"This government is here to protect the
people, not the bourgeoisie or the rich", proclaimed Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez on February 28, as he ordered soldiers to take
over two rice-processing plants owned by Venezuelan food and drink
giant Empresas Polar.
The move was made in order to ensure that the company was producing
products subjected to the government-imposed price controls that aim to
protect the poor from the affects of global price rises and inflation.
Under Venezuelan law, companies that can produce basic goods
regulated by price controls must guarantee that 70-95% of their
products are of the regulated type.
"They've refused 100 times to process the typical rice that
Venezuelans eat", said Chavez. "If they don't take me seriously, I'll
expropriate the plants and turn them into social property."
Four days later, Chavez announced the expropriation of a
rice-processing plant owned by US food giant Cargill after it was
revealed the company was attempting to subvert the price controls.
Moving against capital
In the following period, "Venezuela's National Institute of Lands
(INTI) [took] public ownership of more than 5000 hectares of land
claimed by wealthy families and multi-national corporations and is
reviewing tens of thousands more hectares across the nation",
Venezuelanalysis.com reported on March 11.
This includes the March 5 expropriation of 1500 hectares of a tree
farm owned by Ireland's Smurfit Kappa. The government has pledged to
move away from eucalyptus trees, which were drying up the land, and
turn the land over to cooperatives for sustainable agriculture.
On March 14, Chavez decreed a new fishing law, banning industrial trawl-fishing within Venezuela's territorial waters.
"Trawling fishing destroys the sea, destroys marine species and
benefits a minority. This is destructive capitalism", explained Chavez
on his weekly TV show, Alo Presidente the following day.
Venezuelanalysis.com reported on March 17 that the government will
invest US$32 million to convert or decommission trawling boats, as well
as to development fish-processing plants.
"Thirty trawling ships will be expropriated, Chavez said, due to
the refusal of their owners to cooperate with the plans to adapt the
boats to uses compliant with the new fishing regulations."
Small-scale fisherpeople will have access to the converted boats.
This latest wave of radical measures by the Chavez government
should be seen in the context of the ongoing process of
nationalisations since early 2006, the onset of the global economic and
food crises and the February 15 referendum victory.
The government has re-nationalised privatised industries such as
electricity, telecommunications and steel. Cement companies, milk
producing factories and one of Venezuela's major banks have either
been, ore are in negotiations to be, nationalised.
Unlike the state interventions currently being undertaken in the
imperialist centres, the aim of these moves is not to bail out bankrupt
capitalists, but to help shift production towards meeting people's
needs – in service provisions (phone lines, electricity, banking) and
production of essential goods (concrete, steel for housing and
factories, and food).
Last July, the government made strong signals that its next targets
would be two strategic sectors previously barely touched – food and
The day after announcing the planned government buyout of Banco de
Venezuela (which, once completed, will give the government control over
close to 20% of the banking sector), Chavez issued 26 decrees, a number
of which increase government and community control over food storage
and distribution – and allow the state to jail company owners for
Moves aimed at increasing government control over food production
come amid soaring world food prices and 30% inflation within Venezuela
– which is still dependent on imports for 70% of its food supply.
The government also faces an ongoing campaign of food speculation
and hoarding carried out by the capitalist food producers and
distributors in order to destabilise the anti-capitalist government.
With oil prices plummeting by almost $100 per barrel from a high of
more than US$140 last year, the government is tightening the screws.
Oil accounts for 93% of the government's export revenue and around half
of its national budget.
The government has already announced the restructuring of its
ministries, merging a number of them in order to cut down on
The Chavez government is making it very clear that it will be the
capitalists, not the people, who will pay for the mess that the
capitalist system has created.
"I have entrusted myself with putting the foot down on the
accelerator of the revolution, of the social and economic
transformation of Venezuela", Chavez explained on March 8.
Mandate for socialism
These latest moves follow the government's victory in the February 15 referendum.
Officially, the referendum concerned whether to amend the
constitution and remove limits on the number of times elected officials
could stand for re-election. At stake was the possibility of Chavez
standing for re-election in 2012.
In the context of the intense class struggle, it became a referendum on the socialist project pushed by Chavez.
Addressing tens of thousands of supporters from the balcony of the
presidential palace after the victory, Chavez noted that those that had
voted "yes" had "voted for socialism, voted for the revolution".
The referendum was proposed by Chavez as a "counter-offensive"
against the opposition following the November 23 regional elections.
Candidates from Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)
won the overwhelming majority of governorships and mayoralties.
However, opposition victories in key states on the Colombian border
(where there is growing right-wing paramilitary activity) and the
Greater Caracas mayoralty were viewed as important gains for the
Opposition governors and mayors began to use their new positions to
attack community organisations and the pro-poor social missions.
The rapid mobilisation to defeat these attacks by the poor and
working people was converted into the formation of 100,000 "Yes
committees" to campaign in the referendum, in poor communities,
workplaces and universities across the country.
These committees were the backbone of the successful referendum campaign.
Organising for revolution
The latest measures will undoubtedly intensify the class conflict in Venezuela.
An example of this conflict has resulted from the government's
program of land reform, aimed at ending the domination over agriculture
by a small minority of large landowners.
Previous attempts by the government to redistribute land have resulted
in a violent counter-offensive by large landowners that has resulted in
the murder of more than 200 peasants since the land reform law of 2001.
On March 9, land reform activist Mauricio Sanchez was murdered in
Zulia, two weeks after campesino activist Nelson Lopez was shot dead in
Increasingly, trade unionists have also been the target of violent
repression when struggling for their rights. On January 29, two workers
at Mitsubishi plant were killed by police during an industrial dispute
– sparking protests and the arrest of a number of police.
Several peasant organisations are seeking to unite their forces in
support of government measures and against repression. The PSUV
leadership has also called for a restructuring of the party to better
organise the masses for the coming battles.
Launched after Chavez's 2006 re-election to help accelerate the
revolutionary process, the PSUV brought together a range of
revolutionary forces as well as opportunist and corrupt layers.
On March 6, the national leadership of the PSUV made public a
series of decisions aimed at deepening participation and democracy in
This includes a recruitment drive to sign up new militants, a clean
out of the current membership lists, the reactivation of the grassroots
socialist battalions and the organisation of an extraordinary congress
for August to deepen discussion over the party's program and
Building on the success of the "yes" campaign, the PSUV will move
to consolidate national mass fronts of workers, peasants, women and
students – along with converting the "yes committees" into ongoing
From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #788 25 March 2009.