IV353 Venezuela 2 Part 2 (Reformated)

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at gmx.net
Wed Sep 10 09:29:20 MDT 2003

continued from part 1:

We should also mention the role played by activists of Trotskyist origin,
notably in the Democratic and Classist Bloc of Carabobo, an industrial state
in the centre of the country. This bloc is a member of the new trade union
the UNT. Also, the excellent website aporrea. org, a kind of autonomous
press agency of the Bolivarian revolution, is organized by activists of
Trotskyist origin. [E. D.]


Box: Attempted coups

After having been swept away at the elections of 1998 to 2000, the
opposition began to regain hope from 2001 onwards when the government
introduced new legislation; laws which protected small fishers against
industrial fishing, laws on land which implemented a timid but necessary
agrarian reform, new tax laws which introduce the concept of taxation in a
country where nobody was used to it. The opposition embarked on a strategy
of permanent destabilization; economic destabilization by the leaders of the
oil industry and the local and international employers, permanent
demonstrations of the middle and upper classes relayed through the media,
and military destabilization. Economic sabotage culminated in the lockout of
December 2002-January 2003. The country's key industries were brought to a
halt, while the big food companies stopped production, creating serious
shortages for the poor. In the shantytowns without access to town gas,
families had to cook with charcoal in the absence of supplies of bottled
gas. Meanwhile, international reserves melted away following a massive
flight of capital (50 billion dollars in summer 2002). Since December 2001,
Venezuela has experienced a whole year of demonstrations of the opposition
calling for the resignation of the head of state. Some attracted hundreds of
thousands of participants. Support for these demonstrations is presented by
the media as heroic opposition to the 'Castro-Communist dictatorship' of
Chavez. Between programmes, advertisements for the opposition are broadcast.
Some journalists describe the situation as a media coup d¹État. Since the
defeat of the lock-out of December 2002-January 2003, the opposition
continues to pin its hopes on a military uprising, turning its propaganda
towards the denunciation of Venezuela's protection of the Colombian FARC.
The goal is to put Venezuela on the list of "rogue states" and provoke an
extreme tension with neighbouring Colombia, the US's foremost ally in the
region (it was the only Latin American country to have supported the war in
Iraq). If the degree of radicalism of the Bolivarian revolution is to be
assessed by the radicalism of its opposition, there is no doubt that
Venezuela is in the vanguard of the anti-imperialist movement in Latin
America! [E. D]


Box: An anti-imperialist policy

For a country historically linked to the United States, the foreign policy
of Hugo Chavez constitutes a significant rupture. In the name of the
struggle against a unipolar world Venezuelan diplomacy has developed a range
of polices on Latin American integration, the strengthening of links with
OPEC and the development of economic relations with China and Russia. From
its arrival in power, the government demanded that US military forces leave
the country. It introduced a clause in the Constitution banning foreign
troops from the national territory. At the same time, the government banned
US planes headed for Colombia in the framework of Plan Colombia from flying
over Venezuela. The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) project has been
rejected by Chavez, who prefers a Latin American political integration. At
the Quebec summit, Venezuela was the only country to express reservations on
the implementation of the agreement. On Colombia, Chavez refuses to
characterize the FARC as a terrorist organization, contenting himself with
condemning the terrorist actions carried out by the guerillas. During his
electoral campaign and to this day, Chavez made solidarity with Cuba an axis
of his foreign policy. In the area of oil the two countries have signed an
agreement which has given Cuba favourable credit conditions indexed on the
international price of a barrel of oil; the higher the price, the lower the
part of the bill paid in cash and the higher the part paid in credit. Cuba
provides contingents of doctors and sports instructors in return; also, it
has cared for 5,000 Venezuelan patients in Cuban hospitals and welcomed
hundreds of students to its medical schools. Venezuela is the only Latin
American country not to have voted for the recent resolution of the UN Human
Rights Commission against Cuba and Fidel Castro is regularly hailed in
Chavez's public appearances. Venezuela has signed an oil agreement with a
dozen other Caribbean and Central American countries, with similar credit
conditions (if slightly less advantageous than the Cuban deal) which help
reduce the oil bill for small economies. Chavez welcomed the decision of the
OPEC Summit in 2000 to respect scrupulously production quotas. The immediate
consequence was a rise in the price per barrel which went from less than
US$10 to more than US$20 in a few weeks. Venezuela has sought a
rapprochement with the big exporter countries like Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran
and Iraq. Chavez has visited Saddam Hussein, becoming the sole head of state
to break the embargo decided on in 1991 by the UN Security Council.
Venezuela opposed both the war in Afghanistan and the recent war in Iraq.
Recently Chavez attacked the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade
Organization, as agencies that oppress the peoples more than they help them.
Despite all, trade relations with the US have not been modified. Venezuela
remains the main American supplier of oil to the US. The latter, which
desires the fall of Chavez and participated actively in the attempted coup
of April 2002 and recognized the transitional government of the employers'
leader Carmona, is isolated at the continental level because of the Chavez
government's strict respect for constitutional legality. The Organization of
American States had condemned the coup. Yet, outside of Fidel Castro, Chavez
has no strategic allies in America. [E. D.]

Box: The oil curse

In Venezuela, politics and oil policy are synonymous. Indeed, oil is today
the main concern of the USA. What happens in Venezuela has, then, world
repercussions. Venezuela is one of the main oil producers of the world, the
fifth biggest world exporter, the only American member of OPEC and the
second biggest oil supplier to the US, behind Saudi Arabia. The known
reserves of non-conventional, extra heavy petroleum are equivalent to the
reserves of Saudi Arabia. Oil represents 50% of tax receipts and 80% of
Venezuela's exports. From his arrival in power, Chavez had said he wanted to
make oil the motor of a new Venezuelan economy at the service of the whole
of the population. The attempted coup of April 2002 and the attempts at
destabilization of the Chavez government fit into the imperialist strategy
to control the oil resources. After the attacks of September 11, 2001 and
the suspicions of Saudi financing of the Al-Qaïda network, the US realized
that the Saudi monarchy is an increasingly unreliable ally for their energy
supplies. Hence the necessity of controlling other oil reserves, which
explains the military intervention in Afghanistan and the desire to gain
control of Iraqi oil reserves. Venezuela fits into this geopolitical agenda,
just like Plan Colombia. Under the leadership of Hugo Chavez and Ali
Rodriguez, the role of OPEC has been considerably strengthened and the price
of oil per barrel has risen from
8 to 30 dollars. The best allies of the US were found until December 2002 at
the head of Venezuela's national oil company, PDVSA. With the private media,
they are the spearhead of opposition to Chavez. Paradoxically, it was with
the nationalization of the oil industry by Carlos Andres Perez in 1976 that
the problems began. The new directors were the Venezuelan managers of the
big foreign companies who had until then been responsible for oil
exploitation. Rather than changing the political economy of oil, they would
manage PDVSA as they managed their private companies. The national company
would behave like a transnational private enterprise, one of whose central
objectives would be to escape state control. Rather than managing the
reserves to benefit future generations, the strategy adopted was to sell as
much as possible. Venezuela did not respect its production quotas, thus
reducing the price per barrel to
7 dollars. In 1976, for each barrel of oil exported, 80% of receipts ended
up in state coffers; in 2000 it was only 20%. The brunt of the oil surplus
value escaped the state through many mechanisms. The most important of them
was the so-called policy of internationalization of oil. Venezuela's most
significant strategic reserves are in extra heavy petroleum, the richest in
terms of by-products but also the most difficult to refine. PVDSA directors
invested massively abroad in refineries supposedly specializing in petroleum
of this type. Today, the PDVSA owns 8 refineries in the USA, Venezuela
becoming the first country in the South to export its capital to the North.
A network of 15,000 franchises exists in the USA for the sale of Venezuelan
products. These investments escape state control and allow profits to escape
the Venezuelan tax system. . Since Chavez came to power, the government has
demanded the opening of PDVSA books so as to subject them to an audit -
which the directors have consistently refused. While particularly high
salaries are paid to PDVSA's top managers, this policy extends to nearly all
the company's permanent employees, who have become the best-paid wage
earners in Venezuela. As a consequence PDVSA workers are more linked to the
survival of the system than to the working class. Thus, when the PDVSA
directors and the trade union confederation, historically and organically
linked to the AD, the pivotal party of the old political regime, decided to
halt oil production, the permanent workers to a large extent supported the
"strike". The PDVSA temporary workers refused to bend to this strategy of
strangulation of the country. These workers are members of Fedepetrol, one
of the most important trade union federations in the CTV, which has since
the beginning refused to follow the employers' strike movement. The response
of the Chavez government from December 2002 onwards has been firm. Oil has
become an element of national security and emergency measures have been
taken. The militarization of the sites has put an end to the sabotage of the
managers and technicians. All those who had left their posts or participated
in sabotage were dismissed, or around 15,000 people. These dismissals are
justified by the fact that the strike was a political strike with an
insurrectional character. "The proof that all this bureaucracy was not
needed is the fact that the oil industry has resumed production without the
dismissed workers" said Ali Rodriguez in February. In fact the company is
essentially being run by the temporary employees, with the active
participation of Fedepetrol. This has allowed the latter's secretary
general, Rafael Rosales, to demand that the government establish a new type
of co-management of the company with its rank and file employees.

1. Ali Rodriguez, a former guerilla, has specialized in the analysis of the
oil industry. He has served as Chavez's minister of energy and Venezuela's
representative at OPEC and is currently director of the PDVSA. [E. D.]

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