Fear and Voting in Latin America: A Report from El Salvador and Venezuela

An Interview with Henry Nava, national director of UNT, the new union federation of Venezuela. Nava talks about the recent elections in El Salvador, which he observed, and the possible presidential recall referendum in Venezuela.

Henry Nava is a hospital worker in the city of Merida, Venezuela. He is the executive coordinator of the health care workers union in Merida, and a national director of the Union of Venezuela Workers (UNT). He recently observed the elections in El Salvador, where the right-wing ARENA government’s presidential candidate was triumphant. Seven Oaks discussed the Salvadorian election, and the state of the labor movement in Venezuela with Mr. Nava.

Seven Oaks: You were recently in El Salvador for the elections. How did the Right win, seemingly so easily?

Henry Nava: Yes, I was in that Central American country, responding to the invitation from the FMLN and, look, I don’t believe that the ultra-right did win so easily because for this to happen you have to do it by defeating your enemies, with clear rules of democracy, competing in equal conditions, and by convincing the electorate that your proposal is the best.

S.O.: What was the role of the media in creating those unequal conditions?

H.N.: We have always said in Venezuela in April, 2002, that there was the first media coup of the century, but in the country of Oscar Romero they have just executed the first electoral media victory of the century with the support, of course, not only of the United States but also of the oligarchy of the whole continent. As you know, the president-elect is the owner of a major sector and president of a business association, so that should give you an idea of what the people can expect. The media planted terror, assassinating the hopes of a people.

I don’t consider it fair, for example, that everyday they have a page in every newspaper with a child from the era of the war, with his uniform and his armaments, and in the same photo they ask people: “Is that the future you want for your children? Then vote for a secure country”.

But the principal terror is based on the theme of remittances and repatriation for Salvadorians. Remittances are the money that Salvadorians who live outside send to their families and, to explain, this small country maintains itself with these remittances because neo-liberalism has failed so much that it hasn’t even been able to develop an economic system in which the country can sustain itself with its own income. Then imagine a campaign for more than two months, everyday, “if the FMLN win the elections you won’t have access to your remittance, vote for a secure country”.

S.O.: The Left in Central America has had difficulty winning elections. Is this due to a fear of a return of the death squads and repression of the 1980s?

H.N.: When the Central American Left decided to participate in the electoral process, I thought maybe it was a little idealistic, to think that your adversaries would be docile and that the armed conflict would be a thing of the past. But it hasn’t been like that, the war worsened, but this time in a “democratic” manner. The right-wing political parties in the continent have been converted into businesses to win at any cost, with high levels of efficiency for that end, and this is worse than the death squads of the 80s. These types of defeats are moral defeats that affect the soul of the people directly, to see how their dreams disappear…

But this is not only Central America, it’s all of Latin America, South Africa and the world in which the poor countries want to escape the terror of the United States, but it is hard for them. Even if you win the elections, you can win a government, but under these conditions power is not won. And when I say power, I mean economic power because the real power is the people.

What would have happened, for example, in Bolivia , when the popular movement kicked-out a president, if this movement had taken economic power? How many forms of pressure would have been imposed? What would the United Nations and Organization of American States have said, organizations that are openly in the service of the North? What would happen today in Ecuador if their president would have opposed North American policies? What happened in Argentina after neo-liberalism destroyed everything, or in Brazil , or in Haiti , or what would have happened with the triumph of the FMLN? What position would the U.S. administration have taken? The same one [they took] with Allende, with Cuba , or the one the Bush administration plans against the Bolivarian Revolution.

S.O.: What is happening with the campaign in Venezuela to force a referendum on President Hugo Chavez?

H.N.: The campaign that I imagine you’re referring to has to do also with our friends the media, who for sure have a new role. They’ve become the political parties of opposition in Venezuela. I was saying to the Salvadorian companeros, while I was in that country, that I had rested [while there], because I’d turn on the radio or T.V., or read any newspaper, and the topic of President Chavez wasn’t there. In my country, the majority of the media offends, insults, deceives, lies, manipulates, etc., 24 hours a day, and we have learned to live with that.

The Venezuelan oligarchy deceived the world, first they said that in one they had collected more than 27 million signatures in a country that only has 24 million inhabitants. Then they said that they had collected more than 4 million in the so-called “firmazo”. Later, they said that they had only 3.5 million and that that was sufficient, due to the referendum only requiring 2.4 million signatures. But after they passed through the revision of the electoral commission, they found that it was a huge lie…there were dead people who had signed, there were children that couldn’t have signed and yet they had, there were people who forged signatures…this is to say that the opposition committed a mega-fraud. The Right cheated and deceived the world but the Bolivarian Revolution discovered them in time.

S.O.: The coup d’etat in 2002 was supported by the CTV, the major trade union federation, and Carlos Ortega, its leader. What can you tell us about the new, Bolivarian, labour federation that’s being created in Venezuela?

H.N.: Carlos Ortega, you can say, he’s a vagabond that has never worked anywhere and now less, in his sweet exile. He was one of the most nefarious union pseudo-leaders that the workers have had…

The CTV, with Carlos Ortega, Manuel Cova and others are [also] the ones responsible for the fact that, during the months of the petroleum shutdown, the companies grouped in Fedecamaras laid-off more than 60 thousand workers. [They are] responsible that Fedecamaras committed all types of abuses against the workers – only because of those rogues that supported them.

The new workers union, before being pro-government, I inform you, is pro-worker. And even though we support the revolutionary process and the deepening of the changes, we will not permit the rights of workers to continue being violated. It is an autonomous union federation, independent of the government and of the political parties, but profoundly politicized.

Today we are the majority, with more than 1,600 unions as our base and the principal federations: petroleum, health, public sector, construction, basic industry, etc. That is to say we are the union power of this country, we’re fighting for the rights of social justice for the workers but we will continue supporting el proceso . This has already been demonstrated with own actions during the months of the bosses strike. The workers did not, and will not, allow the country to be destroyed. And, if we have to do it again, we will.

Translated by Andrea Pinochet.

Source: Seven Oaks Magazine