One year ago, the Venezuelan people defeated a U.S.-supported right-wing coup against popularly-elected President Hugo Chavez Frias. As the anniversary of the coup attempt approaches, a very different picture is emerging for the country’s workers and farmers.
Last week Chavez turned over 400 land deeds to peasants in the border state of Apure. Calling the move part of his policy to depend less on imports and to create a different attitude toward the land, Chavez said he wants to turn over 1.5 million hectares of land and land deeds to peasants this year. The Venezuelan leader has also suggested that land could be turned over to military garrisons to grow food for soldiers, and has announced creation of food wholesale micro-businesses as a new economic sector in the government’s agricultural plan.
Late last month, a new labor federation was formed – the National Union of Workers (UNT) – to replace the now discredited Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) which worked arm-in-arm with the employers’ association Fedecameras to instigate last winter’s lockout of oil and other workers. The new federation describes itself as independent, class-oriented, democratic and revolutionary. Its organizers say it brings together more workers than had nominally been represented by the CTV. The new federation emerged following months of discussion among workers supportive of the Chavez government, the poor, and independent unions both within and outside of the CTV – notably the oil, steel, and subway workers.
Another result of the failed lockout was that workers – starting with the oil workers who successfully ran production after management and technicians walked out – increasingly talk about taking over and running their enterprises as cooperatives. In an April 2 article on ZNet, Mike Lebowitz noted that workers at the Sheraton Airport Hotel have already formed a cooperative, while the state -owned oil company PDVSA now includes two worker representatives in its management and an associated petrochemical firm is already being run as a cooperative.
But the far right and the U.S.-based transnational corporate sector have not given up their hopes of reversing the revolutionary changes that have brought new hope to Venezuela’s working people. In a February 2003 paper, the ultra-right Heritage Foundation urged continuing pressure on Venezuela to restructure its economy to promote private enterprise and investment, and called on international organizations supported by the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to “continue to advise the full spectrum of Venezuela’s political parties, civic groups and unions.” Chavez’ “demagogic speeches resonate with growing numbers of poor in Latin America who have lost hope in the slow evolution of democracy and market economies,” the Heritage Foundation paper warned. “The turmoil he has inspired in Venezuela could further depress commerce in the hemisphere and destablize neighbors.”
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