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Right-wing Strike in Venezuela Continues: Chávez Forces Resist!

By Meredith Aby

solidarity event at AGAPE House

Venezuela – A great confrontation is under way in Venezuela. On one side stands Venezuela’s elite – backed by the Bush administration and the big oil companies. On the other side of the barricades stand Venezuela’s oppressed and patriotic, people who are rallying around their progressive president, Hugo Chávez.

Chávez wants to use the profits from the state oil industry to meet the needs of the people. Critical of the Bush administration, he has charted an independent foreign policy and forged friendly relations with Cuba. He will not allow Venezuela’s territory or air space to be used for U.S. intervention in Colombia.

The month-long ‘strike’ – which is, in fact, a big business organized lockout – is an attempt by right wing forces in Venezuela to topple the democratically elected Chávez. A group of sell-out trade union leaders has thrown in with the elite opposition movement.

Early in the ‘strike,’ there was little support beyond a few large businesses, such as McDonald’s and other fast food chains; the supermarkets and the private schools. Then, managers and administrators of Venezuela’s oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) joined in, trying to take the president and the country hostage by their attacks on oil production.

While the ‘strike’ has little popular support, especially among the poor, it has had a significant effect on the state-owned oil company. Ali Rodriguez, PDVSA’s president, reported that the opposition has shut down the country’s main oil refinery, one of the largest in the world. The exportation of oil has been cut from 3 million barrels to 1.5 million barrels per day. The ‘strike’ is costing the economy $50 million per day and affecting all of Venezuelan society. Venezuela is in jeopardy of losing international customers and defaulting on their debt payments if oil production does not resume soon.

This ‘strike’ shows that the opposition and a significant number of Venezuela’s business elite prefer to commit economic suicide in order to oust Chávez and are not afraid of dragging the country with them.

U.S. Destabilization

Last April, president Chávez was kidnapped at gun point in a failed coup attempt. The Bush administration praised the coup, but backtracked when it became apparent that the coup plotters lacked domestic and international support.

Recently, Bush sided with the big business opposition and announced that Chávez should call for early elections. Chávez was elected to a six-year term. The Venezuelan constitution does not allow for elections at this time. Said Chávez, “The U.S. is confused. We’ll have to send them a copy of the constitution.” The opposition wants elections now so that they can use the current economic situation to blackmail voters into supporting their agenda.

Although Bush denies the U.S. had any role in the coup or the ‘strike,’ the opposition receives support, including financial support, from the U.S. government.

Ranking members of the State Department met with opposition leaders in Washington D.C. at the beginning of December during the early portion of the ‘strike.’ The State Department says the it would enjoy a ‘regime change.’

In the past year, the United States channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to American and Venezuelan groups opposed to President Chávez. The funds came from the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy – a nonprofit agency created and financed by Congress. The National Endowment for Democracy gave $154,377 to the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the international arm of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

For many years, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. worked closely with the State department and CIA to disrupt trade union movements in other countries. The fact that the Center for International Labor Solidarity is channeling money to the reactionary leaders of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers is raising concerns among progressive trade unionists in the U.S. The Confederation of Venezuelan Workers is led by Carlos Ortega, a close associate of Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessman who took over during April’s right wing coup.

Venezuela is at a crossroads. Progressives throughout Latin America are backing the government of Hugo Chávez. Oil workers from Colombia and Ecuador say they will help Venezuela’s oil industry get back on its feet. Pro-Chávez demonstrations and other acts of resistance have continued throughout the ‘strike.’ The choice is clear. The pro-poor people, pro-worker policies of the Chávez government deserve the support or everyone who supports justice.

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