Chavez stays in charge

By February 2003 the Venezuelan government had defeated a ten week campaign of economic obstruction centred on the state oil company – PDVSA. The rich, the middle classes and the oil industry’s labour aristocracy aimed to maintain the rule of a few rich over the mass of impoverished Venezuelans by pulling down the government and pushing forward the privatisation of the industry that was stopped by President Chavez. Now, after enormous effort by the rank and file workers, Venezuelan oil production will reach 2.7 million barrels per day by the end of March, compared to 3 million before the attempted ‘economic coup’. The leaders of the sabotage are being brought to the courts, while the government works to repair the damage done to its policies for social justice.

On 20 February corrupt CTV union leader Carlos Ortega went into hiding after a warrant was issued for his arrest for rebellion and incitement charges. In March he asked for political asylum at the Costa Rican embassy and the government agreed to safe passage out of the country. Ortega’s flight follows those of the April 2002 defeated coup leader Pedro Carmona to Colombia and naval officer Carlos Molina to El Salvador (see FRFI 167). Also on 20 February Carlos Fernandez, President of the Fedecamaras (chambers of commerce federation) was placed under house arrest and charged with criminal conspiracy and civil rebellion. In March the CTV union’s next main spokesman Manuel Cova was summoned to appear before the attorney general. Charges have been filed against seven fugitive executives of the state oil company. Some 15,000 employees, 80% of them managers and white-collar workers involved in the political strike, have been fired. 25,000 employees remain.

The privately owned TV and radio stations that promoted the attempted military coup of April 2002 and the recent economic sabotage, have had legal documents served on them, threatening closure if they continued to undermine the constitutional legitimacy of the government and participate in attempts to overthrow it. They ran an average of 700 pro-‘strike’ adverts every day and changed normal programming to promote anti-government acts. Given their owners’ leading agitating and propaganda role against the legitimate government, they were the last to return to ‘normal’ operations in the second week of February. New regulations are now approved by the National Assembly to control this hysterical anti-government propaganda.

Lost production cost PDVSA over $5 billion, forcing the government to cut the national budget. The losses are the sharpest on record, greatly reducing foreign currency holdings. New foreign exchange controls went into effect on 5 February after the government suspended foreign exchange trading by the Central Bank on 22 January.

Big business is passing on the costs of its anti-Chavez campaign to the workers. Car-makers laid off workers while they sell off accumulated stocks. General Motors, which sold 25,945 of the 74,560 vehicles assembled in the country in 2002, has made its 1,800 employees stay away and take a 25% pay cut until some 6,000 vehicles are sold on the local market or exported to Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. Ford and Chrysler have taken similar steps. With around half of car components imported, the exchange rate fall has forced up costs and prices.

The government has responded to demands of the poor to create a more equal society. The poorest have found a voice in some 70,000 civil action groups formed across the country. Like the rich, they are armed. They can lobby the government directly for funds. Such direct participation horrifies those who live well off the dispossessed poor.

On 11 March bomb attacks on the Spanish and Colombian embassies followed the President’s public demand that the US, Colombia and Spain stop meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs. Each of these states supported the ‘opposition’ leaders in Venezuela during President Chavez’s mandate. The Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Cesar Gaviria, spoke publicly in favour of Carlos Fernandez. The bombings were attempts to discredit the President – either he supposedly ‘provokes’ them, or ‘organises’ them – even as the Vice President insisted that the government would do everything it could to prevent such ‘macro-terrorism’. On 18 March the ‘opposition’ propped up by the US, agreed to sign the non-violence pact it had rejected in December before attempting the ‘economic coup’. To justify continued public exchanges with the government (it has almost no representation in the National Assembly) and, in an astonishingly hypocritical attempt to cover its tracks, it has now agreed to ‘create a climate of peace and calm in the country’. This agreement is prompted by the same OAS whose Secretary General lauds the ‘opposition’ leadership. President Chavez has called this year the year of ‘strategic offensive’; he is now better placed to pursue his political programme.

Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 172 April / May 2003


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