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Venezuela: The Great Oil Class War
VENEZUELA IS in political crisis as US-backed opponents of populist President Hugo Chavez continued a national strike to remove him. Three people were killed after a gunman fired on an opposition rally.
Trying to resume the country's vital oil exports, Chavez ordered naval coastguards to surround oil tankers whose captains (defying their crews) dropped anchor in support of the strike. Troops are guarding state-owned oil installations at strike-hit ports. Chavez called on his supporters to "fight the great oil battle".
But this 'strike' (which probably includes elements of a lockout) isn't a clearly demarcated show of strength between the country's working class and the Presidency. The opposition is headed by the bosses' organisation Fedecámaras, most of the middle classes and their 'civic' organisations, sections of the military, and the labour bureaucracy in the leadership of the Venezuelan Confederation of Workers (CTV).
This bloc is also supported by the corrupt, rich 'oligarchy' which sees Chavez's constitutional and land reforms as the work of a 'crazed Marxist'. But Chavez is no socialist revolutionary. His reforms and therefore his popularity among the poor, depend upon oil revenues within a creaking capitalist economy.
Earlier this year, the opposition presented a huge petition to the National Electoral Council demanding a referendum to remove Chavez. However, the Supreme Court annulled the Council's decision to hold a poll, forcing the opposition to organise direct protest action.
While the opposition says 80% of the workforce heeded their strike call, the Labour minister reported that 80% of workers turned up for work on the first strike day and transport in the capital kept running.
However technicians, professionals and managers virtually shut down the oil export industry, crippling the country's vital source of foreign currency earnings.
The US State Department has called for "national elections as the only possible solution". Bush's government openly voices its dislike of Chavez and his 'non-aligned' role in the oil-exporting cartel, Opec.
The background to this bitterly fought class struggle is Venezuela's parlous economy. Like other south and central American countries, the downturn in the world economy and the collapse of stocks and shares on world financial markets has hit Venezuela.
Its economy shrank by a massive 10% between April and June this year mainly as a result of the ruling class and international financiers moving money out of the country.
Around $8 billion (equivalent to 8% of Venezuela's economy) was siphoned out of the country in 2002 alone. By some measures 85% of the country's 23.5 million population live on the bread line. Capitalism has failed and must be replaced.
April's failed coup gave a warning to the working class of the need to organise to prevent the forces of reaction succeeding.
Democratically elected committees of workers and the poor must be set up in the workplaces and neighbourhoods, with armed defence militias. Soldiers too should establish rank-and-file committees. There should be no trust in reactionary officers.
Above all, the workers and peasants must build their own independent and democratic movement and fight for a workers' government armed with a programme of socialist change.
After the failed coup
THIS APRIL, Venezuela's oligarchy, backed by the US administration, attempted a coup d'etat removing Chavez and installing a businessman, who promptly set about suspending democratic rights.
The coup attempt quickly fell apart when thousands of pro-Chavez supporters, mainly from poor neighbourhoods of the capital Caracas, marched on the presidential palace demanding his release.
Since then there have been huge pro- and anti-Chavez demonstrations, often resulting in clashes with police and national guardsmen.
In The Socialist 13 December 2002:
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