(This firm, patient, pedagogical method
helps prepare the public for decisive
action at the point it becomes needed.)

Venezuela: An Anemic Strike Needs a Blood Transfusion
By Manuel Alberto Ramy

Mar at

"Joao, the new voice of Portuguese nostalgia."  This could
be the title of a Portuguese CD.  But Joao Gouveia, born in
Portugal, is neither singer nor musician, although he most
certainly knows how to tune his instrument.  Joao is a
contract killer, competitor to "The Jackal".  He flew from
Lisbon to Caracas December 5 landing at Simón Bolívar
International Airport.  He had a contract to keep.  He was
an important piece in the important turn of events, that
since December 2, are taking place in Venezuela.

The turn

At the same time that Gouveia was landing in Caracas, the
Venezuelan opposition began a dangerous turn in its action
against the government of the 5th Republic.  The Democratic
Coalition (DC), who coordinates the opposition, decided to
turn a peaceful strike that began on December 2, to an
"active protest" in the streets bordering on violence.  Why
the change?  Was it an answer to the strike's evolution,
favorable to their interests?  Or was it a symptom that
things were going from bad to worse and they had to force
their hand?

After three days of strikes, the opposition had not been
able to incorporate the majority of the productive sectors -
from workers to their managers.  Even among members of the
powerful business organization Fedecámaras, the lockout was
not unanimously accepted. Several local chapters in
different states not only turned a deaf ear to the call to
strike, but also publicly disagreed with it(1).  The
greatest success in favor of the strike took place on the
east side of the capital, home to the wealthiest members of
a society that has 80% of its citizens in extreme poverty or
bordering on it.

Carlos Ortega, Secretary General of Venezuela's Central
Union (CTV), said, "The corporate response to the strike had
decreased considerably yesterday (Panorama Digital,
12/04/02)."  This deduction was not Ortega's only; foreign
media - generally hostile to the government - have reported
that this fourth strike has had less support, and has been
less effective, than the previous three attempts.  Indeed,
the strike's support on a national level, and on the part of
businessmen and workers, has fallen short of the promoters'
expectations.  In general, economic activity continues and
the main service providers have not gone on strike.  Even
the Association of Businessmen for Venezuela (ASE)(2)
decided not to strike.

A strike with a radically political goal such as toppling a
government demands an overwhelming majority.

The Ochoa Antich brother: a telling conversation

While the media boasted of the the strike's success, two of
the main opposition leaders danced to a different tune.
Fernando and Enrique Ocho Antich were captured evaluating
current events during a telephone conversation.  But
someone: was it the Venezuelan secret services?  Or maybe a
private agency? Someone taped the dialogue later broadcast
by National Radio and the Venezolana TV chain.

The older brother, Fernando, was Minister of Defense under
former president Carlos Andrés Pérez, constitutionally
impeached, tried and found guilty of corruption.  Enrique,
the kid brother, is a Caracas alderman.

During the conversation Fernando Ochoa Antich (FOA) said:
"The strike - here - is becoming weaker".

Enrique Ochoa Antich (EOA): "And here.I can see a strong
decrease", adding: ".yesterday we considered making the oil
people (PDVSA) strike, or maybe not, because they claim it's
a difficult situation.  Yes, yes, if we take that step we
can't turn back."

FOA:  "How's that?

EOA: "They (the oil people) have taken some administrative
measures, but. they had to know if they were going to take
the next step. it wasn't for one day anymore, but for 72
hours, and we were concerned with making them strike,
because it could develop into the same thing that happened
to us with the Armed Forces.on April 11, understand?. and
then our people at PDVSA get screwed."

FOA: "But. our people are out in the street."

EOA:  "People are already going to work, stores that were
closed yesterday are opening.the problem is that there is
not enough strength to negotiate, because now it seems that
the government doesn't care. The threat was stronger than
the effect. the threat was a better weapon for negotiations
than the actual result."

FOA:  "But we have to take to the streets."

EOA:  "They (others in the opposition) say they're going to
do it."

FOA:  "Look, the most they can do is to create traffic

EOA:  "Yes."

FOA:  "Let's be frank, we Venezuelans are not cut out for

In another part of the conversation, FOA says: "We are going
to send for Gaviria (the OAS Secretary General) urgently
asking to set up the negotiating table, which is the only
way out for us, and sign any document put on the table, and
then say that the strike was a victory for us."

The Ochoa brothers have not denied the contents of the tape.
In declarations to a Miami radio station, they simply said
that the tape was evidence of the doings of the intelligence
service in their country.  But they did not deny the

To date, December 5 facts are:

1.  The strike has been a failure.

2.  Possibility of military support was nil, due to changes
in commands made by the government after the failed coup

3.  The fact that PDVSA went on strike is a point of no
return.  If the strike breaks down, the opposition would
lose its main bastion.

4.  Taking to the streets was an option, but their people
were unwilling.

5.  The negotiation table, sponsored by Gaviria in the name
of the OAS, would be an elegant way out for them, and they
could claim that the failed strike had been a victory.

The Opposition: The Active Strike

The opposition formed by business sectors, the leaders of
the CTV, a number of new political organizations and the
remains of the traditional parties is not monolithic.  Their
common goal is to wrest power from the present government,
but they do not agree on how, and on the limit, of their

In this fourth general strike attempt, and based on its
obvious failure, the opposition was divided on whether to
continue striking or to search for an elegant way out
possibly keeping their followers in key posts, for example,
in PDVSA.  So in order to continue they must raise the ante,
thereby forcing participation through force.

While Fernando Ochoa Antich and others view the OAS'
participation as one that would convene negotiations and
thus save face, other sectors decided to force the national
situation through streets demonstrations that they refer to
as "the active strike".  With this step they have forced
more prudent colleagues to remain on board.  And they've
decided to press Venezuelan society through the spread of
fear, chaos and violence.  The job of promoting fear was
left to the media by broadcasting the violence.

Related to this matter, President Chávez, in a statement to
the media, mentioned television news in which "we saw the
images of how they threw a Molotov cocktail to a gentleman,
and almost burned him alive in his van. that's what they
call 'active strike'." (Panorama Digital, 12/94/02)

On the other hand, the increased disorders pretend to force
the government's hand and make it use harsher measures that
can provoke deaths.  Fortunately, up to the moment, that has
not occurred.

But the most extreme and hard sectors - with or without the
knowledge of colleagues - concluded that if the strike was
anemic, a transfusion of blood was needed.  Some observers
identify the 'transfusionists' with people related to the
seditious military that are demonstrating in Altamira Plaza.

A killer acts in only one scene.  If he shows his hand
twice, he has lost.  Certainly Joao Gouveia took a stroll
around the city to make himself feel at home, gathering the
pulse of the situation, planning adequate camouflage for the
precise moment, and then choosing the most efficient escape
route.  He was staying in Room 19 at the "Tres Santos"
(Three Saints), a seraphic name for the hotel that harbored
the man who several hours later would inject blood to the
moribund strike.

While the killer stalked his prey, the "active strike" made
its debut in front of the offices of PDVSA, the state
enterprise that controls the Venezuelan oil industry.  The
objective: two-fold.  First, pressure the white-collar
workers, through them extraction and distribution of oil
could be paralyzed.  In highly automated industries such as
this one, a simple delay in pressing a button means that
several tons stop flowing, and thus the adherence of the
blue collar worker, as well as the whole country, would
happen as a by-product.  They were trying to impose
paralysis, to throw their people into the strike.

The second objective was to provoke clashes with the
National Guard, since the offices of PDVSA are in a zone
under military control (La Carlota airport).  The protest
was dissolved with tear gas, and in spite of the
opposition's media efforts, it couldn't show a single
serious casualty.

César Gaviria and OAS Intervention

Those in favor of "saving face" through the OAS did not
remain idle calling for a demonstration that marched to the
Meliá hotel, where Gaviria is staying.  According to
authorized sources, a letter asked the OAS secretary general
for an immediate answer on the issue of elections, as well
as the application of the OAS Democratic Charter.

The new version of the strike happened in the midst of
negotiations backed by the OAS, with the government's OK, a
surprising attitude to many local and foreign observers.
The opposition sat at the table with hopes of attaining its
favorite menu item, elections on February 2, as a crisis
solution.  But that dish is not in the constitutional
charter and would not be served; the only solution was an
August 2003 referendum as written in the constitution.  To
achieve this they (the opposition) must have participation
from 20% of registered voters, and 25% of those voters must
take part in the referendum.  Even if the opposition
complies with the first two requisites, the toughest one
still remains.  Chávez won the presidency with 57% of votes,
a record in Venezuelan contemporary history. According to
the Constitution, to revoke his mandate they need a minimum,
equivalent to the same number of votes he received.  That's
an improbable task.

And next is Gaviria's and the OAS' dilemma.  In other words,
what can be done? Support a way out not foreseen legally or
constitutionally?  Even if the OAS Secretary General desires
Chavez's resignation - which I personally believe is what he
wants, his margin for action is narrow.

What the opposition is also asking for - the application of
the OAS Democratic Charter - is impossible.   The Venezuelan
situation does not qualify at this moment, and from a
procedural point of view, the General Assembly of Foreign
Ministers would have to convene, for only they have the
power to make that decision; second, the application of the
clause demands that it should be approved by two thirds of
the foreign ministers.

But the situation in the region makes it even more
difficult.  Social unrest is everywhere. President Battle of
Uruguay has an approval rate of 14%; Peru's President Toledo
had a ridiculous rate of 11% some months ago.  And what's
can you say about Argentina?

If the mechanism of a seditious minority works in Venezuela,
it would open the doors to cloning the method in an
explosive region such as Latin America.  'Ungovernability'
would run rampant.

Gaviria's and the OAS' task as facilitators has been quite
limited.  Even if he wanted to, he couldn't turn over the
cards played by the opposition.  On the other side of the
negotiating table, the government has at all times acted
under the law.  Even in the case of the tankers paralyzed by
its striking skippers, the authorities went strictly by the
book. The opposition had to force the situation.

What to do?  Gouveia, the planned solution

On December 6, at approximately 6:30 p.m., Joao, who perhaps
thinks that OAS is a new product on sale, left the "Tres
Santos" and turned on the corner of Pilita Street headed to
Baralt Avenue.  He was carrying a Glock with three
magazines, each with 15 bullets. Around 7 p.m. he reached
Altamira Plaza, where people from the opposition were
demonstrating.  He surveyed the crowd, maybe staring
momentarily at a beautiful woman.  He chose a group.  And
then he shot randomly until the three magazines were empty
of the 45 bullets.  He killed three people and wounded
almost 20 more.  He tried to escape, but was captured.

Immediately, the opposition accused the government.  But
Gouveia upon being deposed said, according to journalistic
and official sources, that he had received 35 million
bolivars (about $30,000 dollars) and pointed the finger at
former general Enrique Medina Gómez - one of the leaders in
the failed April coup now demonstrating in Altamira plaza -
as the key man in the operation.  In the streets, common
Venezuelans now ask themselves: Who gains from the crime?
And the truth is reached by way of the answer.

Twenty-four hours after the crime two men stopped Frank
Reyes, inspector of the criminal police division
investigating the Gouveia case, just as he reached his home.
They forced him into a van where he was threatened and told
to "be careful of what you put in the file."  They pushed
him out of the van and "shot him twice. One of the shots
wounded him on the chest, the other grazing his head
(Panorama Digital, 09/12/02)." But Inspector Reyes is out of
danger.  Facts, as well as the inspector's health, have been
of little interest to international media.

The new events and perspectives

1.  Immediately, Gaviria called for dialogue where each side
has basically maintained its initial positions.  But the new
reality on the negotiating table is one connected to the
fact that paralyzing of the oil industry, as an opposition
weapon, has lost its capacity to install pressure.  First,
the process of extraction and distribution is witnessing a
reanimation. Second, The Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries (OPEC) has guaranteed the government it will cover
its demand for crude, both external and internal, as long as
the country needs it.  This decision's importance is
remarkable because it minimizes the effectiveness of the
selective effort of the white-collar strikers in PDVSA,
where the government has already fired five managers.  But
above all, its political impact is invaluable, for time is
on the government's side.  It's the opposition, and the
economic sector, who now is pressed for time.  How long will
they keep their attitude of pressing the government and
hurting their pockets?

2.  This new situation has forced external factors - the
Bush administration and the OAS - to define their position.
Will it go public with greater clarity in its support of the
opposition?  In fact, the Bush administration recently
announced it was in favor of anticipated elections; in other
words, violating the Venezuelan Constitution and the law. Up
to the moment, there are few signs that the government would
be willing to accept a requirement against established law.

3.  The OAS is now under the pressures of the U.S.
executive, as the organism charged with finding
justification to intervene in Venezuela's internal affairs
under the Latin American umbrella.  The second impact may be
produced internally with two variants. The first would be --
and due to the support of the United States - an increase of
more aggressive demonstrations by the opposition and more
violent confrontations.  The second is related to the Armed
Forces (up to now loyal to the government) in terms that may
foster a military coup.  But we can't discard that there
could be pressure on the government by the military, but in
an opposite direction: in other words, a demand for greater
radicalization.  Among the military and civilians that back
the government, there are people of a more radical position
than the president himself.

Obviously a new chapter of unforeseen consequences has


(Editor's Note: This article was written taking into account
events that had transpired in the dynamic Venezuelan
situation - which changes daily - up to December 13th.)

(1) A dispatch by Venpres news agency on 12/01/02 informed
that "executives, businessmen and different sectors
affiliated to the Federation of Chambers and Associations of
Commerce and Production of Venezuela (Fedecámaras) of the
Bolívar and Apure states rejected by a majority the strike
for next Monday called on by the top businessmen, the
Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV) and the
Democratic Coordination.

"The news was confirmed by Senén Torralba, president of the
Fedécamaras Bolívar chapter, and Gebram Agaw, of the Apure

(2)  A dispatch by Venpres news agency on 12/01/02 said that
the president of the Association of Businessmen for
Venezuela, Alejandro Uzcátegui, declared that "it's
incredible that the leaders of Fedecámaras insist on another
strike.  Our motto is no to the strike, yes to work.  We
certainly are against this paralyzation, we believe it will
fail the same way that the last one on October 21."

Manuel Alberto Ramy is editor of the Spanish-language page
of Progreso Weekly and Havana correspondent for Radio
Progreso Alternativa.

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