Colombia and Venezuela: Labour in Canada builds solidarity

At the recent British Columbia Federation of Labour convention in Vancouver, an international solidarity evening was held, highlighting the situations in Venezuela and Colombia, neighbouring countries in the heart of Latin America and representative of the political turmoil in the world today.

At the recent British Columbia Federation of Labour convention in Vancouver, an international solidarity evening was held, highlighting the situations in Venezuela and Colombia, neighbouring countries in the heart of Latin America and representative of the political turmoil in the world today. Where the situation in Colombia fills us with pain and indignation, the Bolivarian Revolution unfolding next door in Venezuela fills us with hope and anticipation. The message of the November 30 labour event, chaired by BC Hospital Employees Union President Fred Muzin, was that both countries urgently need the solidarity of working people and their organizations in the North.

Two exiled Colombian labour leaders spoke of the need for strengthened international solidarity to put an end to the pervasive climate of violent repression and impunity for paramilitary groups. Their presentations were a stark reminder that Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist, with thousands of labour activists having been tortured, murdered or ‘disappeared’ over the past decade.

Marcella Maspero from Venezuela’s Union National de Trabajadores spoke about the opportunities opened up by the recent referendum victory of President Hugo Chavez, and the challenge facing the labour movement in her country.

Near the conclusion of her talk it was made clear that trade unionists in Venezuela and Canada are operating in different political — as well as linguistic — climates, when her statement that they were deepening “nuestra revolucion” was translated as “continuing our democratic process.”

Despite the tame translation, Venezuela is indeed expanding and developing its revolutionary process. Since the August 15 referendum victory – followed by a near sweep by pro-Chavez forces in late October regional elections – the Bolivarian forces have pressed ahead, accelerating land reform and continuing to reorganize the oil industry and redirect its profits to social development.

In recent months, the labour movement in British Columbia and Canada has taken some very positive steps towards developing ties with new workers organizations in Venezuela, and in building solidarity with el proceso, as Venezuela’s political ferment and social transformation is labelled by its supporters.

The Vancouver and District Labour Council (VDLC) recently passed a resolution calling for a labour delegation to Caracas in April 2005 to attend the international solidarity conference that has become an annual event on the anniversary of the 2002 coup against Chavez.

Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), whose affiliate unions represent more than 3 million unionized workers, sent a letter to Hugo Chavez on October 5, offering his congratulations to the Venezuelan leader on his August 15 referendum victory. Georgetti, though critical of what he characterizes as the Chavez government’s “intervention into the internal affairs of Venezuela’s trade unions,” clearly states the view that the Bolivarian process has a democratic mandate and a right to proceed without foreign intervention:

We laud your efforts to strengthen the Venezuelan constitution and your commitment to end decades of social exclusion for the majority of poor Venezuelans. We reject the strategies adopted by your adversaries and the intervention of outside powers to support them. [1]

Despite the Empire’s best efforts to obscure or refute the consensus suspicion of U.S. intervention against the government of Caracas, the Associated Press was forced to admit last week that, “Documents show CIA knew of Venezuela coup” (December 3, 2004).

Eva Golinger has compiled extensive evidence of U.S. government and CIA knowledge of and support for the April 2002 failed coup against Chavez. In concluding her analysis, Golinger makes a lucid – if ominous and disconcerting – point about future prospects for foreign intervention and political violence in Venezuela:

The recent assassination of Venezuelan Prosecutor Danilo Anderson, conducted in a style reminiscent of CIA operations, could be setting the stage for future political murders. History shows that when the CIA fails to remove a target via non-lethal means, more desperate measures are taken. Despite the fact that the Venezuelan government and its supporters appear to have foiled the CIA numerous times already over the past few years, vigilance, intelligence and increased security measures should become a priority. [2]

The demoralized, divided and largely discredited opposition in Venezuela does indeed still have the potential to engage in violence and assassination as a way of destabilizing the country. The November 18 murder by car bomb of Danilo Anderson is a chilling reminder of the “by any means necessary” approach to destabilization taken by opponents of radical, progressive governments and movements. Anderson had been investigating a number of politically charged cases, including the one against the mob that besieged the Cuban embassy on April 12, 2002, during Chavez’s brief removal from power.

Of course, in Colombia political violence by the Right and its state allies has become a shockingly routine reality. And, it seems, neither the daily repression there nor the murder of Anderson in Venezuela warranted many international headlines. Labour movements, therefore, and their community allies, have a crucial role to play, by building awareness and forging lasting and concrete solidarity. Whether it’s to make breathing space for democratic processes in Colombia, or to provide concrete aid to a democratic and revolutionary process in Venezuela, the imperative for international solidarity is clear, and will not be lost in translation.

[1] “Letter to Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela,” Ken Georgetti, Canadian Labour Congress, (Link)

[2] “The CIA Was Involved In the Coup Against Venezuela’s Chavez,” Eva Golinger, Venezuelanalysis.com, November 22, 2004.

More Seven Oaks coverage of the Bolivarian Revolution can be found at our Venezuela Watch page