Tue Jul 23, 2024
July 23, 2024

Venezuela: Workers’ Mobilizations, Dictatorial Repression and the Need for a Working Class Alternative

The first quarter of 2024 began in Venezuela with mass anger, mainly caused by very low wages, with the minimum wage barely exceeding $3 per month, the curtailment of labor, contractual, and social rights, the repeated refusal of the Maduro government to decree wage increases, the persistent growth of inflation and, in short, the general deterioration of the living conditions of the workers and the Venezuelan people.

From: Socialist Workers Unity (UST)
Venezuelan Section of the International Workers’ League (LITCI)

For the above reasons, 2024 began with a series of important mobilizations, once again led by teachers and education workers, but joined by significant representations from other sectors of the National Public Administration (APA) and state enterprises, in at least 20 states of the country and the city of Caracas.

On January 9, 15, and 23, workers from the public sector, universities, the health sector, state companies such as CANTV and Corpoelec, active workers, retirees and, above all, teachers and other educators, mobilized in the capitals and major cities of the country (including Caracas). Their demands included an increase in salaries according to the basic family basket, based on the U.S. dollar and calculated by the Central Bank of Venezuela; the repeal of anti-worker policy such as Memorandum 2792 and the ONAPRE instructions, which violate the labor rights established in collective agreements and laws in force in the country, and reduce salaries of public workers. They also voiced the need for the restoration of the labor and social rights that have been curtailed; for an end to the dismissals, suspensions, threats and extortion against workers who mobilize in defense of their rights; for free elections in the unions; against the criminalization of labor and social protest. In addition, they called for the freedom of workers who have been imprisoned for protesting; and for more general democratic rights such as the freedom of political prisoners, the right to free general elections, the publication of the electoral calendar, the call for presidential elections in 2024, and respect for the right to freely participate in them.   

The mobilizations were mainly called by the National Committee for the Conflict of Workers in Struggle (CNCTL), the different regional unions in the states, the teachers’ unions, and other smaller independent organizations. In some federal units, the mobilization lasted for several days, and they aimed at spreading the action to all states and extend it to other sectors of labor.

The Repressive Reaction of the Dictatorship

The dictatorial government of Nicolás Maduro quickly unleashed a new repressive escalation and criminalization of the protest, resorting to the repeated resource of affirming the existence of alleged “conspiracies” to overthrow him and “assassination plots.”

In the state of Barinas, this culminated in the arrest of the teacher and union leader, Victor Venegas, who is President of the Union of Education Workers of the State of Barinas (SINDITEBA) and of the National Federation of Education Workers (FENATEV-Barinas), along with his brother, Jose Gregorio Venegas. The two were detained without a prior judicial order and with the violent entry of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) into the headquarters of FENATEV-Barinas. The leader was effectively kidnapped, and both his status and the place of his detention are still unknown.

On January 15, 2024, two days before his detention, the union leader had participated in the important national protest mobilization in the state of Barinas, where called for the commemoration of Teachers’ Day in the country. He was kidnapped when he went to the union’s headquarters to meet with members of the Barinas Teachers’ Union.

Similar cases, or attempts at detentions of leaders, were repeated to a greater or lesser extent in other states of the country.

Subsequently, the coordinators and campaign managers of the Vente Venezuela party, Juan Freites, Luis Camacaro, and Guillermo López, were arrested under similar procedures in the states of La Guaira, Yaracuy, and Trujillo, respectively.

To this must be added the recent arrest on February 9 of the lawyer, military specialist, and human rights activist Rocío San Miguel, along with four members of her family, at the Maiquetía International Airport (the latter were later released on bail, prohibited from leaving the country, and from making statements to the media).

In all of these cases, the same pattern was repeated: arbitrary detention without prior judicial order, forced disappearance for several days, subsequent arraignment without contact with family members, and without the presence of defense lawyers, charges of “terrorism and conspiracy,” and no official information about the place of detention (in the case of San Miguel, the Public Prosecutor’s Office reported that she was detained at the SEBIN headquarters at the Helicoide in Caracas).

Along with these new cases, a significant number of labor activists, union leaders, and opposition political activists [1] are still imprisoned, including the workers and union members of the Siderúrgica del Orinoco (SIDOR) company, Leonardo Azócar and Daniel Romero, who were detained last June 20-23, after supporting a protest demanding the fulfillment of the collective bargaining agreement of the workers of said industry. They are currently being detained in the city of Caracas with open trials on charges of “terrorism, association to commit a crime, and incitement to hatred;” which is to say that they have also been victims of serious violations of due process.

From the Unidad Socialista de los Trabajadores (UST), we denounce and reject these criminal practices of the security forces of the Maduro government. We affirm that they are not isolated acts carried out at the free will of the national or regional authorities of said forces, but are part of a whole repressive scheme organized by the dictatorship to intimidate and sow panic among the workers who mobilize in defense of their rights, as well as the political opposition, regardless of their ideological positions. This is a pattern of repression that the government shamelessly applies and publicly and openly boasts of, calling it “Bolivarian Fury.” This includes threats against opposition organizations and leaders of the left and right, attacks on party and/or trade union headquarters (destruction, threatening graffiti, etc.), and other mechanisms of intimidation, all with the consent and even active participation of the state security forces and the complicit silence of the Attorney General’s Office and other government agencies.  

We affirm that these facts and the repressive escalation of the Maduro government obey, on the one hand, its character as bourgeois dictatorship, an enemy of the workers, which needs to be more and more repressive in order to continue the brutal adjustment by which it is unloading the weight of the crisis on the backs of the workers and the poor people of the country. And, on the other hand, it makes clear its fear of workers’ protests and mobilizations, and its concern that these will be generalized throughout the country in the most diverse sectors of work. There is a genuine fear of their spreading to the popular sectors and accelerating the political crisis of governability and bourgeois stability, in a country where, according to opinion polls such as that of the Center for Political and Governmental Studies of the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB), 85% of the population demands political change.

We demand full and immediate freedom for all imprisoned trade union and labor leaders, as well as political prisoners in general, an end to repression, the criminalization of protest, and respect for the right to protest and democratic rights as a whole.

Disqualifications and the Fraud of the Electoral Calendar

However, the government’s anti-democratic and dictatorial attitudes and maneuvers are not limited to the deprivation of the freedom of leaders and/or the limitation of their freedom through the opening of legal proceedings. Rather, they extend to the suspension of the legality of parties or the kidnapping of their leaders through fraudulent judicial decisions, through rulings of the pro-government Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ). The aim is often to appoint boards of directors in these organizations that are favorable to the government, or to make the opposition more permeable and to its liking.

This restriction by the TSJ of the rights of political organizations and the free and open participation of these organizations has also been directly applied to the political leaders of the opposition.

In this sense, on January 26, 2024, the TSJ, as was to be expected, ratified the political disqualification of the bourgeois opposition leader María Corina Machado, along with other political leaders of the bosses, such as the former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonsky, denying them the right to present themselves as candidates in a possible presidential election process.

The most recent of this type of anti-democratic maneuver by the government has been to convene the National Assembly (NA), which is also pro-government, to meet with “the political sectors of the country” to discuss an electoral calendar. The aim, of course, is to ensure their presence in a dialogue of the political sectors close to it, and of the “opposition” constructed at its convenience, who were the groups who mainly attended such conventions.

It is worth mentioning that this is something totally alien to the competencies of the NA, since it is the National Electoral Council (CNE) that is the competent body charged with preparing and publishing the electoral calendar in an autonomous and legally obligatory manner, as demanded by the organizations and political actors of the country, who, by the way, did not participate in such a dialogue.

The UST categorically rejects the pretensions of the dictatorial government of Maduro to arrogate to itself the power to decide who may or may not participate in a possible electoral process, preventing those candidates who have a real chance of defeating him, and allowing and even encouraging the participation of those who have no chance, but who serve to give him a supposedly democratic appearance.

We denounce that the government of Maduro is preparing a totally fraudulent presidential election with the disqualifications and the fraud of an electoral timetable approved at its convenience in the fraudulent dialogue in the National Assembly, presided over by the pro-government Jorge Rodriguez. The calendar was submitted for approval and publication on Friday, February 16, 2024, by the NA. Maduro has resorted to the above maneuvers because he lacks the support and the votes to win in an election carried out in compliance with the legal formalities of bourgeois democracy and against candidates with real options.

After the Essequibo project did not allow them the possibility of suspending  the electoral process, but rather revealed the population’s low participation in the referendum held on December 3, 2023, it has become clear that they cannot appeal to this resource to suspend the elections through the decree of a state of emergency. That, in addition to the population’s high participation in the opposition’s primaries (in which the now disqualified María Corina Machado won), the government has come to the conclusion that it is impossible to reconcile the fulfillment of the Barbados agreements with its permanence in power.

That is why it is trying at all costs to prepare the elections in its own way: with a CNE that is totally controlled by the ruling party, with the disqualification of candidates who have a real chance of winning, with the illegalization of parties on the right and left, with the kidnapping of party leaders, with the installation of boards of directors influenced by the government, with the monopolization of control of the media, and with the free use of state resources for its electoral campaign, in addition to stimulating the division of the opposition by financing puppet candidacies that are accomplices of the government and have no chance of winning.

From the UST, we defend the democratic right to participate in the elections of any organization and leader to present their candidacy, beyond any agreement or disagreement we may have with the political-programmatic proposal of that candidacy. We reject the pretensions of the government to impose an electoral calendar at its convenience, where it will surely establish deadlines that will hinder the updating of the electoral registry, the participation of the vote abroad, and the preparation of conditions to participate in the elections. We reject the fraudulent claims of the Maduro dictatorship as a whole.

An Important Clarification

It is appropriate to point out that while we reject the government’s authoritarian attitude in its disqualification of certain candidates at its convenience, and that in that sense we share the opinion of the majority of workers and the population, and that in addition we defend the right to participate in the elections of any candidacy, even the bourgeois one of María Corina Machado (MCM), we clarify that we do not consider that she represents a favorable option for the workers and people of Venezuela. We do not believe she is a democratic alternative, as many sectors of the workers, the population, organizations, and political leaders, including those of the left, see her, to the undoubtedly authoritarian, dictatorial, anti-worker and starvation government of Maduro.

On the contrary, MCM, in her political-economic government program, has made it clear that she will prioritize the payment of the foreign debt (something which Chávez and his successor Maduro were specialists in, and which led the country into the greatest crisis in its recent history), with the well-known consequences of worsening the living conditions of the workers and popular sectors.  MCM has even declared that she will discuss restricting the debt, which, as historical experience shows, is always accompanied by structural adjustment programs that end up shifting the burden of the crisis and the debt onto those who live on their salaries and the poorest of the poor.

 MCM has insisted that she will carry out an aggressive program of privatization and re-privatization of strategic state companies, including PDVSA, impose fiscal discipline, and guarantee the profitability of companies. This is a euphemism for saying that she will auction off the country to the mainly imperialist capitals, that the cost of basic services will increase, and that we will pay more taxes than we already do. All of these measures are similar to those of the adjustment plan already applied by Maduro, not to mention the fact that she has not said a single word about wage increases and has voiced her opposition to the workers’ income bonus. [2]

As a condition to increase workers’ salaries, FEDECÁMARAS has proposed [3] salary bonuses and a vacatios legis that “temporarily” eliminates the social benefits and their retroactivity, as well as the other effects of the Organic Law of Labor, Workers and Women Workers. MCM has not said anything about this, and her silence and her character as a businesswoman with companies, associations, and enterprises affiliated with the aforementioned Chamber of Commerce, make us assume that she is more in line with the proposals of her bourgeois colleagues of FEDECÁMARAS than with the interests of the workers who are willing to vote for her.

On the other hand, the democratic character of MCM is quite questionable, since in the past she supported the coup attempts of 2002 and the lockout of 2002-2003, which tried to impose by force the government of her political allies, regardless of their legitimacy. She also rejected the results of the referendum of 2004, regardless of the popular will expressed at the ballot box in favor of the government of the day. And she has openly supported governments such as that of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who changed the Colombian Constitution to suit his needs in order to be re-elected, and under whose government narco-politics reigned supreme, establishing a regime of terror in which, through the Colombian police and army, he assassinated and imprisoned trade union, popular, indigenous, and youth leaders for defending their democratic rights, including the fundamental right to life. In addition, she has openly supported far-right governments with clearly Bonapartist positions, such as Donald Trump in the U.S., Bolsonaro in Brazil and now Milei in Argentina.

Finally, on the occasion of the beginning of the genocide of the Zionist State of Israel against the Palestinian people, MCM was the first Venezuelan leader to express her solidarity and support for Israeli Zionism. Moreover, her party, Vente Venezuela, has signed cooperation agreements with Likud, the far-right Israeli party of the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the main figure responsible for the application of an apartheid policy and the collective massacres against the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip.

The Need for Unity and an Alternative for the Workers and Popular Sectors

For all of the above reasons, we do not believe that the Maduro starvation dictatorship, nor the false “democratic alternative” of MCM, nor any bourgeois candidacy are favorable options for the Venezuelan working class. This is why working-class mobilizations must continue as they did in the first half of 2023 and in the first month of 2024.

In this sense, we exhort the National Committee of Conflicts of Workers in Struggle (CNCTL), as well as spaces such as the Meeting for the Defense of the People’s Rights, to join efforts to build the broadest unity of those who are mobilizing, to continue deepening the struggle. We call for breadth, plurality, and democratic spirit in other sectors of workers and spaces of organization to build this unity and strengthen the struggle.

We believe that the National Confederation of Teachers of Venezuela, as well as the other confederations of the teachers’ sector, must resume the path of the grassroots assemblies and the conflict committees by educational center. These need not exist in a formal way, but can continue to be space to effectively discuss, in a democratic way, the actions and mechanisms to deepen the teachers’ struggle to build the national general strike of the sector.

We support the intention of the CNCTL to hold a National Workers’ Congress in the middle of the current year, because we believe that it can and should serve to strengthen the struggles of the workers in the country by providing them with a program built from a perspective of class independence. We believe that the objectives of the Congress should be to serve as a basis for the emergence of alternatives of political independence of the working class, that is, without compromises with the bourgeois options that contest power in the country (neither with those who hold it nor with those who aspire to it), to provide the working class with a unified national plan of struggle and a program built from its perspective. We believe this will serve the emergence of new leaderships among the workers to confront the trade union bureaucracies and their anti-democratic pretensions, and promote the struggle for free elections in the unions, guilds, and federations with expired terms in order to re-legitimize the Venezuelan trade union movement.

In the electoral field, we consider it appropriate to promote a discussion of programmatic aspects, to build, through spaces of democratic discussion of the workers, an alternative program proposal for the country from the perspective of the working class and starting from its most felt needs. We must do so in opposition to the programs of the already known bourgeois alternatives. We believe that the possible mid-year congress, can and should be a space (although not the only one) of conclusions for this discussion, as a previous step to building an independent candidacy of the working class and the oppressed sectors.

However, we are convinced that dictatorial regimes, such as the current one in Venezuela, as the historical experience of Latin America (as well as other continents) shows us, only falter, break, and fall as a product of the strength of the mobilizations of the working class and popular sectors, that is, of the mass movement, For this reason, we believe that this program and a possible candidacy of class independence must be built in the heat of the workers’ and peoples’ struggles, which it is the duty of all of us who claim to be part of the workers’ movement to continue promoting, without subordinating them to any electoral event. On the contrary, only the workers’ and peoples’ mobilization can lead us to conquer an electoral process with relative democratic guarantees.  

Finally, we ask the organizations of the working class at the international level for demonstrations of solidarity and demands for freedom for the imprisoned and persecuted workers in Venezuela, as well as support for the just struggles that the Venezuelan working class is waging today for wage increases and other demands that the bourgeois and dictatorial government of Maduro is depriving them of.

Notes:

[1] According to figures from organizations such as the Penal Forum and Justice, Encounter and Forgiveness, it is estimated that there are currently more than 319 people deprived of their liberty for political reasons in Venezuela and more than 15,700 people have been arbitrarily detained for political reasons with the consequent opening of judicial proceedings. https://www.amnesty.org/es/latest/news/2023/08/facts-figures-politically-motivated-detentions-venezuela/

[2] Measures similar to these have already been applied by Maduro, he is finishing off the Chinese, Russian, but now even American and Canadian transnationals, MCM only differs in that she will certainly prioritize the North Americans. Maduro has already privatized and reprivatized important sectors of the state companies, in addition, since 2018, he has exempted the transnationals of the oil sector and food imports from paying income tax, while at the same time he has decreed an increase in the value added tax (VAT); public telephone rates are increasing every month, at the same time that he freely allows the private cell phone companies to increase their rates, now he is promoting a plan to charge the entire population for the “debt” for the electricity service and from there to make everyone pay for the service – Plan Borrón y Cuenta Nueva -, and now he is proposing to the NA a tax reform; all this while he keeps the salary frozen at $3.60 per month.

[3] Main Chamber of Commerce of the country.

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