A Colombian View Of Venezuela

Bob Rogers brogers at cet.com
Thu Jan 2 10:53:23 MST 2003


ZNet Commentary Of "Lungos" And "Senoritos"
A Colombian View Of Venezuela
January 02, 2003 By Hector Mondragon

At the petroleum refinery of Barrancabermeja the workers who are
consigned to hard manual labour are called 'lungos'. There are a lot of them
and they earn very little. They are almost all temporary labourers and they
live
in the poor neighbourhoods. When the 'lungos' go on strike, technology
guarantees that production doesn't totally stop-so even when the majority of
the workers are united in protest, if they can't actually stop the plant from
functioning, the engineers, supervisors, and managers can keep the refinery
going under 'contingency plans'.

Right now the oil-workers union of Colombia, USO (Union Sindical Obrera),
is getting ready to go on strike in response to the Uribe government's
offensive. That offensive is headed by Isaac Yanovich, a businessman from
the private banking sector who has been named president of the state oil
company. The workers, who struggled and won the creation of a national oil
company (Ecopetrol), have resisted its privatization for the past 25 years.
They have paid a terrible price for their resistance: 100 union leaders and
activists assassinated (4 during 2002, which saw 160 Colombian unionists
killed), 2 disappeared, 10 kidnapped, 31 imprisoned (6 of whom are still in
prison), and 250 fired (11 of whom were fired just a few days ago).

It is in such difficult conditions that the Colombian oil-workers are
preparing
their strike for the beginning of 2003. The victory of their movement will
depend on their ability to halt production. For this reason the union and the
government are both putting forth massive efforts to win the engineers and
supervisors to their side. If the union is unable to win these over, the
workers
will have no option but to occupy the plant. This will mean that they will
face
military repression like they did in 1971. In that year, as workers in the
union
remember well, worker Fermin Amaya was murdered as he was about to
stop production at the Barranca refinery.

Next door in Venezuela, the world is flipped entirely upside down. There, the
'lungos' are working intensely while the call to strike is followed with
fervour
and without hesitation by the managers. On December 2 the managerial body
of Venezuela's state oil company, PDV (Petroleros de Venezuela), blocked
the entrance to the refinery and used their vehicles to stop the workers, the
'lungos'-who had showed up to work in massive numbers-- from entering.
The same managerial body was joined by the executive of labour relations in
its attempts to bar the entry of workers.

But the real strength of the strike in Venezuela has been in the computers
that
control the giant and highly automated petroleum industry. Even though the
PDV is nominally state-owned and run, the computer system is in the hands
of the 'mixed' (public-private) enterprise Intesa. The party with the
technical
skill in the partnership is the Science Applications International
Corporation
(SAIC)-a transnational computing company. Among its directors: ex-US
Secretaries of Defense William Perry and Melvin Laird; ex-directors of the
CIA John Deutsch, Robert Gates; Admiral Bobby Ray Inman (ex-director of
the National Security Agency); other retired military staff including Wayne
Downing (former commander in chief of US Special Forces) and Jasper
Welch (ex-coordinator of the National Security Council).

The hold-up of the oil-tankers was directed from these computing centers.
The hold-up was welcomed by various captains, but the tankers were forced
to shore in any case: nothing moves without direction from the computers,
which also stopped key operations in the refineries and the entry of vital
gas
for the iron and steel industries of eastern Venezuela. 'Lungos' from Guayana
had to recover the gas.

The high salaries, privileges, and commissions of the managers, labour
relations chiefs, systems engineers, and tanker captains has become a useful
weapon of political control for the transnational corporations who seek to
privatize Venezuela's (and Colombia's, Ecuador's, and Brazil's) petrol
industry.

This 'middle' class with its disposable income is the political base of the
right
in Colombia and Venezuela (and its heroes are Bush, Aznar, or Berlusconi).
It is the electoral force behind Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe Velez and
behind the coup in Venezuela. Washington uses the mailed fist in Colombia
and the velvet glove in Venezuela, but in both cases its local support is
from
these 'middle' classes who, like Bush himself, are too deaf to hear of the
assassinations of unionists in Colombia but scream in rage if a hair on the
head of a manager or oil-tanker captain in Venezuela is touched; who are
quiet when 2 million Colombians are displaced from their lands but enraged
by the Venezuelan Land Law when it threatens the unproductive ranches of
large Venezuelan landowners.

On September 16 2002, Colombian peasants were treated cruelly for their
protests on the highways. Their food was burned. They were denied drinking
water. They were surrounded by the military and their leaders were arrested.
3 were disappeared. International delegates were deported. 7 of the protest
leaders have since been assassinated, one disappeared, and many others
harassed and threatened with murder. They stand accused-of blocking the
roads. In Venezuela on the other hand, the 'middle' and upper classes
blocked roads with their Mercedes Benz and BMWs, and their rights were
respected.

In Cali, Colombia, the public service workers have been protesting
privatization. The young workers of the apprentices' union have been
protesting to maintain state control over the apprenticeship institution,
SENA.
Both sectors have been incessantly, brutally attacked and the international
media have nothing to say. The media are silent as well on the daily
confrontations on the Caribbean coast of Colombia when the privatized
electricity company tries to cut electricity to thousands of indebted, poor
people. Neither popular protest nor state repression make the international
news if they occur in Colombia which, to the media, is a land strictly of
terrorism and drugs.

The 'middle' class ought to watch out though-sometimes it can end up the
victim of its own heroes, whether they be politicians like Bush or the
mainstream media itself. That was what happened with the 'corralito' in
Argentina, when the whole country-including the 'middle class'-mobilized
against the banks and were denounced for it in the media.

Until this happen the 'senoritos' in wealthy eastern Caracas, in the Chico of
Bogota and of Miami, will be the darlings of the media.

Hector Mondragon is an economist and activist in Colombia. [This article
was translated from Spanish by Justin Podur.]


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