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Opinion and Analysis: Labor and Workers' Control

Brazil and Venezuela: Differing Responses to the Washington Consensus

When Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva—undisputed leader of the independent labor movement that emerged in the late 1970’s to challenge the Brazilian military regime and founder of the Brazilian Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores—PT)—was elected president of Latin America’s largest nation in October of 2002, much of the international left and the worldwide labor movement were celebrating the stunning victory (over 61 percent of the vote) as the birth of a socially just alternative to the current regime of globalization.

Four years earlier, Colonel Hugo Chavez, a paratrooper commander in the Venezuelan armed forces, was elected the president of his nation with an impressive majority of over 56 percent of the popular vote. Chavez and his newly formed Movimiento Quinta Republica (MVR—Fifth Republic Movement) won their legitimate mandate due in large part to the Venezuelan public’s rejection of the deep-seated corruption manipulated by a political elite for decades. And by voting for Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan people were rejecting a neoliberal project that had plagued their country with even more economic disaster and inequality throughout the 1980’s and 90’s.

In the presidential elections of the last five years, the people of Latin America have expressed their discontent with corruption and with the disastrous application of Washington Consensus orthodoxy. The 2002 electoral triumph in Ecuador of populist military officer Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, who helped to overthrow President Jamil Mahuad by means of a military-indigenous campesino uprising in 2000, unquestionably represents this popular sentiment. Even the elections of more conventional center-left political leaders, such as Ricardo Lagos in Chile in 2000, and Nestor Kirchner in Argentina in 2003, would suggest, at the very least, a lack of nostalgia for the capitalist shock treatment imposed on Latin America over the last two decades.

This discontent expressed at the ballot box results from a social and economic crisis that has been devastating the working masses in Latin America. The neoliberal promises of economic prosperity for all, based on free trade and investment agreements, cuts in public expenditures, and more privatization of services and state enterprises, have been gainsaid in the last five years by flat and declining growth, shrinking GDP and per capita incomes, falling net transfers of financial resources, a record high unemployment rate for the entire region of well over nine percent in 2002, a steady drop in real wages, and increasing poverty and income inequality.

Although one could comment on several newly elected Latin American governments that represent an alternative to the neoliberal dogma, I will limit my review to Presidents Chavez and Lula. There are no other current Latin American heads of state espousing the leftist ideals of social equality that present us with more interesting contrasts. Chavez is an elected leader who practices politics with a military vision and mentality. Lula, on the other hand, represents a politics emanating directly from the progressive trade union movement and civilian opposition to military rule. Chavez has exercised his democratic mandate in direct conflict with significant institutions in civil society, while Lula and the PT have succeeded in doing precisely the opposite.

Notwithstanding their differences, the current governments in Venezuela and Brazil appreciate their common interests and have developed strong bonds of economic and political cooperation. Communications and meetings between Chavez and Lula are friendly and frequent, and Brazil has been leading the Friends of Venezuela initiative to augment the Organization of American States (OAS) efforts designed to diminish the civil strife raging in Venezuelan society.

Many of Hugo Chavez’s views on politics and leadership developed during his years as a young cadet at the Caracas military academy in the early 1970’s. In 1974, he traveled to Lima with other young Venezuelan soldiers to study the experiment in ostensibly left-wing social reform being conducted by General Juan Velasco Alvarado, who seized control of the Peruvian government in 1968.

By 1982, Chavez and a cadre of socially progressive officers had formed a political cell within the Venezuelan Army known as the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario – 200, for the purpose of taking over the government when the right moment arrived. Chavez and his MBR-200 conspired actively with other Venezuelan revolutionary commandantes, including Douglas Bravo, the renowned guerilla leader of the Partido de la Revolucion Venezolana, to build a “civilian-military insurgency.”

On February 4, 1992, Colonel Chavez and scores of other officers and soldiers took the “revolutionary action” they had been planning for years, by trying to capture Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, and neutralize the military high command. But officers loyal to the President got wind of the plot the previous day, and managed to foil the coup effort. Subsequently, Chavez and his co-conspirators were sent to prison for treason.

After receiving a pardon and early prison release from President Rafael Caldera in March of 1994, Chavez began to seriously consider his political recovery. At first, he was reluctant to pursue the electoral path, inveighing against its corruption. But after the persuasive urgings of other left-wing parties, such as La Causa R and the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), Chavez proudly announced in April of 1997 that he would win the presidential elections slated for December of 1998.

Since his electoral triumph, Chavez’s efforts to remake Venezuelan society and politics have been threatened not only by powerful and dangerous enemies, a relentless and one-sided media, a short-lived coup, and an implacable opposition, but also by his own intransigence and inexperience. Some of his left-wing allies have observed that he harbors a troubling impatience with the imperfections and necessary give-and-take of civilian democracy.

As Douglas Bravo commented in 1999, “Chavez did not want civilians to participate as a concrete force. He wanted civil society to applaud, but not to participate….” Bravo recalls that Chavez told him four months prior to the failed coup attempt of February 1992, that “civilians get in the way. We shall summon them when we get into power.” And as Lula expressed to me personally in a conversation we had in São Paulo in January 2002, his “good friend” Chavez, in spite of good intentions, has provoked “unnecessary fights” with business and labor leaders, due in great part to his being a “soldier rather than a politician.”

During the presidential campaign of 1998, there were important left–wing tendencies within the official Venezuelan labor movement, including the CTV (Confederacion de Trabajadores de Venezuela), that mobilized support for Chavez through the Polo Patriotico coalition. These included unionists from the MVR, the Patria Para Todos (PPT), the Venezuelan Communist Party, MAS, and La Causa R. Although most of the CTV’s top national leadership were linked with the ruling political establishment of the Accion Democratica (AD) and the Christian Democratic COPEI, there had always been some left–wing militancy at the local union, and rank-and-file levels of the Confederation, including in the strategic sectors of steel, textiles and petroleum.[1]

Nevertheless, President Chavez declared war on organized labor shortly after his inauguration in 1999. He proclaimed that he would “demolish the CTV,” and that “nothing could prevent its elimination.” He suspended all collective bargaining in the public sector and the petroleum industry by executive decree, and seized the assets of the Confederation’s agricultural workers federation. He created his own “Bolivarian Workers’ Force” (FBT), but this effort failed to eclipse the official trade union structures.

Chavez’s assault on the CTV and the institutional labor movement included a national referendum conducted in December 2000. This plebiscite empowered all voters, including capitalists, the military, and persons having absolutely nothing to do with organized labor’s constituency, to decide whether the existing trade union leadership and structures should continue. The initiative was condemned as an unconscionable violation of freedom of association by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The plebiscite was an embarrassment for the Venezuelan Government, as the vast majority of the voting population abstained, in sharp contrast with Chavez’s highly successful and legitimate referendum initiatives of 1999, establishing a constituent assembly, and ratifying the new Bolivarian Constitution. However, Chavez’s attacks on the union movement also produced some unintended benefits. The CTV initiated its own program of internal democratic reforms, including a path breaking 2001 election of the Confederation’s national executive, by means of one-member-one-vote secret balloting, as opposed to the earlier practice of voting by convention delegates. The new system ended the AD-COPEI monopoly of the CTV’s executive council, with nearly half of the national positions going to left-wing militants from UNION, Bandera Roja, PPT, La Causa R, Frente Constituyente de Trabajadores, MAS, and even the FBT-200 itself. By the end of 2001, there was an overall leadership change of 60 percent at the local union, federation, and national executive levels.

Chavez rewarded the CTV for its initiative by obtaining a legislative package terminating collective barganing and the right to strike in the public sector and the oil industry. He also refused to recognize the CTV’s new national leadership, even though the ILO’s Direct Contacts Mission to Venezuela in March of 2002 concluded that he should do so. His “take no prisoners” attitude toward organized labor also succeeded in alienating the Polo Patriotico militants within the Confederation who had once supported him. Union leaders, such as Rodrigo Penso and Manuel Gutierrez of the MAS, Alfredo Ramos of La Causa R, and Froilan Barrios of the Frente Constituyente de Trabajadores, had echoed Chavez’s disdain for the AD-COPEI regime for quite some time, but they were not about to stand by and watch the CTV be destroyed by the Venezuelan Government.

When Lula and his fellow trade unionists, along with human rights advocates, progressive clergy, academics and other opponents of the Brazilian military dictatorship, founded the Workers Party over 23 years ago, they never questioned the electoral road to power. Although Lula and the PT attempted to break radically from the Brazilian tradition of top-down populist and caudilho politics, they never have called for the smashing of other political parties, labor or business organizations, no matter how corrupt and corporatist they may be. Unlike Chavez, who says “there has been a huge vacuum in the workers’ movement, among the peasants, in the shantytowns, and in the whole of society” that he and his MVR will “have to fill,” Lula and the PT have never tried to supplant the leadership of Brazilian civil institutions.

Lula’s basic respect for all institutional actors in Brazilian civil society consolidated his electoral chances in 2002 and have served him well in his first year of government. National business leaders, who were on the opposite side of the barganing table during Lula’s trade union career, supported his presidential victory because they had direct experience with his negotiation skills and could no longer tolerate the economic policies of the Cardoso years that promoted surging imports and unproductive speculative investment, staunched economic growth and employment, and permitted interest rates to surpass profits exponentially.

Lula’s presidential election campaign also succeeded in garnering the support from all of the national trade union centrals, including from the more conservative sectors that had been wary of his “new unionism” positions of the early 1980’s. With Lula having named more trade union leaders to ministerial and executive positions than any other current head of state, the expectations are high and the opportunities abundant for respectful and substantive discussions between the labor movement and the Brazilian Government. Lula’s newly convened National Forum on Labor, which brings together business, unions and the government to develop labor law reform, can only strengthen such a dialogue.

What clearly distinguishes the Chavez from the Lula administration is the latter’s official recognition of the role of existing civil society leadership in a constructive national debate. Prior to the Lula Government having submitted its proposals on social security and tax reform to the Brazilian Congress, it had already discussed them with official representatives of national business, the trade unions, the religious community, and civil, human rights and environmental organizations, who constitute the National Social and Economic Council.

And unlike Chavez and his recently created MVR, Lula and the PT have the critical advantage of over two decades of experience in electoral politics, public service, and governmental administration. The Workers Party and Lula grew and matured because of electoral defeats and victories, building a twenty year, corruption-free record of governing hundreds of cities, including the world’s third largest, São Paulo, as well as several important state governments. Hundreds of able PT activists also served in the Brazilian Congress during this period, including Lula himself.

In saying all of this, I do not underestimate the challenges facing the Lula administration at every turn, including overwhelming popular expectations and limited room to maneuver. The Brazilian people have not forgotten that their president promised to create at least 10 million new jobs, settle millions of rural families on unproductive lands, and guarantee three meals a day for every citizen through the Fome Zero program.

Lula must contend with a massive debt accounting for a sizable percentage of Brazil’s GDP. The IMF’s 30 billion dollar loan package negotiated at the end of the Cardoso administration imposes high budgetary surplus requirements, leaving very little money for discretionary spending. In trying to control inflation and maintain the confidence of international financial markets, the Central Bank has refused to permit a substantial drop in interest rates during the first year. However, the annual base rate of over 15 percent stifles consumer demand, growth, and employment, and could erode the Brazilian Government’s support from national business on the right, and from unions and social movements on the left, not to mention engendering divisions within the PT itself.

Thus far, Lula has navigated through all of these treacherous waters without capsizing. He has convinced the Brazilian public to remain patient, with his approval ratings staying well above 70 percent. His demonstrated budgetary responsibility has drastically lowered his nation’s risk coeffecient in the financial markets, and Brazil has enjoyed an increase of 5.6 billion dollars in foreign direct investment between January and May of 2003. His Financial Minister Antonio Palocci assures the public that lower interest rates and greater growth will resume in 2004, with the budget surpluses eventually underwriting the badly needed investments in social programs and infrastructure.

Supported by arguments based on both solvency and equity, Lula’s social security reform has prevailed in the Chamber of Deputies, and should achieve full Congressional approval by 2004. The current system transfers the contributions from poorer workers to pay for the inflated pension benefits of a privileged bureaucratic elite. Only 57 percent of the eligible retirees are actually covered, 11 percent of the beneficiaries are public functionaries receiving nearly 50 percent of the total retirement funds, and the entire program runs an annual deficit of over 20 billion dollars, making the system a primary cause of Brazil’s debt crisis. By trying to reduce the wide disparities in defined benefit payments, some have accused Lula of having betrayed the labor and socialist ideals of the PT. To the contrary, his reform is faithful to the principles of social equality, enjoys approval from the general public, and will help Brazil ease its fiscal pressures.

The strategic space the Brazilian Government needs to achieve its pro-labor agenda will depend in great measure on international solidarity, as Lula reminded AFL-CIO President John Sweeney during a visit to the Federation in December 2002. Indeed, the U.S. labor movement can play an important role in our already strong relationship with the Brazilian unions and the Lula Government.

For example, U.S. workers’ pension funds account for literally trillions of dollars in the world economy and can exert substantial influence on their Wall Street asset managers responsible for how the international financial markets relate to the Brazilian economy. Moreover, exchanges of know-how and experience between union trustees of both countries can strengthen an existing regime of Brazilian pension funds supplementing the social security system. Currently, the AFL-CIO and its Center for Working Capital are pursuing all of these options.

With Lula as Brazil’s head of state, U.S. labor and the AFL-CIO have a very direct and strategic opportunity to help further our vision of global justice. Lula’s positions on globalization, including his opposition to any Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) that would promote “an economic annexation” of the South to the North, coincide with our own views, and we totally support his efforts to achieve balanced growth, increased employment, and social and economic equality.

The AFL-CIO also agrees with many of the Chavez Government’s statements on globalization, including those on the FTAA. We join with Victor Alvarez, the Venezuelan Vice-Minister of Industry, in his criticism of the FTAA negotiation process for failing to consult with civil society. His statement that “human, labor, cultural, environmental, gender and democratic rights” must be accorded the same consideration as capital and intellectual property interests, definitely corresponds with our position.

Chavez should be credited for his efforts to strengthen and expand education, health, public housing and community services when he was able do so with Venezuela enjoying increased oil revenues between 1999 and 2002. In addition, his land reform program succeeded in distributing over 500,000 acres to 4,500 family farmers as of April, 2003, seeking to achieve the admirable dual objective of diminishing social injustice in the Venezuelan countryside and increasing agricultural output by means of smaller and more efficient units.

The AFL-CIO has also supported the integrity of Chavez’s legal mandate in Venezuela. We have issued public condemnations of the April 2002 coup, including at the ILO conferences of 2002 and 2003 in Geneva. When the Venezuelan press began to report on the opposition’s public mobilizations in October of 2002, followed by the massive shutdown of the state-owned Venezuelan Oil Company (PDVSA), John Sweeney sent a direct communication to President Chavez expressing our conviction that all civic and collective actions in Venezuela must be peaceful. Sweeney reiterated the Federation’s unwavering opposition to the forcible overthrow of Venezuelan democratic institutions. The statement was circulated widely by the Venezuelan Government’s news service.

In direct, frank and substantive conversations with leading representatives of the Venezuelan Government, including Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel, leading MVR National Assembly member Nicholas Maduro, Labor Minister Maria Cristina Iglesias, and Labor Inspector-General Dorado Cano-Manuel, I have expressed the AFL-CIO’s praise for the Chavez administration’s socially progressive domestic programs and its positions on international trade, while, at the same time, strongly objecting to its infringement of freedom of association and collective bargaining principles.

Regrettably, a few North American journalists and academics published assertions based on the thoroughly false and unfounded assumption that the AFL-CIO must have been involved in the coup of April 2002, since our Solidarity Center had provided limited program assistance from a National Endowment for Democracy grant to the CTV. These commentators failed to speak directly with me or with others in the Federation who actually knew something about our solidarity efforts with Venezuelan labor, prior to issuing such misrepresentations. Some critics have questioned why we even have a relationship with the CTV in the first place.

In point of fact, our total solidarity program with the CTV amounted to less than $20,000 in support of the Confederation’s highly successful internal democratization process described earlier. The funding was spent on the publishing of internal election materials, the training of CTV election committees, and the sponsoring of seminars on freedom of association, which also included the participation of Venezuelan Government representatives. The ILO, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the European Trade Union Confederation, and the Spanish labor movement supported, endorsed and participated in the project.

Aside from the point that the AFL-CIO consistently defends trade union democracy and freedom of association in every corner of the world, the U.S. union movement should be supporting strong and democratic Venezuelan labor organization based on our own strategic interests. One of Latin America’s largest economies and a nation of over 25 million inhabitants, Venezuela plays a crucial role in the future of hemispheric trade, investment, and labor rights. Major U.S. and multinational enterprises are involved in the nation’s transport, food, banking, finance, retail, mining and metallurgical sectors, not to mention the petroleum industry where PDVSA began to permit more incursions by foreign companies in the early 1990’s. And as our sisters and brothers in PACE (Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union) know very well, PDVSA directly owns and controls CITGO, one of the largest refinery and distribution companies operating in North America.

Like the United States, Venezuela’s overall union density has dropped to approximately 15 percent. Nevertheless, the CTV continues to represent well over 80 percent of unionized Venezuelan workers, including in petroleum and most of the industries just mentioned, as well as in the entire public sector. Although the Chavez administration is currently engaged in an aggressive and unlawful initiative of awarding representation status in legally established CTV jurisdictions to the newly created and pro-government Union Nacional de Trabajadores, the Confederation has asked the Venezuelan Supreme Court to intervene and allow the workers to recertify their rightful choice of bargaining representative.

On July 3, 2003, The Nation published a statement from Venezuela expert and labor historian Steve Ellner, saying that there are no leftists in the CTV and that none of the leadership “has questioned the confederation’s obsession with overthrowing Chavez by any means possible.” His disingenuous assertion is not only contradicted by the CTV’s 2001 election results mentioned earlier, but also by the actions of many of the Confederation’s leaders and rank and file.

The CTV publicly condemned the April 2002 coup, never recognized the short-lived regime of Pedro Carmona, and, unlike the Church, refused to endorse Carmona’s decree dissolving the National Assembly. Although Carmona tried to offer a cabinet position to anti-Chavez CTV leader Leon Arismendi, it was never accepted. Thousands of CTV leaders and members participated in the Caracas march of April 2002 calling for Chavez’s resignation, but there were also thousands who did not. Moreover, many large federations, local unions, and sectors of the Confederation have chosen not to join in the massive civic opposition demonstrations that have followed the coup.

CTV General Secretary Manuel Cova certainly has not been calling for removing Chavez “by any means necessary.” He has announced that the opposition must limit itself entirely to the mechanisms established in the Bolivarian Consitution, including the revocatory referendum process which begin legally at any time after August 19, 2003, the mid-point in Chavez’s term. And on his visit to Caracas during the last week of August, Lula reminded the Venezuelan President of the need to respect this constitutional process without obstruction and delay.

Whether or not Chavez prevails in a future referendum, what is absolutely essential is that the Venezuelan Government, and all of civil society, including the CTV, engage in immediate and authentic negotiation to insure nonviolence, as well as the economic and democratic survival of the nation. Froilan Barrios, one of the CTV’s left-wing national executive members—who Ellner says do not exist—has publicly announced a proposal for immediate talks between the Chavez administration, national business, and the entire Venezuelan labor movement to achieve an economic stimulus package based on public employment initiatives, tax incentives and creative collective bargaining measures.

Hardly a proposal to make things worse in order to get rid of Chavez, the Barrios Plan is based on the simple imperative of avoiding a predicted negative growth rate of 15 percent in 2003, and an unemployment level exceeding the current 22 percent. If Chavez, the CTV, and national business actually sit down and reason together, they might discover that they have far more in common than they imagined, especially when national survival is at stake. And the example of Lula and Brazil offers the hope that constructive dialogue between government and opposition is always possible.

Stanley Gacek is Director of Latin American Affairs for the AFL-CIO

 

NOTES

[1] Steve Ellner, Organized Labor in Venezuela, 1958-1991: Behavior and Concerns in a Democratic Setting (Willmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc, 1993), p. xxi.

 

Response by Steve Ellner:

1. Gacek quotes Douglas Bravo on Chavez's "militarism," as put in evidence at the time of the 1992 coup. Bravo is the worst source for an opinion on militarism. That Chavez refused to turn over arms to the remnants of the guerrilla movement of the 60s and rejected the "mass insurrection" approach supported by Bravo, made all the sense at the time. I may add that I do not justify the 1992 Chavez-led coup against a democratically elected president, regardless of how bad that president (Carlos Andres Perez) was. But in fairness to history, Chavez embraced the concept of a military-civilian alliance from the very outset of his political movement formed in 1982, which was certainly much more democratic in nature than the vanguardism that Bravo supported.

2. To say that CTV leaders were not involved in the April 2002 coup which the CTV condemned is misleading. The CTV condemned Carmona not at the time but after he was forced out. The best way to imagine the CTV role on April 11, along with that of the right-wing officers, is the "good cop-bad cop" scenario. The CTV promoted a march which was designed to topple the Chavez regime and everybody knew at the time that the idea was to create chaos so that the military would intervene. That the CTV leaders did not know of the plan to shoot people on the street in order to trigger the coup is irrelevant.

At the time of the December-January 2002-2003 general strike, the CTV had in mind the same strategy. Opposition leaders openly called on the military to overthrow Chavez and the strike leaders -- not only Ortega but the supposed "moderates" like Manuel Cova, Alfredo Ramos, Pablo Castro, Rodrigo Penso, Frolian Barrios -- none of them stated at least publicly that they were opposed to a military coup. In fact there was only one leader of the opposition that I know of -- Claudio Fermin -- who publicly opposed the military option and has since called the general strike "an error." .

3. Gacek claims that Chavez declared war on organized labor after he was elected. What Chavez did do was to eliminate state subsidies to the labor movement (although I'm not sure if they were completely eliminated). At the time the Chavistas called for a workers assembly to reconstitute the labor movement. The CTV had been discredited due to its support for neoliberal-inspired measures on worker benefits, specifically severance payment and social security, in 1997-1998. What could be said is that the Chavez people did not have a coherent line in that they were unsure whether they wanted to work within the CTV to change it, or set up a parallel movement. I believe that the correct strategy at the time (though not now) was working within the CTV.

4. Gacek talks of the October 2001 CTV elections as a demonstration of the democratization of the CTV. I will not go into detail because the chapter in my book "Venezuelan Politics in the Chavez Era" discusses this. But the fact is that those elections were marked by widespread violence and accusation of fraud. Many of the "leftist" CTV leaders (Alfred Ramos, Frolian Barrios) were the first to cry fraud, but subsequently accepted the results under suspicious circumstances. My own feeling is that fraud was widespread but that Ortega did win. But without the fraud, the Chavez followers would have had a substantial representation in the CTV executive board. The fraud guaranteed that the Chavez people received a minimum representation, not enough to influence policy. The fraud also assured AD domination of the CTV and at the same time provided its allies (Copei, the Red Flag party and Arias Cardenas's Union party) representation on the CTV executive board.

5. Gacek denies that the CTV is controlled by AD. It is true that AD leaders established a united front known as the FUT. It was the first time that AD, Copei and even the Red Flag party came together in alliance form. However it was also the first time in nearly 30 years that both the president of the CTV and the secretary general were AD members (Ortega and Cova). In the past AD occupied the presidency but not the secretary general position. AD made well sure that it would maintain absolute control of the CTV.

6. Gacek talks of the possibility that Brazilian trade unionists succeed in achieving a complementary system of social security involving funds that organized labor can administer. I believe that any such "complementary" system would undermine the public social security system. It's the same strategy employed by Bush who talks about privatizing 10 percent of the U.S. social security system. Won't this be the first step toward dismantling the whole state-run system?

7. Gacek talks of the progressive aspects of the Chavez government that he supports. He refers specifically to the land reform that was passed in late 2001. But this reform, known as the "Ley de Tierra," was precisely the issue that powerful Venezuelan economic groups, along with the opposition, seized upon to justify the strikes (beginning on December 10, 2001) which led to the April coup. The CTV was totally supportive of the attacks on the Ley de Tierra.

8. Finally, Gacek talks of key actors in the CTV who represent a distinct position that the AFL-CIO has attempted to work with. He tries to refute the doubts that I expressed in "The Nation" regarding the existence of "leftists" within the CTV national leadership. It is true that Ortega is more aggressive in his rhetoric than Cova and others. It is also true that internally, there are differences (Pablo Castro, for instance internally questioned the indefinite nature of the strike and the extended alliance with Fedecamaras [the national business association]), but these differences have never (or hardly ever) surfaced. At no point did Cova or other CTV leaders question the morality or viability of the 10-week general strike that was nothing less than criminal.

That opposition leaders told Chavez that he would be responsible for explosions of refineries in cities like Puerto La Cruz, near where I live, that could result in the death of hundreds of thousands of people can be described in two words: terrorism and blackmail.  In other words, if Chavez didn't resign with the refineries lacking the trained personnel who supported the strike, a tragedy could result. Isn't that what terrorists do when they hijack a plane? And yet no one in the CTV leadership, absolutely no one, publicly spoke out against the way the strike was being handled. Everything to the contrary. The "leftist" Barrios, along with Ramos, Cova, Castro etc. actively participated and justified the strike. Can these people be called "leftists?"

I believe that these issues should be clarified because the opposition has, in my mind, not modified its tactics in significant ways since 2002, and the CTV continues to be a key actor currently in Venezuela.

Steve Ellner is Professor of Labor History at Universidad del Oriente in Barcelona, Venezuela